The Sealey Challenge: New Moon / Luna Nueva / Yuninal Jme’tik

a white thumb with dove gray polish holds a deep yellow book with black ink and swirls of color surrounding a moon and three sets of words: NEW MOON • LUNA NUEVA • YNINAL JME'TIK written by Enriqueta Lunez & translated by Clare Sullivan for Ugly Duckling Presse
New Moon – Luna Nueva – Yuninal Jme’tik

Women and the moon have long been linked, in cultures across the world. In New Moon, originally Yuninal Jme’tik in the poet’s native Tsotsil, Luna Nueva in her own Spanish-language translation, Enriqueta Lunez writes poetry of womanhood, words of woman born, reaching out to the moon.

I’ll preface this simply: I’m going to need to read New Moon again, very soon. I read Clare Sullivan’s translator’s note at the end, after I’d already read her translations and Lunez’s translations of her own poems from Tsotsil (of which I know nothing) into Spanish. New Moon is beautiful, and haunting, and sometimes awful, a reminder of the violence and danger and power inherent in womanhood, and, particularly, in Lunez’s Tsotsil culture and heritage. I felt that power and danger and menace and wonder—but, after reading Sullivan’s note, I’m going to understand it so much better. And so, if you pick up New Moon, I’d suggest reading the note before you even read the book.

The very first poem in the collection, “¡Morir, morirse!”, reminds me, very much, of Alfonsina Storni’s “Peso Ancestral.” Like Storni’s poem there is a weight and a grief heavy in the words, present both in Lunez’s Spanish translation and in Sullivan’s English version. Why are these women, young and middle-aged and elder, “Sick to death! Fed up!”? Maybe I read too much into the text, and maybe I think too quickly of Storni, but even though “the moon lies tender,” all three women are struggling against the weight of sexism and, likely, racism as well, bearing that ancestral weight of which Storni once wrote.

Lunez’s poetry carries an edge, marrying religion to carnality, duty to desire. Sex work is work, in this poetry, something Sullivan mentions in her translator’s note: sex work can allow women financial freedom. At no time in New Moon does Lunez judge the women of whom she writes, but she judges—as should we her readers—those who do harm to them. (And some of this moments of judgement remind me of Sor Juana’s brilliant “Hombres necios,” a much-earlier and immortal entry in Mexican women’s poetry.)

In one poem, Lunez reclaims a slur used against indigenous women from her home state of Chamula: “I am Chamulita, I tell you / listen to me, / Chamula I will die.” (In the Spanish she writes “Chamulita soy, te digo / eschucha bien, / Chamula, moriré.” It’s a damn good translation—which might be because Lunez and Sullivan worked together.) In others, she mixes the metaphors of Catholicism and of alcohol, of the trinity and of women’s power, unafraid to push at boundaries and even at sacraments to show the world Tsotsil women’s lives.

New Moon is demanding poetry. The moon moves across its pages, sometimes shining down on horror and grief, other times on women’s power. Lunez is unflinching in her depiction of the difficulties of life as an indigenous Mexican woman. At the same time, New Moon refuses to back down from celebrating women’s agency, whether to put on that great red lipstick and go out to celebrate one’s womanhood or to make one’s life as one may. I’ll be reading it again, soon—and this time, I’ll start with the translator’s note.

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