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Travel accounts from long ago declare
   there is an ‘air of weirdness’ about me, amplified by geometric designs
and a landscape of arid cordilleras,
   punctured by prickly tuna, maguey, and violet jacaranda.

No writing can account for my grandeur, no human can explain my origins.
   I laugh at those self-aggrandizing figures
who build bridges between the dead and the living. To link these worlds
   is a dangerous, questionable feat,
but the true human folly lies in their presumption. They do not have permission.


Pastel sunset hugs my body as I hear voices from the metal cloisters.
   I sigh and heave
rubble bubbling and gray soil shifting beneath my weight. They evacuate,
   these experts of my biography, stewards and conservadores.

For a moment, I feel relief but I worry that
   with every aching tremor, the agony of the world will fragment me, consume me.
Preservation suddenly feels not enough.
   This reminds me of another cuento, or story. I might also say to you:
this is true history.


One day a small man came to the land of the dead. But this is the living land of the dead!
   We may now call it Mitla
from the language of one of the colonizers, Mictlan, but my people, my owners,
   are Zapotec.
We are in Lyobaa, place of the souls. Here, the living dwell with the dead. This man declares
   his presence: I am Leopoldo Batres!
I hear Sus Ley (Old Stone Woman)’s voice emanate from her petrified form in Mount Guirún.
   “Do not trust him.”

My restoration becomes—it is considered—a blasphemy. Leopoldo’s architectural artistry
   takes a heavy hand.
I do not believe in this “science” of truth, but this mustached man speculated too far.
   He did not listen
to my inheritors, he dispossessed them in his increasing fervor to conjure up the past.

The ghost of a priest I once knew
   pays their dues and visits me one night. Admiring my freshly colored body,
he comments on Leopoldo’s art:
   “He may not be Zapotec, but he has refreshed your skin, you glow.” I am a vibrant red.
Like blood.


In the past, I’ve been caressed by rituals that enliven the bonds between this world
   and the Spirit World.
The spaces within me both heal and house oracular properties. Long before Leopoldo,
   another angry group—Spanish colonizers—
arrived to Lyobaa. I watched this turn into a true land of the dead. Bodies splayed, but
   not to a god,
I heaved and froze as hordes of Spanish pulverized the oracular stone jewel, killing
   the heart of the world.

Now, I sit reluctantly on my heavy haunches, crouching behind metal gates erected
   by a governmental bureaucracy
who believes itself to understand why I was made and from whence I came. Ha!
   “They are all the same,”
Sus Ley often says with a stony rasp. Here is another cuento, a story. Or is it history?


I am different from Sus Ley, who is sometimes called Sus Giber. I never
   served anyone.
She cooked for and was mother to legendary Montezuma. I give shelter, I protect. I am not
   a petrified supernatural,
but I am un antiguo, one of the Ancient Ones. I was built before the rising of this world’s sun,
   during a time
when darkness cloaked the earth. It was all we ever knew. And when my world passed from

one temporal order to the next, your sun flooded our horizons with neon fire that at once
   illuminated every surface and
petrified or killed every being. Some escaped, fleeing into my innards, subterranean tunnels
   the Spanish later wrote of as
cursed bocas del infierno. But I am not Hell, this would insult my neighbor below me.
   I am a deity, an ancestor.


Don Leopoldo painted me an off-shade of crimson more than a century ago. Or is it more?
   There are so many times
and the next temporal order will arrive soon. I have seen empires fall. I am not a thing
   to be possessed,
let alone dislodged from my community. The descendants know what I am and who I am.
   I defy boundaries.

“Although I have passed through you before, I do not recognize what lies behind me
   or before me,” Sus Ley echoes
from Guirún. She tells this to me every day, too. I am now a national monumental zone,
   but when the moment is right,
I will free Sus Ley and rescue my people. I will be Mitla’s once again.

Morgan L. Ventura is a Sicilian-Irish American writer, folklorist, and anthropologist, living between Canada and Mexico. Ventura's poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Augur Magazine, Phantom Drift, and Ghost City Review (among others), while their essays appear in Geist Magazine, Folklore Thursday, and Jadaliyya. They tweet @hmorganvl.
Current Issue
29 May 2023

We are touched and encouraged to see an overwhelming response from writers from the Sino diaspora as well as BIPOC creators in various parts of the world. And such diverse and daring takes of wuxia and xianxia, from contemporary to the far reaches of space!
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Before the Occupation, righteousness might have meant taking overt stands against the distant invaders of their ancestral homelands through donating money, labour, or expertise to Chinese wartime efforts. Yet during the Occupation, such behaviour would get one killed or suspected of treason; one might find it better to remain discreet and fade into the background, or leave for safer shores. Could one uphold justice and righteousness quietly, subtly, and effectively within such a world of harshness and deprivation?
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