ethnopoetics poems

ethnopoetics home


Cecilia Vicuña

translated by Rosa Alcalá

Word & Thread


Word is thread and the thread is language.

Non-linear body.

A line associated to other lines.

A word once written risks becoming linear,

but word and thread exist on another dimensional plane.

Vibratory forms in space and in time.

Acts of union and separation.



The word is silence and sound.

The thread, fullness and emptiness.




The weaver sees her fiber as the poet see her word.

The thread feels the hand, as the word feels the tounge.

Structures of feeling in the double sense

of sensing and signifying,

the word and the thread feel our passing.



Is the word the conducting thread, or does thread conduct the word-


Both lead to the centre of memory, a way of uniting and connecting.

A word carries another word as thread searches for thread.

A word is pregnant with other words and a thread contains

other threads within its interior.

Metaphors in tension, the word and the thread carry us beyond

threading and speaking, to what unites us, the immortal fiber.


To speak is to thread and the thread weaves the world.



In the Andes, the language itself, Quechua, is a cord of twisted straw,

two people making love, different fibers united.

To weave a design is pallay, to raise the fibers, to pick them up.

To read in Latin is legere, to pick up.

The weaver is both weaving and writing a text

that the community can read.

An ancient textile is an alphabet of knots, colors and directions

that we can no longer read.

Today the weaving no only "represent," they themselves are

one of the being of the Andean cosmogony. (E. Zorn)


Ponchos, llijllas, aksus, winchas, chuspas and chumpis are beings

who feel

and every being who feels walks covered in signs.

"The body given entirely to the function of signifying."

René Daumal

A textile is "in the state of being textile": awaska.

And one word, acnanacuna designates the clothing, the language

and the instruments for sacrifice (for signifying, I would say).



And the energy of the movement has a name and a direction: lluq'i,

to the left, paña, to the right.

A direction is a meaning and the twisting of the thread

transmits knowledge and information.

The last two movements of a fiber should be in opposition:

a fiber is made of two strands lluq'i and paña.

A word is both root and suffix : two antithetical meanings in one.

The word and the thread behave as processes in the cosmos.


The process is a language and a woven design is a process re-

presenting itself.

"An axis of reflection," says Mary Frame:

"the serpentine

attributes are images of the fabric structure,"

The twisted strands become serpents

and the crossing of darkness and light, a diamond star.

"Sprang is a weftless technique, a reciprocal action whereby the

interworking of adjacent elements with the fingers duplicates itself

above and below the working area."


The fingers entering the weave produce in the fibres

a mirror image of its movement, a symmetry that reiterates "the concept

of complementarity that imbues Andean thought."


The thread dies when it is released, but comes alive in the


the tension gives it a heart.

Soncco, is heart and guts, stomach and conscience, memory,

judgement and reason, the wood's core, the stem's central


The word and the thread are the heart of the community.

In order to dream, the diviner sleeps on fabric made of wik'uña.

A Note on Cecilia Vicuña: An artist/poet of multiple means, she has worked with films, installations, & performance pieces, & has moved between her native Chile and New York City over more than two decades. In this work she draws not only from modern & postmodern contemporaries but from (principally Andean) shamanism, oral traditions, mythology, & herbal lore ("ancient and modern texts which help me to understand what I had seen"). The unraveling & weaving that (in her own description of it) characterizes both her written & visual work draws from an almost limitless range of sources, mixing her words with those of others (old & new) in an assemblage or weave of words conceived (like "the sacred Quechua language," she tells us) as knots & threads (quipu in the old terminology, quipoems in hers). If this is a central metaphor for her, the sources for her words are given also as acts of vision in which (she writes) "individual words opened to reveal their inner associations, allowing ancient and newborn metaphors to come to light." And further: "To approach words from poetry is a form of asking questions. // To ask questions is to fathom, to drop a hook to the bottom of the sea. // The first questions appeared as a vision: I saw in the air words that contained, at the same time, both a question and an answer. // I called them ‘divinations.’ And the words said: the word is the divination; to divine is to ascertain the divine."

And quoting therein our brother poet Octavio Paz: I don’t see with my eyes: words are my eyes.

[Adapted from J. Rothenberg and P. Joris, Poems for the Millennium, volume 2]

Back to UbuWeb | Back to UbuWeb Ethnopoetics