Track nine

Mariposa de Obsidiana


Catán composed Mariposa de Obsidiana (Obsidian Butterfly) in 1984, on a prose-poem by the renowned Mexican poet and diplomat, Octavio Paz (1914-1998). The text is a small chapter in his book Águila o Sol (Eagle or Sun), published in 1951. The voice is that of Itzpapálotl, the Aztec warrior goddess who rules over the Paradise where human souls reside before they are born, and where dead infants return. She is depicted as a skeleton with butterfly wings that are tipped in obsidian blades. In this elegy, she is lamenting the loss of her culture and religion to that of the Spanish Empire.

One hears Catán’s signature harmonic, vocal and orchestral style, though it is more experimental than the mature style of his later operas. Melodic and orchestral themes recur throughout. Catán composed the piece in reduction first, and then orchestrated it some time later, adding several measures into the final chorus. The text below is a translation of only the text included in the composition; there are several more lines in the prose-poem itself. Bolded lines are those repeated by the chorus.

They killed my brothers, my children, my uncles. On the banks of Lake Texcoco I began to weep. Whirlwinds of saltpeter rose from Peñon hill. They gently picked me up, and set me in the courtyard of the Cathedral. I made myself so small and so gray that many mistook me for a little pile of dust. Yes, I myself, the mother of flint and star, I, bearer of the ray, I am now but the blue feather that a bird loses in the brambles. Once, I would dance, my breasts high, and turning, turning, turning until I became still; then I would sprout leaves, flowers, fruit. The eagle throbbed in my belly. I was the mountain that creates as it dreams, the house of fire, the primordial pot where man is cooked and becomes man. In the night of the butchered words, my sisters and I, joined in hand, leaped and sang around the I, the only standing tower in the razed alphabet. Singing in the green thicket the golden-throated light, the light, the headless light. In other times, every hour was born from the vapor of my breath, danced awhile on the point of my dagger, and disappeared through the shining door of my hand mirror. And I was the tattooed noon and the naked midnight, the little jade insect that sings in the grass at dawn and the clay mockingbird that summons the dead. I bathed in the sun's waterfall, I bathed in myself, soaked in my own splendor. I was the flint that rips the storm clouds of night and opens the doors of the downpouring rain. In the southern sky, I planted gardens of fire, gardens of blood. Its coral branches still graze the foreheads of the lovers. There, love is the meeting of two meteors in the middle of space, and not this obstinacy of rocks rubbing each other to ignite a sparking kiss. Each night is an eyelid the thorns never stop piercing. And the day never stops, never stops counting itself, broken into copper coins. I am tired of so many stone beads scattered into the dust. I am tired of this unfinished solitaire. Lucky the mother scorpion who devours her children. Lucky the spider. Lucky the snake that sheds its skin. Lucky the water that drinks itself. When will these images stop devouring me? When will I stop falling in those empty eyes? I am alone and fallen, a grain of corn pulled from the ear of time. Sow me among the battle dead. I will be born in the captain's eye. Rain down on me, give me sun. My body, plowed by your body, will turn into a field where one is sown and a hundred are reaped. Wait for me on the other side of the year: you will meet me like a lightning flash stretched to the edge of autumn. Touch my grass breasts. Kiss my belly, sacrificial stone. In my navel the whirlwind grows calm: I am the fixed center that moves the dance. Burn, fall into me: I am the pit of living lime that cures the bones of their afflictions. Die in my lips. Rise from my eyes. From my body gush images: drink in these waters and remember what you forgot at birth. I am the wound that does not heal, if you strike me, the world will go up in flames. Take my necklace of tears. wait for you on that side of time where light has inaugurated a joyous reign: the covenant of the enemy twins, water that escapes between our icy fingers, ice, petrified like a king in his pride. There you will split open my body to read the inscription of your fate.

Mariposa obsidiana