By Karla Marrufo
Translated by Allison A. DeFreese
Publication Date: 5/2/2023
“There are stories that cannot help but change us forever, and Mayo, with its showers of golden rain, its flame trees on fire, its dark sun and the drips and drops that form bubbles, is one of them.”—Nidia Cuan
In her most experimental work to date, Karla Marrufo Huchim explores universal themes with appreciable specificity: loneliness, family angst, memory loss—from a perspective belonging singularly to a native of the Yucatán Peninsula. Mayo’s unnamed narrator is an older woman, isolated in her domestic life, who is both suffering from memory loss and intent on recounting the lives of three generations of her family. The Yucatán culture and community that Marrufo Huchim describes through her narrator’s fine but faltering mind will be foreign but not fetishized for American readers.
Karla Marrufo Huchim holds a Doctorate in Hispanic-American Literature from the Universidad Veracruzana. Her work has been recognized with several prestigious literary awards, including: the 2005-2007 National Wilberto Cantón Award in Playwriting; the XVI José Díaz Bolio Poetry Prize for La Ciudad en Ti (Centro Cultural ProHispen, 2016); and the 2014 National Dolores Castro in Narration for her novel Mayo. She received a fellowship from the Program for the Encouragement of Creation and Artistic Development in Yucatán, which resulted in the publication of her book Mérida lo Invisible (published under the title Arquitecturas de lo Invisible in its second printing).
Allison A. deFreese has translated works by María Negroni, Luis Chitarroni, Amado Nervo, and other Latin American writers. Her writing and literary translations have appeared in 60 magazines and journals, including: Asymptote, Solstice, The New York Quarterly, Quick Fiction, and Southwestern American Literature.
did you know there’s a word in mayan that resembles your name?
it means forgetting, like when you wake up from a
dream, and all that remains are those strange, disturbing images floating in your mind.
tiresias must have those dreams
do cats dream?
because the hair on his back stands on end when he’s sleeping—his paws tense, displaying his claws, and he moans as if having nightmares.
sometimes i think that, even while asleep, he’s watching us, and to him we must seem like terrifying creatures from a horror movie.
we should share our dreams. scribble them down on any scrap of paper we can find, upon wakening
overwhelmed with despair
in the early morning. they say you can even interpret your dreams. on television the other day, i watched this shadow of a woman explain the meaning of certain symbols that often appear in dreams. but really, the meaning isn’t the most important thing, what matters most is remembering
the pain from those needles in your temples
the wakeful hours after lovemaking
your dreams, and later sharing their meanings
come here, touch the wall. it feels warm and humid, and must be about to burst out into a thousand bubbles. there are days when i wake at dawn with the feeling that the world is on the verge of destruction—like in those prophecies about the apocalypse. didn’t i tell you? last night i dreamed the moon was falling toward the earth. you would have loved it—the whole world was there watching with me, and it was quite the show. i looked up suddenly, and there was the moon, illuminating the night sky with orange rays of light, such a golden yellow
the flamboyanes in full bloom—flame trees instead of clouds
and i thought, this is what it would be like to see through the thick layers of sunlight that are killing us. i looked up again, and the moon had turned crystal clear, like a stained-glass window—with curved flourishes suggesting branches or labyrinths
nothing at all like my cereal box or energy shakes
and without warning, the moon began spinning quickly, then spinning around much too fast until it fell to earth right in front of us, leaving the sky dark and empty. i stood there paralyzed and numb, and could not stop looking at the great orange ball lying smashed on the asphalt
a thousand tires had run over it
until someone at my side
who could it have been?
that’s how the moon protests that humanity has set the world on this course.
i don’t know a thing about protests, but this seemed like a compelling act of dissent, on the moon’s part, to show its disapproval. what do you think it means? i wish i could learn to interpret my dreams
to play chess and prevent catastrophes
but no one will show me how to do it. sometimes a woman with white hair reads horoscopes on tv, and talks about the significance of snakes in dreams. i don’t really believe her, the lies slither out from corners of her mouth, and snakes have never appeared in my dreams.
your grandfather dreamed all the time, he did, and his dreams were intense. he would wake up sweating, leap out of his hammock with one sudden movement, and rinse his whole body under cold water. did you know that before he died, your grandfather whispered some words in my ear
including a word that resembled your name. i wish your grandfather and i
the man was never my father
had gotten along better, that i had asked him how he did that trick of pulling a coin from behind his ear—or what magic he had in his arms that would make you stop crying. maybe if we had gotten along better, i would remember all his words. i think he would have liked this house
tiresias’s malevolent whiskers
and watching you grow up, coming to join the party. mamá panchita wouldn’t have approved, no, but i could live with that. i would have made him his favorite dish, brazo de reina, the queen’s arm . and for the rest of you, beans served in the shape of a little pig. for dessert, caballeros pobres, poor knight’s pudding, and angel food cake. if only i had even the slightest talent, i would love to have learned that language with its heavy accent,
with its sad soul
and full of metaphors.
even if the only memories you have of him are through stories, your grandfather wasn’t a bad man. people never understand the past. because they think, for instance, they know everything that happened, when the truth is he had a secret, right here, where his little anger vein burst
where they shot him for being a traitor
but you can’t simply explain it like that in regular, everyday words
“papá” “mamá” “blood” “forgetfulness” “revenge”
you would have to gather the whole town together and rinse them in
a vinegar of words
holy water; tell them about the evils of lying. that’s why i’ve told you not to believe anything. i can’t count on my fingers all the children he left behind, he tainted his own blood
the only thing we had in common
with the narrow-minded people in this town. their stories are nothing more than lies. something about being condemned or a curse, i don't really know. i never understood superstitions. i never understood why people in this town insisted on condemning others to live under the curse of some horrible omen
that must be why your father left.