Lya and Luis Cardoza y Aragón. September, 1946.
Guatemala: The Lines of Her Palm
Luis Cardoza y Aragón
Translated by Michelle Suderman
FOR MY PARENTS
I. A Mouthful of Pollen The
Prime of My Life
- On October 20, 1944, the revolution that was transforming Guatemala
reached boiling point, and I crossed the border on the twenty-second.
A plane dropped us off in Tapachula, Mexico. The pilot wanted to warn
us, but at the same time, avoid upsetting us. He was worried, and I
think he read the papers the following day fearing he would find some
tragic news item about us there. On saying our good-byes, the simplicity
of his manhood found, Mexicanly, the right words. He said to us, earnest
and forthright, "Be sure you don't get carried away by the tiznada...."*
We traveled on to Tuxtla Chico-very near the dividing line itself-to
have our travel documents stamped. I had decided to make this radical
change in the space of a few seconds, in the Mexican capital. Carrying
very light and improvised baggage, I cut ages off my life. Just a few
months earlier, along with some newfound friends who had recently arrived
as exiles in Mexico City, I had taken certain steps while awaiting developments
in Guatemala. With them, and with a gun in hand, I returned to my homeland.
News on the situation was garbled. The border detachment did not place
any obstacles in our way on entering the country. We were prepared to
- We rented an automobile, distributed ourselves within it strategically,
fearful of some ambush, and struck out for Malacatán. Armed groups
stopped us along the roads and stuck their guns in through the windows,
pointing them at us. We would identify ourselves and they would wish
us a good trip. The grassroots movement had spread across the country
and any of the small military garrisons that had not surrendered were
in a state of expectancy. Malacatán was jubilant, armed, tense
with enthusiasm and determination. They put us up for a couple of hours
to give us supper. Then we would continue on our journey toward San
Marcos and Quezaltenango.
- The Malacatán garrison remained indecisive and the townspeople
were on the verge of attacking. The garrison chief, a young officer,
had quartered himself with his men; they were well-armed and had abundant
ammunition. Our intervention averted bloodshed. With a small white flag
in hand, we went to parley with the officer. We explained the situation
to him, his duty toward the people and the fact that the entire country
backed the revolution. It was not easy convincing him. He was skeptical
of the news we brought him, but we were able to persuade him within
the agreed time limit. Otherwise, the town leaders would have attacked,
inadequately armed and with little solidarity. The officer had to be
dealt with, within quarters. Who knows what might have happened. We
emerged from headquarters bearing the good news, and a group of volunteers
formed the new garrison. The officer was not given any trouble, and
withdrew to his home.
- We returned to our lodgings where the town had prepared supper for
us. The enthusiasm was at a fever pitch. The campesinos hugged us, bought
us drinks. A marimba started playing Guatemalan sones. Firecrackers,
gunshots into the air, shouts of joy, pealing church bells. It was suddenly
all too much for me: my land, that was in my bones, came flooding to
my eyes. I began weeping and sobbing. What heartrending joy, what anguished
and jubilant tenderness. Boys and girls, old people and children, women
asked the marimba to play the
national anthem. I had not heard it for many, many years. I was
deeply moved, singing it with my people on that unforgettable occasion.
I do not consider myself either patriotic or sentimental: I was simply
made aware, once again, of how definitive our childhood and the power
of our homeland truly are. Two hours later, it was already the dead
of the night and we were traveling toward the heights of San Marcos.
The garrison was ours, according to what they had told us in Malacatán.
We took along four uniformed soldiers from the town. As we were not
sure they were really on our side, we gave them the worst of the rifles
and carefully distributed ourselves inside the car. From San Marcos-now
with another car, an escort and two officers-we continued on to Quezaltenango,
the second-largest city of the republic, also in hands of the revolution.
The roads were heavily guarded and we were stopped frequently to have
our papers examined.
- By dawn we were in Quezaltenango. We arrived in the capital city the
following night. When we passed through Patzicía, the town was
still panic-stricken due to the revolt of landless farm laborers. Some
partisan of the defeated side had incited the uprising, luring supporters
with promises of land. There was talk of an indigenous movement against
the Ladinos-Europeanized Indians and Mestizos who deny their indigenous
roots. This bloody mutiny was brutally repressed. The Antigua and Guatemala
City Red Cross organizations, along with soldiers and armed civilians
from these cities as well as from Chimaltenango, patrolled the town.
- We trundled along the dusty road, cracking jokes to distract our thoughts.
I was lost in thought and silent; my head and my heart, in constant
motion. I felt the impelling force of the people and rediscovered fields
and towns that I had often roamed through on horseback as a child. At
a bend in the road, the Agua Volcano jumps into view at a distance.
I had not seen it in a quarter of a century and it held my childhood,
my youthful parents, Antigua. I courted the Volcano with my eyes, my
hands gripping the 30-30, and I did not hear what my companions were
saying. As if I had found a tender young child of mine who had been
lost to me for good. The car sped along revealing landscapes that to
me, were without equal in this world, and their memories that, to me,
were without equal in this world. Over there, at the foot of the Agua
Volcano, Antigua and my parents' house, where I would have liked to
live all my life and die all my death. My mother, a widow now, in the
huge old house, listening to the eternal cantata of the fountain's dark
green water in the garden, jubilant with flowers and vines. My father's
ghost in the hallways, the ghosts of my brothers and sisters, as children,
and my own, playing and shouting. I heard the jingling of my mother's
keys, hanging at her waist, and I saw her hands working the earth under
begonias and rosebushes. I would reach her, reach the maternal womb,
my mother and my kindred, the following day. For the moment, we were
heading toward the capital city.
- Due to the political violence, my mother was living in anguish over
my return. She ached with my presence and with my absence, a very old
lady now, bowed down with years, very active and her alert head completely
white. In the afternoon I caught a bus on the Guatemala City-Antigua
route. I remembered the road I had traveled on foot and on horseback,
by bicycle, stagecoach or automobile, in every one of its bends and
mountains, ravines and villages, groves of trees and tiny plants. Toward
dusk, the vehicle was nearing the entrance to my town, the Matasano
bridge that spans the absent Pensativo River. The first houses came
into sight, washed in bright quicklime colors, the clay tile roofs spotted
with mold, the cobbled street, La Concepción fountain, the convent
and the church in ruins. Across the street, my grandparents' house-door
ajar, allowing me a glimpse of the garden-where as a child I went on
expeditions and played circus along with unforgettable friends, while
my pretty girl cousins smiled at our childish feats. When I got off
at the corner closest to home, I recognized the stones worn down by
my own shoes, the silence, the stains on the Cathedral walls, the gutters,
the windows. I remembered the design on the cement walks of my house
with complete accuracy. And standing before the door I had not passed
through in so many years, I remembered the latchkey, short and round,
and how to turn it to open the latch; the knocker's little hand, the
mail-slot, the wood, the cord to open the door without knocking. At
the end of the street, the perfect triangle of the Agua Volcano, enormous,
serene and blue, as always, not a single gray hair on its head, a cloud
adorning the peak, golden in the afternoon sun. I pulled on the cord,
pushed the door open and entered with my heart in my mouth.
- The little dog-so very, very old-announced my arrival and came up,
tired and belligerent, to stop me. Silently, my brother Rafael appeared.
We embraced and said nothing to each other. Having taken two steps across
the threshold of my home, I was overcome by tears. It was all too much.
My mother came down the passageway, slowly, stooping, nearly blind.
She already knew it had to be me. She was sobbing with joy, with worry,
with who knows how many things, as I, too, was sobbing. This was the
sweetest embrace of my life, and at that instant, it was worthwhile
dying, it was worthwhile living. She felt overwhelmed, and we did not
have to say anything to each other. Embracing her, I guided her a few
steps further, to sit together on the centenary conventual bench in
the passageway, facing the garden her own hands tended. I was a young
boy again, next to my mother, in my old childhood home. I stretched
out on the bench and put my head on her lap. She drew me close to her
and I do not know how long we stayed that way, silent, our eyes motionless
on the vines and geraniums, her hand resting on my head and stroking
me, very slowly, from time to time. I still feel her hand, as I did
then, in the most intense and peaceful and infinitely tender caress.
If I had not experienced those indescribable moments in Antigua, in
my parents' house, I would have missed the prime of my life.
* La tiznada-la chingada; the source of most misfortune in Mexican popular
expression; in Mexican history, according to Octavio Paz, it is the stain
of original sin, the rape of Mexico by Spain.
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