A Nahuatl Legend

This is how the world began: very long ago there was no earth or sky or any living thing. And then beloved Xochi-pilli called the other gods together and said

Let us play World, for a while become world,
Each of us parts of the world together.

And so they agreed. Then each god in turn said what he would become, in the world they would be.

First, mother goddess Tonan-tzin said

I will be earth, to underlie and give birth.
I will be brown with hills and blue with lakes.
I will breathe days and seasons and bear the life of earth.

And ancient Tlaloc said

I will be sky above the earth, sun and rain,
Frost on the high hill, mist on the lake,
Stars to watch in the night.

And Quetzal-coatl said

I will be grass and trees to root in earth,
To feel the movement of days and seasons,
And taste the dampness of rain.

And Omec-ihuatl said

I will be birds to wing the sky and nest
In the green tree’s branch. I will make song
On earth for the days and the seasons.

Each god said in turn what he would be so the world would live: fish and lizard, maize and tuber, crawling beasts and running beasts, fire, wind.

Then fierce Huitzil-opochtli, youngest of the gods, spoke and said

I will be man and woman.
I will strip the earth and ruin it.
I will fill the lakes with my filth.
I will smoke the sky with fire until the birds die.
I will hunt the crawling beasts until they are no more,
And chase the running beasts from the earth.
And then I will set man against mankind
Until we kill one another, until we are no more.

The other gods were silent. Then spoke one who had not yet chosen what to be, beloved Xochi-pilli. And she said

I, too, will be man and woman.
I will tend the earth and protect it.
I will live with sky, trees, birds,
All good things, and cherish them.
And then I will bring man to love mankind
Until we cherish and tend each other.
I will love our world and all the gods,
Even fierce Huitzil-opochtli, my brother.

And then the gods played World, for a while.

[Terence Kuch is a consultant, avid hiker, and world traveler. His poetry credits include Commonweal, Diagram, New York magazine, Poetry Motel, Slant, Thema, Timber Creek Review, and Yellow Mama. He has read at the Renwick Gallery of the National Museum of American Art, the International Monetary Fund Visitors’ Center, the MAC (McKinney Avenue Contemporary) Theatre in Dallas, and elsewhere.]


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