by Ariana Brown
I unravel my story at the beginning.
I find a gold city in ruins, the names of its people strewn about like confetti.
A woman wearing a red “M” uses the wood from a shipwreck
to cook the skin of a dead snake.
She speaks in two languages to
the war horses who survived.
They drink the water from the swamp,
the lapping of their tongues
sounding like laughter.
In the beginning,
I am told, there was a First Sun.
A second, a third, fourth.
They settled here, in the Gran Chichimeca, my people.
Those who thought the fourth sun was still burning followed
it and their god south to Culhuacán.
The horses tire of the water.
They watch my face and say they know the legends, too, that,
“In 1319, under the orders of Huitzilopochtli, a Mexica priest killed the Culhua princess and the
next day danced in front of the king, wearing the princess's skin. Disgusted, the king banished
the Mexicas to live in a swampland filled with snakes, where they began building the first city of
the Aztec Empire.”
“They didn’t believe me, you know,” the woman says.
“I just wanted a place to belong.”
I nod. She offers me the head of the snake
and I ask what the “M” on her chest is for.
She looks me dead in the eyes and says,
“They called me Malintzin,
When the Spanish conquered the Aztecs in 1521, they were instructed to intermarry with
indigenous women to create alliances and prevent uprisings. During the next fifty years, 100,000
children shed my mother’s skin in the name of empire.
Those who resisted were bribed or killed.
The Spanish found allies in old Aztec enemies,
used indigenous armies to infiltrate Aztec kingdoms.
La Piedra del Sol was buried immediately.
The Aztecs, distrustful of Europeans, carved into the earth
a safe place for the great stone containing the amassment of their
cultural history, scientific knowledge, and legends.
The woman called ‘traitor’ sneers.
“During the Third Sun,
two male gods fought for power over the Aztecs.
There was a great battle of fire in the sky and Quetzalcoatl fell. Or, the first deity killed the sister
of the second. Or, Huitzilopochtli and Quetzalcoatl coexisted in power, demanded their own
temples and ceremonial gifts of flesh.”
The horses toss their heads back in memories of battle.
I close my eyes and say:
I have never learned this before.
The men who write my textbooks forget me,
forget my mother and hers before her.
It feels as though they are dressed in my skin.
Dancing in front of my god. Daring me to leave this body
which has been taken so many times.
I now recognize the woman whose name is an insult. The red “M” gleaming in the heat. My
mother’s curse word of choice derives from chingar, frequently used to refer to La Chingada, the
native woman who betrayed the Aztec Empire by allying with the Spanish. Her name is Doña
Marina, known in her time as Malintzin.
I sit in the afternoon shade and lay the many names of indios at my feet. I have never touched a
pyramid in ruins but I know I once walked among them. That before I was a limbless empire or a
body with a white man's name, I was governed by familiar gods.
I close my eyes and wait.
To lose the ability to sacrifice. To hold many versions of the legend, all of them true. To unravel
the Sun and wear its skin like a new language. To end my own war. To refuse foreign curses,
become the myths instead. The woman at the end of the journey, asking for her name back.