The prison was deep and made of stone; its form, that of an almost perfect hemisphere, as well as the floor (likewise of stone) measure somewhat less than a full circle, made in such a way as to aggravate the feelings of oppression and vastness. A median wall cuts through it; this wall, although extremely high, does not touch the farthest part of the vault. On one side am I, Tzinacán, magus of the pyramid of Qaholom which Pedro de Alvarado set to flame; on the other is a jaguar, measuring with even and secret steps the dimensions and date of capture. Level with the floor, a long barred window cuts through the central wall. At the hour without shadow (midday) a trap opens above and a jailer whom the years have erased operates an iron pulley and lowers down to us, on the tip of the rope, jugs with water and pieces of meat. Light enters the vault, and at this moment I can see the jaguar.
I lost track of the number of years I lay in the darkness; I, who once was young and able to walk through this prison, do nothing but maintain, in my death pose, the end that the gods have planned for me. With the deep flint knife I opened the chests of the victims and now would not be capable of raising myself from the dust without magic.
On the evening of the burning of the Pyramid, the men who descended from towering steeds punished me with burning metals so that I would tell them the location of the hidden treasure. Before my very eyes they knocked over the idol of my god, but my god did not abandon me and I remained silent between each set of torments. I was lacerated, beaten, deformed, and then I awoke in this jail which I shall not leave for the rest of my mortal life.
Urged on by the fatality of doing something, of populating the hours in some fashion, I sought to recall in these shadows everything I had ever known. Entire nights were wasted in remembering the order and number of certain stone serpents or the shape of a medicinal tree. In this way I conquered the years; in this way I entered into the possession of that which was mine. Before catching sight of the ocean, the passenger senses an agitation in his blood; and one night I felt that a precise memory was approaching. Hours later I began to perceive the memory: it was one of the traditions of my god. Foreseeing that at the end of all ages there would occur countless misfortunes and ruin, he wrote on that first day of Creation a magic sentence for conjuring up evil. He wrote it in such a way that it befell the most distant of generations and was untouched by chance. No one knows how much he wrote nor what characters he used, but we have evidence that the sentence persists in secret and one chosen person will read it. As always, I thought that we were already at the end of all ages and that my destiny as last priest of my god would give me access to the privilege of intuiting this writing. The fact that I was surrounded by a jail did not deprive me of such a hope; perhaps I had seen the inscription of Qaholom thousands of times and simply failed to divine its meaning.
This thought gave me strength which later turned into a type of vertigo. In the ambit of the soil there were old forms, incorruptible and eternal forms; any of them could have been the symbol so desired. A mountain could have been the word of god, or a river or the empire or the configuration of the stars. But in the course of the centuries the mountains level out, and the path of a river tends to deviate; empires are bound to encounter mutations and havoc and the configuration and shape of the stars vary. There is movement in the firmament. The mountain and the star are individuals and individuals expire. I searched for something more tenacious, more invulnerable. I thought of the generations of grains, of pastures, of birds, of men. Perhaps this magic was written on my face, perhaps it was I who was the completion of my search. It was when I was immersed in such zeal that I remembered that the jaguar was one of the attributes of my god.
And so did piety fill my soul. I imagined the first morning of time; I imagined my god confiding the message in the live skin of jaguars who would copulate and breed their species endlessly in caves, in reed-beds, on islands, so that the last men would receive that message. I imagined a web of tigers, a hot labyrinth of tigers terrorizing the fields and flocks, all in order to conserve a sketch. There was a jaguar in the other cell; in his vicinity I espied a confirmation of my conjecture and a secret favor.
Long years did I devote to learning the order and configuration of its spots. Every blind day conceded a moment of light, and so my mind became able to discern the black forms which smeared its gilded fur. Some were circular dots; others were transverse stripes on the inner part of its legs; others were rings repeating themselves. Perhaps they were all the same sound or the same word. Many were trimmed in red.
I will not mention the fatigues of my labor. More than once I screamed at the vault that it was impossible to decipher any text. Gradually the concrete enigma with which I had tasked myself began to bother me less than the generic enigma of a sentence written by a god. What type of sentence, I asked myself, would constitute an absolute mind? I mused that even in the human languages there was no proposition that did not imply the entire universe; saying tiger meant the tigers that bred him, the deer and turtles that he devoured, the field on which the deer grazed, the land which was the mother of this field, the sky which shone upon this land. I mused that in the language of a god every word would announce this infinite concatenation of facts, and not in an implicit but rather an explicit way, and not progressively but immediately. In time, the notion of a divine sentence seemed puerile or blasphemous. A god, I thought, only needs to say one word and in this word resides the plenitude. No voice articulated by him could be inferior to the universe or less than the sum of all ages. Shadows and simulacra of this voice which equates to a language and how much one can understand a language are the ambitions and poor human voices, everything, world, universe.
One day or one night – what difference was there then between my days and nights? – I dreamt that the floor of my prison had a grain of sand. Indifferent, I went back to sleep; then I dreamt that I had woken up and that there were now two grains of sand. I went back to sleep; and I dreamt that the grains of sand had become three. They multiplied in this way until the prison was brimming and I was dying beneath this hemisphere of sand. I understood that I was dreaming; with supreme effort I woke myself up. Waking up was useless; the swarm of sand was suffocating me. Someone said: "You have not opened your eyes to wakefulness, but to your previous dream. This dream is within you, and will go on in infinity, which is the number of the grains of sand. The path you will have to retrace is interminable and you will die before you really wake."
I felt lost. Sand was penetrating my mouth, and yet I cried: "Not a single dreamed grain can kill me nor are there dreams within dreams." A flash woke me. In the upper darkness a circle of light threatened to break. I saw the face and hands of my jailer, the pulley, the meat and the jugs.
A man gradually becomes commingled with the signature of his destiny; over time a man becomes his circumstances. More than a decipherer or avenger, more than a priest of the god, I was a prisoner. I returned from the tireless labyrinth of dreams to the hard prison as if I were returning home. I gave thanks for the humidity, its tiger, the tiny hole of light; I gave thanks for my old pain-ridden body; I gave thanks for the darkness and the stone.
Then something occurred which I cannot forget nor communicate. What occurred was the union with the divinity, with the universe (I don't know whether these words contain any difference). The ecstasy did not repeat its symbols; there was someone who saw God in a flash; there was someone who saw Him in a sword or the spirals of a rose. I saw the highest Wheel, which was not before my eyes nor behind them, not at their sides, but everywhere all at once. This Wheel was made of water but also of fire, and was (although its edge was visible) infinite. Interwoven, it formed all things that could be, are and were, and I was one of the strands of this long thread, and Pedro de Alvarado who had tormented me was another. Here were the causes and effects and it was enough for me to see this Wheel to understand everything, everything without end. O serendipity of understanding, so much greater than that of imagining or sensing! I saw the universe and the intimate designs of the universe. I saw the origins which the Popol Vuh narrates. I saw the mountains which surged from the water, I saw the first tree men, I saw the earthenware jars that turned against men, I saw the dogs that destroyed their faces. I saw the god without a face who sat behind all the other gods. I saw infinite processes which formed one single happiness, and understanding all of this, I also came to understand the writing of the tiger.
It was a formula of fourteen unadorned words (at least they seemed unadorned) and I would only need to say them aloud to become omnipotent. I would only need to say them for this stone prison to be obliterated, for day to enter into my night, for me to be young, for me to be immortal, for the tiger to destroy Alvarado, for the sacred knife to plunge into Spanish chests, for the pyramid and empire to be reconstructed. Forty syllables, fourteen words and I, Tzinacán, would rule the lands that Moctezuma ruled. But I know that I will never utter these words because I no longer remember Tzinacán.
May the mystery that is written in the tigers perish with me. He who has seen through the universe, he who has seen through the ardent designs of the universe cannot think of a man, of his trivial joys and misfortunes, even if he is that same man. This man has been this man and now it no longer matters. What does he care about any other's luck and happiness, what does he care about any other's nation if he, now, is no one? For that reason I do not utter the formula, for that reason I allow my days to be forgotten, laid to rest in the darkness.