mesoamerica and the maya world

Category: literature

Mayan glyphs as a truetype font set

This truetype typeface is a free download from It would be nice if the meaning of the glyphs was documented, but for the price who can complain?

free mayan truetype font

Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan

incidents of travel in central america, chiapas, and yucatan by stephens and catherwood

This book, one of the classics of travel writing, is now available online via Google Book Search. It’s a funky scan, but at least it’s not an appalling abridged edition like one I saw published a few years ago.

The image is the original 1842 edition, from the collections of the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

First Tortilla

the first tortilla by rudolfo analya

The First Tortilla, a children’s book by Rudolfo Anaya (University of New Mexico Press, 2007) has received the New Mexico Library Association and the New Mexico International Reading Association’s Land of Enchantment Book Award. The book is the story of a Mexican girl who saves her village by making the first tortilla with the help of the Mountain Spirit. Amy Cordova is the illustrator.

Inventory of a Dawn

Here’s a poem by the Guatemalan poet Luis de Lión, who was disappeared during the war. (Please tell me if I have mistranslated anything.)

Inventory of a dawn

another dog another rooster
dog dog dog dog
many roosters many dogs
all the dogs all the roosters
fewer dogs no roosters
two drops
three drops
several drops
many drops
all the drops
two hands
two breasts
two hands four hands
two lips four lips
four legs
less rain
even less rain
no rain at all
end of inventory

Inventario de un amanecer

un gallo
un borracho
un perro
otro perro otro gallo
otro otro otro otro perro
el borracho
muchos gallos muchos perros
todos los perros todos los gallos
el borracho
menos perros ni un gallo
dos gotas
tres gotas
varias gotas
muchas gotas
todas las gotas
dos manos
una espalda
unos hombros
un cuello
dos senos
un ombligo
un vientre
un monte
dos manos cuatro manos
dos labios cuatro labios
cuatro piernas
un vientre
un monte
una vagina
menos lluvia
menos menos lluvia
nada de lluvia
fin del inventario


Dichos are Spanish popular sayings. Unlike proverbios, which are more extended thoughts, dichos can be either brief phases or longer refranes. When I was running Mercury House I published a book by José Antonio Burciaga, called En Pocas Palabras /In Few Words: A Compendium of Latino Folk Wit and Wisdom. Sadly, Tony succumbed to cancer before the book was finished, so I finished it with my regular collaborator, Carol — mainly a matter of organizing and translating the sayings, which Tony had already collected.

I’ve always liked that book, and I refer to it often. So here are a few sample dichos:

  • De noche todos los gatos son pardos.
    All cats are gray in the night.
  • El mal ajeno da consejo.
    Other people’s problems give the best advice.
  • No toda gallina que cacarea pone huevo.
    Not every hen that cackles lays an egg.
  • Date buena vida y sentiras más la caída.
    The softer your life the harder your fall.
  • Buena vida, arrugas trae.
    A good life brings out wrinkles.
  • El que se hace miel, se lo comen las abejas.
    Who turns into honey will be eaten by bees.
  • El hambre es lo bueno, no la comida.
    Hunger is what is good, not the meal.
  • El hombre debe ser feo, fuerte, y formal.
    A man should be homely, hardy, and honorable.
  • Cada loco con su tema.
    Each fanatic with his fancy.
  • La cochina más flaca es la que quiebra el chiquero.
    The scrawniest pig is the one that breaks the pigpen.
  • Cada oveja con su pareja.
    Every lamb has her love

Like a lot of backlist titles, the book might be a little hard to find. If you can’t locate it at your locate independent bookstore, you can get it from Amazon (left link below), or from Powell’s (right link below), or elsewhere on the web (I get no royalties, but sales benefit Mercury House, a great literary nonprofit now under the direction of Jeremy Bigalke).

  burciaga, in few words/en pocas palabras

El Bus

On the chicken bus.

chicken bus

Bonus: another chicken bus photo

The Art of Political Murder

the art of political murder, francisco goldman on guatemalan murder caseIlan Stavans reviews Francisco Goldman’s The Art of Political Murder in the Los Angeles Times. The book is a look at the 1998 murder of bishop Juan Gerardi Conedera, vicar-general of Guatemala City. Goldman’s book apparently imlpicates current presidential candidate Otto Pérez Molina in the murder. Stavans criticizes the book (which I have not yet read) as lacking focus and style; in Publishers Weekly, on the other hand, Trent Olson says that “Goldman manages a clear narrative,” asserting that “his journalism isn’t so much a departure from his fiction as an extension of his concerns with the fraught landscapes where ‘truth’ is as contested as the soil underfoot, yet central to battles waged over it.”

(image links to book page at amazon)


Revolution in Guatemala, 1944

Jorge Ubico y Castañeda ruled as dictator of Guatemala from 1931 to 1944, the year documented in this great historical footage (with “Sail to the Moon” by Radiohead as a soundtrack). Ubico was one of the models for the president in Miguel Angel Asturias’s classic novel El Señor Presidente (The President). Asturias’s book stands as one of the greatest novels about the Latin American strongman.

In 1944 Ubico’s regime was overthrown by the “October Revolutionaries” after a general strike forced him to cede power to a cabal of his generals. Two young officers, Jacobo Arbenz and Francisco Javier Arana, executed a final coup, and then allowed a general election. In 1945 Juan José Arévalo was elected president, initiating was is called The Ten Years of Spring. The period ended when the United Fruit Company was nationalized and the CIA orchestrated a coup to undo the progressive reforms.

Some rights reserved 2022 buried mirror: latest reflections. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons (attribution, noncommercial, no derivs: 3.0) License (US), although some of the work this blog incorporates may be separately licensed. Text and images by Thomas Christensen unless otherwise noted. For print permissions or other inquiries please request via