On Buried Seeds: The history of ‘They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.’

Quisieron enterrarnos, pero se les olvido que somos semillas.

I first encountered this Mexican dicho in the mid-90’s reading poems and graffiti from Zapatistas. Then, when we lost the Ayotzinapa 43, the refrain came back as if a whole crop of teachers were about to burst from the earth in Iguala.

The phrase itself isn’t utterly unique, for instance it echoes Dr. Ganda Singh’s rebellious verse: “Mannu is our scythe and we his creepers, the more he hews us the more we grow.” And probably a dozen other similar sentiments besides. But this specific formulation, sticks out in my heart. Something about the dicho’s language is powerful.

But it turns out the dicho, isn’t a Mexican dicho at all, but cribbed from the Greek poet Dinos Christianopoulos’ original verse from ΜΙΚΡΑ ΠΟΙΗΜΑΤΑ — Τὸ Κορμὶ καὶ τὸ Σαράκι aimed squarely at those who would have erased him:

καὶ τί δὲν κάνατε γιὰ νὰ μὲ θάψετε
ὅμως ξεχάσατε πὼς ἤμουν σπόρος
What didn’t you do to bury me
but you forgot I was a seed.

Born in 1931, in Greece’s second city Thessaloniki, Christianopoulos writes a kind of confessional poetry that once ostracized him from Greek and international society. Today his poetry and music, whether translated by context or language, retain a deep power. That perhaps his most known work doesn’t have his name attached to it seems like a grave disservice. I don’t want to contribute to his burial any longer.

Thank you to Natalie Diaz for correcting my ignorance.

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