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The Flavor of Our Language

The birds sing in our words
the animals howl
the storms thunder
the trees are chopped down…

Its echo travels with the wind,
it foams on the waters,
it turns to mist over the earth…

So is it done,
this is the taste of our tongue.

Our Mayan-K’iche’ language,
it is the gold that the Spanish
could not take.


El sabor de nuestra lengua

Cantan los pájaros en nuestras palabras
aullan los animales
truenan las tempestades
se tronchan los árboles…

Su eco viaja con el viento,
se hace espuma sobre las aguas,
se vuelve bruma sobre las tierra…

Así está hecha,
así es el sabor de nuestra palabra.

Nuestra lengua maya-k’iche’,
es el oro que los castellanos
no pudieron llevarse.



Without Pain

is a memory
which no longer hurts.


Sin dolor

El olvido
es un recuerdo
que ya no lastima.



Little Door

This poem is just
a little door through which,
if you want, you can enter my heart;
where words are no longer needed.


Puerta pequeña

Esta poesía solo es
una pequeña puerta para que,
si quieres, entres a mi corazón;
donde ya no hacen falta las palabras.



Black Bird

Perched on a dry branch;
while the slight drizzle
wore on him insistently;
that bird
looked like a black lantern
on the gray background of the mist.


Pájaro negro

Parado sobre una rama seca;
mientras la menuda llovizna
se deshilaba insistente;
aquel pájaro
parecía un farolito negro
sobre el fondo gris de la neblina.



My Mother

Today I saw my mother sad,
alone as a winter flower.

She came to shed her sorrows in my handkerchief,
to thresh her complaints on my heart.

Every time she walks through that door
I feel the weight of her years in her wrinkles.

Every time she walks out that door,
I tremble at the thought that tomorrow
only the sun will come. . .


Mi madre

Hoy vi a mi madre triste,
sola como una flor de invierno.

Vino a llorar sus penas en mi pañuelo,
a desgranar sus quejas en mi corazón.

Cada vez que ella entra por esa puerta
siento el peso de sus años en sus arrugas.

Cada vez que ella sale por esa puerta,
tiemblo al pensar que mañana
ya sólo entrará el sol. . .




“What is it like beyond heaven?”

Grandpa took me
to the edge of a lagoon,
he threw a stone
and the waves began to make circles
around the navel of the water. . .

“This is beyond heaven.”


Mas allá

—¿Cómo es más allá del cielo?

El abuelo me llevó
a la orilla de una laguna,
lanzó una piedra
y comenzaron las ondas a hacer círculos
alrededor del ombligo del agua. . .

—Así es más allá del cielo.



Humberto Ak’abal (1952 – 2019), a poet of K’iche’ Maya ethnicity, was born in Momostenango, Guatemala. One of the most well known Guatemalan poets in Europe and South America, his works have been translated into French, English, German, Italian, Portuguese, Hebrew, Arabic, Japanese, Scottish, Hungarian, and Estonian. The author of over twenty books of poetry and several other collections of short stories and essays, Ak’abal received numerous awards and honors, including the Golden Quetzal granted by the Association of Guatemalan Journalists in 1993, and the International Blaise Cendrars Prize for Poetry from Switzerland in 1997. In 2005 he was named Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Ministry of Culture, and in 2006 was the recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship.

Loren Goodman is the author of Famous Americans, selected by W.S. Merwin for the 2002 Yale Series of Younger Poets, and Non-Existent Facts (otata’s bookshelf, 2018), as well as the chapbooks Suppository Writing (The Chuckwagon, 2008) and New Products (Proper Tales Press, 2010). He is an Associate Professor of Creative Writing and English Literature at Yonsei University/Underwood International College in Seoul, Korea, and serves as the UIC Creative Writing Director.