from Our Word is Our Weapon: selected writings by Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos: ed. by Juana Ponce de León, London, Serpent’s Tail, 2001.


Fifteen Years Ago

September 1999

Every August, year after year, the mountains of the Mexican southeast give birth to a particularly luminous dawn. I don't know the scientific causes, but during this dawn, this one single dawn in the whole of a disconcerting August, the moon is a hammock of swaying iridescence, the stars marshal themselves to encircle it, and the Milky Way proudly lights up its thousand wounds of clotted light. In this August of the end of the millennium, the calendar pointed to the sixth day when this dawn appeared. And with the swaying moon came back a memory of another August and another sixth, 15 years ago, when I began my entry into these mountains that were and are, like it or not, home, school, road, and door. I began my entry in August, and I didn't complete it until September.

I should confess something to you. When I laboriously climbed the first of the steep hills that abound in these parts, I was sure it would be my last. I wasn't thinking of revolution, of high human ideals or a shining future for the dispossessed and forgotten of always.

No, I was thinking I'd made the worst decision in my life, that the pain that squeezed my chest, more and more, would end up totally closing off my increasingly skimpy airway, that the best thing for me would be to go back and let the revolution manage itself without me. If I didn't go back, it was only because I didn't know the way back. All I knew was that I had to follow the compañero preceding me, who, judging by the cigarette he was smoking while effortlessly negotiating the mud, seemed to be merely out for a stroll. I didn't think that one day I'd be able to climb a hill while smoking and not feel as if I was dying with each step, or that a time would come when I'd be able to manage the mud that was as abundant underfoot as the stars are overhead. No, I wasn't thinking at all then. I was concentrating on every breath I was trying to take.

At some point we reached the highest crest of the hill, and the man in charge of the meagre column (we were three) said we would rest there. I let myself fall in the mud and told myself that perhaps it wouldn't be so hard to find the way back, that all I would have to do would be to walk down for another eternity, and that some day I would have to reach the point where the truck had dropped us off. I was making my calculations, including the excuses I would give them and give myself for abandoning the beginning of my career as a guerrilla, when the compañero approached me and offered me a cigarette. I refused with a shake of my head, not because I didn't want to talk but because I'd tried saying, "No thanks", and only a groan had come out.

After a bit, taking advantage of the fact that the man in charge had gone off some distance to satisfy what is referred to as a basic biological need, I used the .20-calibre rifle that I was carrying more like a walking stick than a combat weapon, and pulled myself up as best I could. That was how I was able to see something from the top of that mountain that had a profound impact on me.

No, I didn't look down. I didn't look towards the twisted scribble of the river, nor to the weak lights of the bonfires that dimly illuminated a distant hamlet, nor to the neighbouring mountains that painted the ravine, sprinkled with small villages, fields and pastures.

I looked upward. I saw a sky that was a gift and a relief - no, more like a promise. The moon was like a smiling nocturnal swing, the stars sprinkling blue lights, and the ancient serpent of luminous wounds that you call the Milky Way seemed to be resting its head there, very far away.

I stayed looking for a time, knowing I'd have to climb up that wretched hill to see this dawn, that the mud, the slips, the stones that hurt my flesh inside and out, the tired lungs incapable of pulling in the necessary air, the cramped legs, the anguished clinging to the rifle walking stick to free my boots from the imprisoning mud, the feeling of loneliness and desolation, the weight I was carrying on my back (which, I came to know later, was only a token, since in reality there would always be three times that or more), that all of that - and much more that would come later - is what had made it possible for that moon, those stars, and the Milky Way to be there and no other place.

When I heard, from behind, the orders to renew the march, up in the sky a star, surely fed up by its subjugation to the black roof, managed to break away and, by falling, to leave a brief and fugitive trace on the nocturnal blackboard. "That's what we are," I said to myself, "fallen stars that barely scratch the sky of history with a scrawl." As far as I knew, I had only thought this, but apparently I had thought it aloud, because the compañero asked, "What did he say?" "I don't know," replied the man in charge. "Could be he's already got a fever. We have to hurry."

What I'm telling you happened 15 years ago. Thirty years ago, a few people scratched history, and, knowing this, they began calling to many others so that, by dint of scribbling, scratching and scrawling, they would end up rending the veil of history, and so the light would finally be seen. That, and nothing else, is the struggle we are making. And so if you ask us what we want, we will unashamedly answer: "To open a crack in history."

Perhaps you are asking what happened to my intention to turn back and abandon the guerrilla life, and you might suppose that the vision of that first dawn in the mountains made me abandon my idea of fleeing, lifted my morale and firmed my revolutionary conscience. Well, you are wrong. I put my plan into operation and went down the hill. What happened is I mistook which side to go down. Instead of going down the slope that would take me back to the road and from there to "civilisation", I went down the side that took me deeper into the rainforest and that led me to another hill, and another and another …

That was 15 years ago. Since then, I have kept climbing hills and I have kept mistaking which side to go down, and every August 6 keeps giving birth to a special dawn, and all of us keep being falling stars barely scratching our history.

Wait. What is that shining so bright in the distance? It looks like a crack.


Our Word is Our Weapon: selected writings by Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos: ed. by Juana Ponce de León, London, Serpent’s Tail, 2001.

The original works of Subcomandante Marcos are not copyrighted. 

Permission granted for all noncommercial use of material in this book credited to Subcomandante Marcos. Copies of all such usage is requested.



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