Chilam Balam by Thomas Merton
I came across a book of poetry, The Geography of Lograire by Thomas Merton, in a used book store in New Orleans a bunch of years ago. I sat in Jackson Square, a great place to watch the world, and read bits and pieces of the book. I found the poem below particularly enjoyable. Note I am not a Mayanist, beyond a few courses and a single field season in Guatemala, and don’t vouch for whatever Merton’s scholarship in attributions to anything. Rather, the poem presents images and concepts that are good to think about.
Seemingly an analysis of Merton’s intent for the book can be found in The Mandala as Structure in Thomas Merton’s “The Geography of Lograire” by Virginia Randall
X. Chilam Balam (Yucatan)1. “They came to Tisip With pepper in their speech In 11 Ahau Cleared cornfields Built a city.” 2. They were received like Fathers With nodding plumes at the well’s edge In Itza Thus they were called the “Itzaes.” 3. Sunrise. New Kingdom. Fresh wakes sweet tropic earth! Tribute paid in cotton For the Four Men (North South East West) In Chichen. Then the Lords Rich in cotton Meet Gods Equal in voice to Gods And those whose voices Were not equal to Gods’ voices Were thrown in the well To cry louder. 4. Then came Laws High pyramids Thirteen Itzaes in majesty With pepper in their prayers Made deals with the Raingods In clouds of smoke. 5. “Our Gods have grown bigger” they said Then bitter times began The plain smoke All the way to the sea. 6. Thirteen katuns they ruled. Until the treason of Hunac Ceel Driven from their cities into jungle 4 Ahua was the katun The wail of lives Thirteen katuns of suffering and law And they were called in the end “The Remnant of Itzaes” The last few built Mayapan “Maya men” Was their new name. 7. Lamentation Priest of Xiu Slow along the cavern wall From altar to altar On the well’s rim. 8. “The priest asks for green bark. Thirteen times he strips all flowers and all leaves off the branches. He strips them utterly bare. He binds the stripped branches in a bundle. Katuns without hope!” 9. Prayer in the cavern For the last time Pitch dark well Stopping at the altars Blind fingers explore the faces Of rock signs Figures cut in the wall Spell: “Justice exits” “Heaven exists” And the prophet Chilam answers Hix binac hix mac (Maybe yes maybe no) “But we carry the sons of Itza on our backs like boulders.” And the priests have come to the end of submission The end of desire. They are about to destroy themselves because of the injuries done to our people. 10. FACE OF THE PRIEST CHILAM WHEN HE IS ON THE POINT OF ENTERING THE WELL OF THE CAVERN.
(The Geography of Lograire by Thomas Merton. 1968. New Directions Publishing, New York, pp. 31-33).