Naked Women


Their shadows soak up limestone

embrace their knees.

Necks bent like turkeys

on the market table.

The hill’s hollow sheds tears

mold laps at their hair.

Alone: in the humid magma of their bodies.




To search for you

I can walk the whole earth if I wish

without my feet withering.

I will search for you in the belly of God should he dare to shelter you,

beneath the tree I will be a fairy that stalks

insects without nests.

I will bite the fruit

drink the night and her flowers,

my lips will fill with flies and ants

like the mouth of a wineskin.

Beneath what tamarind tree did you sit and imagine I would not search for you?

When I tire and stretch my feet beneath the shadow of a mistletoe

and clods of earth and yellowed leaves cover my eyes,

when I’m six feet under and cannot move, then

you can breathe and dance an ancestral son upon my body if you wish,

throw away the tulip handkerchief I used to tie up your heart

just as my grandmother knotted small change in her petticoat.








There once was a man who tasted the must of your skin,

walked you over from head to toe, his eyes closed

to avoid the sun’s splendor.

Barely touched his food

refused to drink your family’s chocolate

or the juice they squeezed from mamey.

He hung a broken cook pot on your door

then refused to pay for the feast.

The fools didn’t realize that when a flower falls to the ground

it is still a flower until it dies.

View Original Work ↓

Ca Gunaa xieladi


Bandá’ xticabe ni güe’ guiiu

guiidxicabe  xibicabe.

Ñechu’ yannicabe sica tou’

lu mexa luguiaa’,

ruuna nisa dani lé

bandui’ naca guicha íquecabe.

Nuu xtubicabe: xindxa’ ruuna’ ndaani’ guidiladicabe. 




Pa guyube lii

zanda saya’ guidubi guidxilayú

ne ñee qui zadxaga

ziyubelua’ lii ndaani’ Diuxi pa laa gucachi’ lii,

xa’na’ ti yaga zaca ti binidxaba huiini’

cuchibi ca mani chuga qui gapa lidxi.

Zahuayaa guirá cuananaxi

zee’niidxi xti’ gueela’ ne guie’,

zadxá biá’lazi ne birí guidiruaa’

sica ruaa ti xigabá.

Xi xa’na’ yaga tama gurilú’

ne bicaa ì’cu’, bixui’lúlu’qui zuyube lii?.

Ora ma guidxaga’ gusigaa ñee xa’na’

bacaanda’ xti’ ti biniidxi, ne guiruche ca tarrón luguia’ya’,

ne guirà bandaga guchi yaa guchiilua’,

ne xa’na’ ga’biá ma qui zanda guiniibe’

oraca rú’ zanda guicou bi, zanda guyoou luguia’ya’ ti son yaa pa gacala’dxu’,

oracaru’ zanda guiniu rarí birá biluxe guenda rucaachilu gudxitenu.

Ora ca ru’ zanda gusa’bu’ bayu biruba gui’ña’ bindibenia’ ladxido’lo’,

sica bindiibi jñaa vida nabiuxe rua xpizudi’.




Diidxa’ ne guenda


Guyuu tu gucua nisa dondo bi’na’ guidila’du’,

tu guzá de íque de ñeeu

ne qui nuxhalelu ti ñunibia’ xtuxhu gubidxa.

Guyuu tu gudxiru lu guendaró

ne qui niná ñe’ dxuladi male ne cuba ladxi guenda.

Guyuu tu bigaanda ti pumpu nalaa xa’na li’dxu’

ne qui niná ñuni saa.

Qui ganna ca binni huati pa ti guie’ biaba layú

guie’ ru’ laa dxi gáti’.





Mujeres desnudas


Sombras para la cal

abrazan sus rodillas.

Cuellos vencidos como guajolotes

sobre la mesa del mercado.

Llora la oquedad del cerro

surge lama para sus cabellos.

Solas: en la ígnea humedad de sus cuerpos.




Para buscarte


puedo caminar si quiero toda la tierra del mundo

sin que mis pies se marchiten.

Te buscaré en el vientre de Dios si se atreve a refugiarte,

bajo el árbol seré el duende que acecha

a los insectos sin nido.

Morderé las frutas

beberé la noche y sus flores,

mis labios se llenarán de moscas y hormigas

como la boca de un odre.

¿Bajo qué tamarindo te sentaste e imaginaste que no te buscaría?.

Cuando me canse y estire mis pies bajo la sombra de un muérdago

y los  terrones y las hojas glaucas cubran mis ojos,

cuando esté bajo nueve cuartas y moverme no pueda, entonces

 podrás respirar y bailar sobre mi cuerpo un son ancestral, si quieres,

 tirar el pañuelo de tulipanes con que amarré tu corazón

 así como mi abuela ataba la morralla a su enagua. 






Hubo quien probó el mosto de tu piel,

te caminó de la cabeza a los pies sin abrir los ojos

para no descubrir el resplandor del sol.

Hubo quien sólo pellizcó la comida

y no quiso beber el chocolate de los compadres

y el pozol de semilla de mamey.

Hubo quien colgó en la puerta de tu casa una olla rota

y no quiso pagar la fiesta.

No supieron los tontos que una flor caída al suelo

sigue siendo flor hasta su muerte.


Translator Notes

Natalia Toledo writes poetry in the Mexican indigenous language of Isthmus Zapotec. Spoken by more than 750,000 people today in Oaxaca State, this language family has been around for close to 3,000 years. Toledo was the first woman to write and publish poetry in her native tongue.

When I began to translate her poetry, I didn’t realize how important this achievement was. After all, her home town of Juchitán has been known for centuries as the region where women run the show. Nevertheless, as with any generalization, closer examination reveals a complex reality. Women in Natalia’s region have traditionally been in charge of commerce since they made food and travelled great distances to sell it. Today, they can be seen in the central market where they sell goods they have made and grown in order to support their households. They are also the weavers who make clothing for special occasions. Alongside these examples of women’s creativity and power many other traditions exist in some villages, such as a marriage ritual that makes a woman into a man’s property.

Natalia was the first person to write about her culture from a woman’s perspective. She portrays Zapotec women in their strength and dignity. They are the keepers of tradition. But she also questions some aspects of this tradition with the sharp and colorful images of her poetry.

Natalia translates her own poetry into Spanish. I have to listen to her original verses many times in order not to lose their music. 

Clare Sullivan