Claire Hermann: Poem for Malinalli

Your family a painted bowl
With empty always lurking at the bottom.

You, the pitcher where two worlds mix,
Wishing always for your own clay at your core.

Come walk with us through streets paved in dust,
Forests cloaked in green shadows.

We will discover the trick of being both conquered and conquering.
When we arrive, we will carry you like a banner.

Stand in the throne room and translate for no one.
Drink of yourself till you’re full.


Malinalli is another name for La Malinche, Cortez’s mistress, sold into slavery by her mother so that her half-brother would inherit, then given as a gift to Cortez. She was his translator and advisor and mother of his son, and is commonly known as the mother of the mestizo race and modern Mexico. Also as La Chingada, a whore and a traitor.  When Cortez left Mexico he gave her to one of his lieutenants as a wife. The first version of the story I heard said she died of smallpox in her 20s. Malinalli is also an Aztec bad-luck day –  a day when empires fall but also a day of rebirth and survival. Its symbol is a skull with grass growing from it. ‘A good day for the oppressed, a bad day for the oppressors,” says the online Aztec calendar.