Skip to content
May 13 / Jon


Translated by Emily Lobsenz.

Leonel Archila’s “Secretamente” is one of many texts he has compiled about the Mayan experience in Guatemala, from the time of colonization to the present day. Archila, originally from Guatemala, now lives in Montreal, Canada, and hopes to have his texts translated into English and published. After I explained the parameters of this final project, Archila sent me a document of his works, and asked me to I pick the one that most interested me to translate. Not only did I appreciate having a collection to choose from, to be able to find a text that spoke to me, but being able to read through his other texts was also incredibly helpful in pinpointing the target audience. Archila’s collection includes texts depicting the injustice of colonization, human rights violations, and oppression of the Guatemalan government.

Leonel Archila

This poem was written in Guatemala, Archila’s home country, when he was in jail in 1976 for his participation in a rally demonstration against the human rights violations of the time.

The suffering has changed my face. I do not feel the whipping or the salt against my skin, and my tired eyes look indifferently upon my withered body. They torture my soul in mortal anguish; my body suffers in silence with only that cell as a witness.

Only that cell is witness to a man who bows his head against his chest; he doesn’t pray, but cries. Only that cell is witness to those mournful nights in which tears of pain pour over my face, and only that cell is witness to those days and nights in which my soul drank the bitterness of suffering.

My existence is like that of an animal in the country. The Storm approaches, leeches my soul of its strength, but I seek the narrow gate. The might, the frail might of my soul tells me that soon you and I will be together, one facing the other. Help me, my Lord, so that when the crucial moment arrives I have the strength to stand on my own, because face to face we will meet, two living bodies that in pain encase souls.

Bells ringing! How it hurts me to hear them, for they have been the announcers of the confinement of my spirit; they remind me with their ringing, as if for a fraction of a second I had forgotten, “You belong in the spiritual retreat, the occupation of that place, your cell, has caused your ego to disappear.” Oh, where are those rivers of youth, where is that sun-kissed face, where is the person I once was…and now no longer am?

My steps lead me through the streets, streets that I had journeyed down before, and now again, and neither my calloused feet nor the feel of the ground over which I step have any effect. On this day these streets come to life, and I feel as though they want to detain me, to delay the crucial moment.

The light of sunset weighs down my spirit, like the weight of my habit on my sorrow. Thus is the custom of my heavy heart. And the sunrays, so pallid, still cause my withered body pain, and I feel the diabolic forces seizing me. Upon arriving at your place, my heart cries, and my body has already collapsed. The nearby pedestrians pass by indifferently, and if anyone notices me they won’t be able to see that past my monk’s habit, years of suffering are hiding, suffering that only that cell and I have seen…even as a ghostly form. Poor me! If on this fatal day the sky was not grey but blue, could this man appreciate it? A cold wind sends a shiver up my spine and chills my body, a wind that doesn’t belong here, but is from far away…from another world! And at each instant my soul weakens, and in my melancholy, tired eyes one can discern sincere tears of pain.

Cruel Destiny. It’s not enough that she was stolen from the years of my youth when everything was an illusion and a dream. Today, she is placed in my path, aware that our lives are guided by different worlds.

Who, Cruel Destiny, if you separate and unite lovers, is permitted to love at your whim? Oh, Cruel Destiny, when I die my habit will be transformed into a fiery sword that will whip you for a thousand years…for all of eternity! Oh, Cruel Destiny, nobody sees you, but everyone feels your presence. Why can’t you see my tired eyes? Why can’t you see the restlessness of my soul, which in silent struggle dies? Why can’t you see my wounds and my withering body that peacefully entered into spiritual torture? Why must I be facing her?

A bedroom. Almost obscure. In the heart of the bedroom lies your dying body, that my eyes can distinguish through your white dress. My heart beats fiercely, and my blood races madly to my brain…the moment has arrived.

I enter your bedroom, but I am not the man you once knew. The man I have become, he is handcuffed to the church, and you are tied to another man – impassible barriers! It is only thanks to a foolish whim of destiny that we are face-to-face. So today I am your confessor.

I take your white hands, soft as silk, between my trembling ones, and in the name of the church I absolve you. And in the name of one man I forgive you for your abandonment, even though the pain in my heart is today newly opened, and the pain exacerbated. Even though these rivers of lava streaming down my face tell me that I still love you…that I never stopped loving you.

Even though today I remember when, as kids, we made our first escape from the school into the forest, where watching the first light of dusk our full, young lips united in a pure and innocent kiss. The spiritual isolation wasn’t sufficient to forget you, and you sweetly brush away these bleeding tears that I shed with a breath of life. Today you set off for eternity. And today I lose you forever.

I want to accompany you to the entrance of eternity. And when your white hands separate from my skeletal fingers to feel the eternal splendor, I will have reciprocated your kisses. I sense a break with the church and with the world. So the church exists in the world, and the world exists in the church, but our kisses are neither earthly nor celestial, they are only ours; your kisses are like crystal water that refreshes my soul for eternity.

Leave a Comment

Spam prevention powered by Akismet

Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Canada
This work by Spanish 401, UBC, Professor Jon Beasley-Murray is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Canada.