The Conference of the Birds

Poetry from Survival Kit #2, presented by the NGC Bocas Lit Fest

A poem from La ciencia de las despedidas (The Science of Departures), by Adalber Salas Hernández, translated by Robin Myers

 


 

THE CONFERENCE OF THE BIRDS

In the middle of the Nasrid Palace is a
rectangular room, roofless, whose name
escapes me. Placid stone now dominating
no one, with a pond as brief
as a navel, like a single eye, like
a water-mouth mid-yawn. I sit on
the stairs, crushed by this heat that
hollows out the bones and carves them into flutes, surrounded
by tourists from Asia and Eastern Europe,
all frantic and overheated. Above
us, dozens of swifts cut across
the narrow air, cheeping, deafening the
walls and the clicking cameras and the hubbub,
sealing off the whole summer with that single voice made
of knives, tiles, intangible ink, the wind’s
tendons, as if trying to teach
a lesson, a revelation to the clammy
bodies that will wander here all afternoon and then
go home, show photos to their
families, and describe a building
ridden with birds — concluding, perhaps,
that the first man was not in fact
the first man, but barely a journey, a little
path grooved with blood and bile and marrow vivid
as sundown in August,
and that the first bird wasn’t the first
bird, but a sound collected into the density
of flight, and that between the two is just
the headless clarity of this day. But maybe they
don’t mean any of this. Maybe they’re content
to fly from crack to crack, hovering up above,
where eternity is another untamed animal.
I sit there and the swifts and tourists pass me by.
Their happy calls are unbaptised children.

 

EL COLOQUIO DE LOS PÁJAROS

En medio del Palacio de los Nazaríes, una
estancia rectangular, sin techo, cuyo nombre
se me escapa. Piedra mansa que ya
no tiene señorío sobre nadie, con un estanque breve
como ombligo, como ojo único, como
boca en pleno bostezo de agua. Me siento en
las escaleras, aplastado por este calor que
ahueca los huesos y los vuelve flautas, rodeado
de turistas venidos de Asia o Europa del Este,
insolados y frenéticos. Por encima
de nosotros, decenas de vencejos atraviesan
piando el aire estrecho, ensordeciendo las
paredes y el clic de las cámaras y el bullicio,
tapando el verano entero con esa sola voz hecha
de cuchillos, tejas, tinta impalpable, los
tendones del viento, como queriendo impartir
una lección, una revelación a los cuerpos
sudorosos que pasarán aquí la tarde y
volverán a casa, mostrarán las fotos a sus
familiares y les hablarán de un edificio
infestado de pájaros, una lección que
enseña, quizás, que el primer hombre no era
el primer hombre, sino un recorrido apenas, una
vía estriada de sangre y bilis y médula fulgurante
como un atardecer de agosto,
y que el primer pájaro no era el primer
pájaro, sino un sonido amasado hasta el espesor
de la fuga, y que entre uno y otro sólo cabe
la claridad sin cabeza de este día. Pero capaz no
quieren decir nada de esto; capaz se contentan
con volar de grieta en grieta, permaneciendo allá arriba,
donde la eternidad es otro animal por domesticar.
Me quedo sentado mientras pasan vencejos y turistas.
Sus gritos contentos son niños sin bautizar.

 


© Copyright 2020 Adalber Salas Hernández and Robin Myers

Adalber Salas Hernández was born in Caracas, A poet, essayist, and translator, he is currently pursuing a PhD at New York University. He is the author of seven collections of poetry, the most recent of which is La ciencia de las despedidas. Other poems from the same collection, also in Robin Myers’s English translation, have appeared in the Kenyon Review, the Harvard Review, Waxwing, and AMP. He has published two collections of essays, as well as numerous translations from English and French. He has been a member of the editorial board for Revista POESÍA and Buenos Aires Poetry. He coordinates the collection Diablos Danzantes published by Amargord Ediciones.

Robin Myers is a Mexico City-based poet and translator. She was among the winners of the 2019 Poems in Translation Contest, held by Words Without Borders and the Academy of American Poets. Her translations have appeared in The Common, the Kenyon Review, the Harvard Review, Two Lines, The Offing, Waxwing, Beloit Poetry Journal, Asymptote, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and Tupelo Quarterly. Recent book-length translations include Lyric Poetry Is Dead by Ezequiel Zaidenwerg (Cardboard House Press, 2018), Animals at the End of the World by Gloria Susana Esquivel (University of Texas Press, Spring 2020), Cars on Fire by Mónica Ramón Ríos (Open Letter Books, Spring 2020), and The Restless Dead by Cristina Rivera Garza (Vanderbilt University Press, Fall 2020).

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