Mexico: The moon between the mirrors of the night and the crystal of the day

"I want you for a crystal, never a mirror".
Pedro Salinas

May of 1985. Dawn. The moon peers at the mirror of the lake and jealously, the moon wrinkles its face with its waves. In the middle of the trajectory between one and the other side, we venture in a canoe which has the same firmness as my decision to cross the lake. Old Man Antonio has invited me to test his canoe. For the past 28 nights, from the new to the full moon, old man Antonio has worked, with machete and ax, a large cedar trunk. The vessel is seven meters long. Old Man Antonio explains that canoes can be made of cedar, mahogany, huanacastle, bariy, and he points out the different trees he names. Old Man Antonio is determined to point them out, but I can't tell them apart; they are all large trees as far as I'm concerned. That was during the day; now it is dawn, and as usual we are here navigating in this little wooden cedar vessel which Old Man Antonio has baptized "The Troublemaker". "In honor of the moon" says Old Man Antonio while he rows with a large and thick stick. Now we are in the middle of the lake. The wind paints curls on the water and the canoe rises and falls. Old Man Antonio decides he should wait until the wind dies down, and he allows the vessel to float.

"These waves cannot turn the canoe over" he says, as his cigarette makes smoke spirals much as the wind makes waves. The moon is full, and in its light, it is possible to make out the large islets which dot the Miramar lake. Through a smoke spiral Old Man Antonio calls up an old story.

I'm more worried about sinking, which appears imminent (I can't decide whether to be nauseous or terrified), so I'm not ready for fables or stories. This, of course, is neither here nor there for Old Man Antonio because, reclined on the bottom of the canoe, he begins to weave his tale...


"The oldest of the elders say that the moon was born right here, in the jungle. They say that a long time ago, the gods had overslept, tired of playing and doing so much. The world was somewhat silent. Quiet it was. But a soft cry was heard up there in the mountain. Seems like the gods had forgotten a lake and left it in the middle of the mountain. When they divided up the things of the Earth, the little lake was left over, and since they did not know where else to put it, they just left it there, in the midst of so many hills that no one could find themselves there. So the little lake was crying because it was alone. And its cries were such that the heart of the Mother Cedar, who is the sustainer of the world, was saddened by the cries of the little lake. Gathering its large white petticoat the Cedar came near the little lake.

-What is wrong with you now?--The Cedar asked the water, which was becoming a puddle, because of its incessant crying.

-I don't want to be alone--said the little lake.

-Alright, then I will remain at your side" said the Cedar, the sustainer of the world.

-I don't want to be here--said the little lake.

-Alright, then you will come with me--said the Cedar.

-No, I want to be down there, close to the earth. I want to be tall. Like you--said the little lake.

--Alright, then I will lift you up to the level of my head. But only for a little while, because the wind is mischievous and I might drop you--said the Cedar.

As it could, the Mother Cedar gathered up its petticoat and bent over to take the little lake in its arms. Carefully, because it is the mother, the sustainer of the world, the Cedar, placed the little lake on the crown of its head. The Mother Cedar moved slowly, being careful not to spill one drop of water of the lake, because the Mother Cedar could see that the little lake was very thin.

From above the little lake exclaimed:

--It is such a joy being up here! Take me to see the world! I want to see all of it!

--The world is very large, little girl, and you can fall from up there--said the Cedar.

--I don't care! Take me!--the little Lake insisted and it pretended to cry.

The Mother Cedar did not want the little lake to cry itself so much, so it began to walk, very straight, with her on its head. Since then the women have learned to walk with a pitcher full of water on the head, so that not a drop falls. Like the Mother Cedar walk the women of the jungle when they bring the water from the brook. With a straightened back, their head raised, their step like clouds in the summer. That is how the woman in the mountain walks when she is taking the water which heals.

The mother Cedar was good at walking, because in those days the trees were not stationary. They walked from one place to another, making children and filling the world with trees. But the wind was around there, whistling with boredom. So it saw the Mother Cedar and wanted to play by lifting its petticoats with a slap. But the Cedar became angry and said:

--Be still, wind! Don't you see that I have upon my head a stubborn and weepy lake?

Then the wind finally saw the little lake, who peered at it from the curly crown of the Cedar. The wind thought the little lake was pretty and decided to flirt with it. So the wind rose up to the head of the Cedar and began to speak pretty words in the ear of the little lake. The little lake quickly preened itself and said to the wind:

--If you take me around the world, then I will go with you!

The wind didn't think twice. It made a horse of clouds and put the little lake on the rump and took the little lake away, so quickly that the Mother Cedar did not even notice when the little lake was taken from her head.

The little lake travelled for a good long time with the wind. And the wind told the little lake how pretty it was, how darned cute it was, that any thirst would be quenched with the water of the little lake, that anyone would love sinking inside her, and many other things were said by the wind in order to convince the little lake to make love in a corner of the dawn. And the little lake believed all that was said to her and each time they passed a puddle of water or a lake, the little lake took advantage of its reflection and fixed its wet hair and blinked her liquid eyes and made flirtatious features out of the little waves on her round face.

But the little lake only wanted to go from one end of the world to the other and nothing about making love in a corner of the dawn. The wind became bored and took her very high and shied away with a loud neigh and threw the little lake and the little lake began falling but since it was so high it took much time and surely it would have hurt itself if some stars had not caught sight of it and hooked it to their points. Seven stars took it by the sides, and like a sheet, raised it once again into the sky. The little lake was pale because it was so frightened of falling. And since she no longer wanted to return to the earth, she asked to stay with the stars.

--Alright--said the stars--but you will have to come with us wherever we go.

--Yes--answered the little lake--I will go with you.

But the little lake was saddened to always take the same route and she began to cry again. Her crying awoke the gods and they went to see what was happening or where the crying came from and they saw the little lake, being pulled by the seven stars, crossing the night. When they learned the story, the gods were angry because they had not made lakes so they could wander in the sky, but so that they stayed on earth. They went to see the little lake and said to it:

--You will no longer be a lake. Lakes do not live in the sky. But since we cannot take you down, then you will remain here. But we will call you "moon" and your punishment, because you are vain and a flirt, will be to reflect the well where the light is put away on earth.

Apparently, the gods had put away the light inside the earth and had made a large round hole so that whenever the light and the spirit diminished in the stars they could come and drink there. So the moon has no light, it is only a mirror, and when it appears full, its front reflects the great hole filled with light where the stars drink. Mirror of light, that is what the moon is. So whenever the moon strolls in front of a lake, the mirror looks in a mirror. And even so the moon is never happy or angry, it is the troublemaker...

The gods also punished the Mother Cedar for being such a pamperer. They no longer allowed it to walk from one place to the other, and they gave it the world to carry, and doubled the thickness of its skin so it would not respond to any crying it might hear. Since then, the Cedar has skin of stone and stands without moving. If the Cedar moves even a little the world will fall.

--So it happened--said Old Man Antonio--Since then the moon reflects the light which is stored inside the Earth. That is why when it finds a lake, the moon stops to fix its hair and its face. That is why whenever women pass a mirror, they stop to look at themselves. That was a gift from the gods; to each woman was given a piece of moon, so they could fix their hair and their face and so they would not want to travel and climb to the sky.

Old Man Antonio stopped, but the wind did not, the waves continued to threaten the little boat. But I said nothing. Not because I was reflecting upon the words of Old Man Antonio, but because I was sure, that if I opened my mouth, I would expel even my liver onto the agitated mirror in which the moon rehearses its flirtatiousness..


In Mexico, sometimes the moon is painted in a resplendent red. Neither blush nor blood, it is rage and rancor which illuminates its pearly face. Upon its return from its long voyage through the Mexican night the moon ends its repeated path of mirrors and returns to its tired walk. Its look is red..because of its rancor..and confusion..

Why? What has it seen? Stammering, annoyed and with a thin, thready voice which seems like a spiral of wind in May, the moon tells the story of its last voyage. It says it walked the Mexican night, and that, as it tumbled in the giant labyrinth of mirrors which is our contemporary history it came to...


(Tomorrow: "First mirror: Power as a mirror and an image".)

TRANSLATED BY: Cecilia Rodriguez, National Center of the Commission for Democracy in Mexico, June 1995.

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