Stories for Dreaming An-Other World

13 11 2022
Zapatista mural (

Andy Kopkind wrote perhaps the most incisive analysis in the immediate wake of the Zapatistas’ January 1, 1994, emergence onto the world stage: “The revolt of the Chiapanecos is something stunningly new, the first shots of a rebellion consciously aimed at the new world order, the dire consequences of a history that did not die as predicted but intrudes in the most pernicious manner on the way of life of people always overlooked. It is a war against the globalization of the market, against the destruction of nature and the confiscation of resources, against the termination of indigenous peoples and their lands, against the growing maldistribution of wealth and the consequent decline in standards of living for all but the rich … The shots fired in Mexico in the first week of the new year have been heard around the world, and their echoes will not soon stop.” Andy is quoted by the Lightning Collective, of which our friend and adviser Margaret Cerullo is a member, in the introduction to its just-published English translation of Zapatista Stories for Dreaming An-Other World. The allegorical story below was written by Subcomandante Marcos in a communiqué published on Andy’s last birthday, as it happens, three days after national elections in Mexico, as indigenous communal assemblies were in the process of discussing the direction of their struggle for autonomy, for humanity—a new politics, a new language, a new world to imagine.

The Lion Kills by Looking

August 24, 1994

Old Antonio hunted a mountain lion with his ancient shotgun. I had made fun of his weapon just days before: “They were using weapons like that when Hernán Cortés conquered Mexico,” I had said to him. He defended himself: “Sure, but look who’s wielding it now.” Now he is taking the last shreds of flesh from the hide to tan it. He proudly shows me the hide. It doesn’t have a single hole in it. “Right in the eye,” he boasts. “That’s the only way to keep the hide intact.” “What are you going to do with it?” I ask. Old Antonio does not answer. He continues scraping the hide with his machete in silence. I sit down next to him and after filling my pipe attempt to roll him a corn husk cigarette. I silently offer it to him. He examines it and takes it apart. “You’re not there yet,” he tells me, as he rerolls it. We sit down and begin the ceremony of smoking together.

Between puffs, Old Antonio spins the story.

“The lion is strong because the other animals are weak. The lion eats their flesh because they allow him to eat it. The lion does not kill with claws or fangs. The lion kills by looking. 

“First, he approaches slowly—in silence, because he has clouds on his paws that dampen the noise. Next, he pounces and, with a swipe, takes his victim down, more by surprise than by force. After that, he just stares at his prey. The lion looks at his prey like this . . .” Old Antonio furrows his brow and fixes his black eyes on me. “The poor little animal who is going to die just stares: all it can do is look at the lion looking at it. The little animal no longer sees itself. It sees what the lion sees. It sees the image of a little animal, and in that gaze it is small and weak. Before this, the little animal had never thought about whether or not it was small or weak; it was just a little animal, neither big nor small, neither strong nor weak. But, now, seeing itself in the eyes of the lion, it sees fear. And, seeing how it appears to the lion, the little animal, all on its own, convinces itself that it is small and weak. And seeing the fear that the lion sees, it is afraid. Then the little animal stops looking at anything, and its bones become numb, like when we get caught in the rain in the mountains, in the night, in the cold. And the little animal surrenders, gives up, and the lion gobbles it down, just like that. This is how the lion kills. He kills by looking. 

“But there is one little animal that doesn’t respond in this way. When he comes across the lion, he ignores him and continues as usual. And if the lion swipes at him, he answers by clawing with his hands, which may be tiny, but the blood they draw certainly hurts. This little animal does not back down, because he does not see the lion staring at him. He is blind. ‘Mole’ is what they call this little animal.”

Old Antonio seems to have finished talking. I venture a “Yes, but . . .” Old Antonio doesn’t let me finish and continues telling the story while he rolls another cigarette. He does it slowly, turning to look at me every so often to make sure I am still paying attention.

“The mole went blind because, instead of looking outward, he began to look into his heart; he insisted on looking inward. No one knows how this idea of looking inward got into the mole’s head. The mole was so stubborn about looking into his heart that he didn’t worry about things like strong or weak, big or small, because the heart is the heart, and it isn’t measured the way things and animals are. However, it so happens that only the gods were permitted to look inward, so they punished the mole and didn’t allow him to look outward anymore. Even worse, they condemned him to live and crawl under the earth. That’s why the mole lives underground, because the gods punished him. But the mole wasn’t even upset, since he continued looking inward. 

“That’s why the mole is not afraid of the lion. And neither is the man who knows how to look into his heart. Because the man who knows how to look into his heart does not see the strength of the lion, what he sees is the strength of his heart, and then he looks at the lion who sees the man looking at him. There, in the man’s gaze, the lion sees that he is a mere lion, and sees himself being stared at, and he is afraid and runs away.”

“So did you look into your heart to kill this lion?” I interrupt. “Me?” he answers.” “No way! I concentrated on where the gun was aimed and where the lion’s eye was and fired, just like that. My heart didn’t even cross my mind.” I scratch my head the way they do around here whenever they don’t understand something. Old Antonio stands up slowly. He takes the hide and examines it carefully. Then he rolls it up and hands it to me. “Take it,” he says. “It’s for you so that you never forget that the lion and fear are both killed by knowing where to look.”

Old Antonio turns around and goes inside his home. In Old Antonio’s language, that means: “I’m done. Adiós.” I put the hide of the lion in my nylon bag and leave . . .

Lightning Collective, translators and Zapatista solidarity activists based in Amherst, Massachusetts, provide commentaries illuminating the historical, political and literary contexts of each of the lustrous fables. As the publisher, PM Press, notes, “this timeless, elegiac volume is perfect for lovers of literature and lovers of revolution”. For more information on the book, pictured below, and how to buy it, click here.



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