Bobby Byrd is sitting at his dining room table in El Paso, eating a burrito with his wife, Lee, and fantasizing about ways their small, gutsy press, Cinco Puntos, might provoke the National Endowment for the Arts to slam the book they have just published by Subcomandante Marcos, the leader of Mexico’s Zapatista guerillas. “One of my new goals in life,” says Byrd, a poet as well as a publisher, “is to publish books that make the front page of the New York Times again.
“The new work, Questions and Swords: Folktales of the Zapatista Revolution, is a sequel to a book by Marcos that the Byrds published two years ago. That simple children’s tale, titled The Story of Colors, made international news when the NEA rescinded $7,500 in grants for its publication. It did so because it feared that proceeds from the book could help fund Marcos’ rebellion against the Mexican government, but as a result of the buzz, the work sold 20,000 copies, four times its original printing.
While The Story of Colors was politically benign—it’s a folk story about how Mayan gods took a gray world and created colors— Questions and Swords is truly revolutionary. In it, Marcos contributes folktales that reveal his philosophy of war. In one he tells about a sword that is strong enough to topple trees but loses its edge when it slashes at a stone. The sword manages to break the stone into pieces. However, when the sword attacks water—an element it considers weak—the water silently wraps itself around it. In time, the sword