Astrid Cabral, "Birdish"

Translated from the Portuguese by Alexis Levitin


Entre folhas secas ou verdes
canta ao balcão da janela
um pássaro estrangeiro.

Tal o olhasse sem enxergá-lo
conheço-lhe o passarês
sem jamais decifrar-lhe a voz.

Não é hoje que me aflige
essa terrível surdez
a vedar-me sua mensagem.

Céus, são tantas as linguagens
que sempre me deixam à margem
cega ao que pássaros sabem.


Among some green or dried out leaves
there sings upon the window sill
a foreign bird.

Just as I gaze at him and don’t quite see him clear
I know his Birdish
yet cannot quite decipher it.

It did not begin today
this dreadful deafness that afflicts me
blocking out what he would say.

Heavens, how many languages there are
that leave me on the outside
blind to what all birds must know.

• • •

Astrid Cabral is a poet, critic, novelist and former diplomat from Manaus, the capital of the Amazonian region of Brazil. She has translated numerous works into Portuguese, including Thoreau's Walden. The environmental awareness that characterizes much of her writing has made her one of the leading figures in the Amazonian cultural identity recovery movement.

Alexis Levitin's translations have appeared in well over two hundred literary magazines, including Partisan Review, Grand Street, Kenyon Review, and, of course, Osiris. He has published twenty-four books of translations, including Guernica and Other Poems by Carlos de Oliveira, and Soulstorm, by Clarice Lispector.

"Birdish" is part of a selection of poems from Jaula (Cage) by Astrid Cabral that will be published in Calque 4, due in April 2008.

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