In Xochicalco

Cows grazing among the ruins.
The dry cornfield extends a yellow fence.
Walls of fog blur directions.
No flower opens.
Thorns catch in clothing
and the jaguar devours the heart.

         precarious offering.
Droplets draw fleeting signs in puddles—
no more fleeting than the day
when we saw what we loved most
fall apart between our hands
                                  like an ancient urn.

We waded the fog like a river.
It surrounded the hills.
Only the peaks emerged like islands.

ashy face of earth.
Voices like bats’ wings
through the stone notches
where the hills meet,
where the wind cuts
                         like an obsidian knife.

The black air widens.
The mist blinds us,
it closes around the temple.
The same mist wraps the heart.

Higher up,
deeper under the earth,
wherever she goes who gathers souls,
she who scatters ashes.

by Elsa Cross

Original poem © Elsa Cross, 1991. Translation © Luis Ingelmo & Michael Smith, 2009.

Note: Xochicalco is the site of an impressive Aztec temple, not far from Mexico City.

Elsa Cross was born in Mexico City in 1946. The majority of her work has been published in the volume Espirales. Poemas escogidos 1965-1999 (UNAM, 2000), but a new complete edition of her poetry will appear this year, published by the Fondo de Cultura Económica in Mexico City. ‘In Xochicalco’ is taken from the recent volume Selected Poems, published by Shearsman Books, edited by Tony Frazer, and translated by Anamaría Crowe Serrano, Ruth Fainlight, Luis Ingelmo & Michael Smith, and John Oliver Simon.

Cross’s poems have been translated into twelve languages and published in magazines and more than sixty anthologies in different countries. She has an MA and PhD in Philosophy from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, where she holds a professorship and teaches Philosophy of Religion and Comparative Mythology. In 2008 Elsa Cross was awarded the most prestigious poetry prize in Mexico, the Xavier Villurrutia Prize, an award that she shared with Pura López-Colomé. You can find out more about Elsa Cross here.

Shearsman Books is a very active publisher of new poetry, mostly from Britain and the USA, but also with an active translation list. You can learn more about the publisher here.

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