Natalia Toledo
Translated from the Zapotec and Spanish by Irma Pineda & Clare Sullivan

For my grandmother’s wheelchair,
for my friend Candida’s green mangoes.
For houses made of brick,
their damp vermillion.
For the gray slats of my cradle,
for spiny cacti
growing on the walls.
For the jicalpextles my mother
got from other people’s weddings.
For those days when the sun burnished my hair
And my smile was the blinding bright of a salt crust.
For the photographs stuck to a piece of cardboard,
their swift migration to our family altar.
For the petate and its map of urine stains,
for the twisted trees upon the rippled water.
For all that I made into a life.
I sing.

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Until further notice, we will devote Wednesdays to posting poems that sustain and uplift through trying times. Each poem is accompanied with an image by author-illustrator Juana Medina We thank you for reading and hope that you will share poems with your friends and neighbors. Please be well.

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Natalia Toledo was born in Juchitán, Oaxaca. Her bilingual poetry (Zapotec-Spanish) has been included in numerous journals and anthologies and translated into languages as varied as Nahuatl, Italian, and Punjabi. She has received support from the National Fund for Culture and the Arts (FONCA) and the Oaxaca State Fund for Culture and the Arts (FOESCA). Since 2019, she has been serving as Under Secretary of Cultural Diversity and Literacy for Mexico.

Irma Pineda is an author, editor, translator, and educator in Juchitán, Oaxaca. She has published seven books of bilingual Isthmus Zapotec-Spanish poetry. She is the only woman to have been president of Mexico’s national organization of indigenous-language authors (ELIAC) and is a professor at the National Teachers University. She is also currently a member of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Clare Sullivan is a professor of Spanish at the University of Louisville, teaching poetry and translation. In 2010, she received an NEA Translation Projects grant to translate Natalia Toledo’s poetry. The resulting work, The Black Flower and Other Zapotec Poems (Phoneme Media, 2015), was short-listed for the Best Translated Book Award. Her translation of Alejandro Tarrab’s Litane was published by Cardboard House Press in 2017.

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