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Poets Breathing Life into Creation

By Tim Hazell

Indigenous life is bound up with the seasons; times of plenty and times of want. Native communities use animal totems as intermediaries to make contact with their deities. In creation myths, earth is a living organism that rises from ancient seas when “procurers” wrapped in quetzal feathers invoke its name. The following chant by Kwakiutl Indians of the Northwest Pacific coast has dramatic power:

Prayer to the Sockeye Salmon
Welcome, o Supernatural One, o Swimmer,
who returns every year in this world
that we may live rightly, that we may be well.
I offer you, Swimmer, my heart’s deep gratitude.
I ask that you will come again,
that next year will meet in this life,
that you will see that nothing evil should befall me.
O Supernatural One, o Swimmer,
now I will do to you what you came here for me to do.

Pessimism and fatalism, evident in much pre-Columbian poetry, is inextricably woven into the fabric of today’s multilayered and complex Latino societies. Modern poets identify with their own totems as a means of ascending into more pristine environments. Jaime Sabines (1926–1999) lived as if every day was “the first and last of the world.” His work was a celebration of loneliness, love, and heartbreak, and touched the people of the street. Born in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Chiapas, Sabines spent three years studying medicine before moving on to his real vocation: Spanish language and literature. An artist with a political conscience, he was federal deputy for the state of Chiapas from 1976 to 1979; his verse is a testament to spontaneous moments.

“I don’t know for certain, but I imagine that one day a man and a woman fall in love. Little by little they come to be alone. Love unites bodies. One day they wake up, cradled in each other’s arms. Then they think they understand all of it. They see themselves naked and they know the whole thing!”

This tantalizing recipe combines Mexico’s wonderful onions, fresh herbs and rich cream!

Onions Baked with Rosemary and Cream
6 servings
6 medium yellow onions, with peel
2 cups chicken stock
1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
3 sprigs fresh rosemary, chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Slice about 1/4 inches off the tops and bottoms of the onions. Cut in half crosswise, leaving the skin on, and arrange cut side up in a shallow baking dish. Pour the chicken stock over and around the onion halves, and then drizzle with olive oil. Season liberally with salt, pepper, and chopped rosemary. Place on top of a baking sheet to catch spatters. Bake uncovered for 1 hour or until onions are easily pierced with a knife and liquid has reduced by half. Remove and pour cream over the onions. Return to the oven, and continue to bake uncovered until pan juices have thickened slightly and onions are browned, up to 30 minutes.

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