Talk: A Tseltal Poem

translated by Jaime Pérez González
A photograph of a man in a colorful talking into a microphone
Photo by Tania Victoria / Secretaría de Cultura de la Ciudad de México / Flickr


¿Mach’a kati a sna’ bin a yal te awo’tane? 
¿Mach’a kati ya’yoj te smantalil ak’ope? 
¿Mach’a k’an yal ka’ytik te bin a te a ya’antay te ajole 

Baat me ts’iin . . . 

Xtukuket me a xlok’ te k’ope, 
Xbosbon a xjil jichuk us ta eilal. 

¿Mach’a kati yiloj te xojobal asite? 
¿Mach’a a sna’ bin a sk’an a yal te xbichet ani’e? 
¿Mach’a kati ya’yoj te sk’op abak’etale? 

Baat me ts’iin . . . 

Xch’ewch’on a xlok’ te ju’-p’al k’ope 
Xchelchon ya’lel jichuk rawiyu ts’i 

Jnitbey jba jchikintik 
Ay me yipal-xk’uxul te jk’optike 
Mame jontol ik’uk 
Ayme swentail, 
Ayme yutsilal 
Ay ya’yojemal. 


Who would dare to know what your heart expresses? 
Who would dare to feel the yoke of your word? 
Who could tell us what your head debates? 

And you left . . . 
The words come bouncing out, 
They stay like flies flying around the mouth. 

Who would dare to see the reflection of your eyes? 
Who thinks they know what the twisting of your face means? 
Who believes they heard the voice of your body? 

And you left . . . 
Each word comes out in shrill chews, 
Drooling saliva like a rabid dog. 

Let’s all talk. 
Let’s pull ourselves our ears. 
Our voice has strength-pain, 
It’s not just air. 
It has a reason to exist, 
it has beauty, 
it is a story. 

Translation from the Tseltal 

Jaime Pérez González is a bilingual Tseltal-Spanish speaker from Mexico and a linguist who writes literature in his spare time. He is currently a Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow at UC Santa Cruz (2021–23). In 2022 he started an assistant professorship in the Department of Linguistics at UC Santa Barbara.