Translating the Poems of Manuel José Arce

The trees sense the danger. The corn grieves in its husk.  

There is a deadly tremor in the November sky. Water stops

in the riverbed.

And the dogs hide from the scent. But the child

in the yard

is playing with a stone.

            (from Manuel José Arce’s “Map With a Stone”)


A few years into my marriage, my husband, one of Manuel José Arce’s nephews, showed me the poem “Map With a Stone.” It was my first exposure to Arce, and it blew me away. Written during some of the most brutal years in Guatemala’s history, the poem describes helicopters attacking an indigenous village, and ends with the powerful image of a child throwing a stone at one of them in protest.

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