Miguel Ángel Asturias (translation by Robert W. Lebling)

Punishment of Profundities (excerpt)

Woodlands and abandoned cities burned
on the bank of rivers that roasted
stones and embankments,
bleeding gums
and teeth of buttery ash
like the distance that the golden-smoke azuacan
brings on its wings from southern lands.
Butterflies of turpentine
flew from the trunks of the pines.
Cataracts of orchid sweat
rained from the arms of the ceiba trees.
Fire dust fell from the dry oaks,
boiling balsam from the liquidambars
and to the perfume of tamarinds ablaze
was joined that of the cacao groves, a scent of chocolate,
amid the little bone cracks of the sapodillas ,
the rubber trees twisted in elastic columns,
the chicle trees dripping with milky hairs,
and the crackling conocastes ,
red blood of uprooted foliage,
and the sleeping white oaks ,
almost mineral,
and the fleshy mahoganies,
already butter from the touch of a constellation
that lost a foot in the conflagration of the sky
and now walked its leg of fire
in the conflagration of the land.

Whales gone astray in tropical seas,
phosphorescent, torrid flying seas,
playing vaqueros, they hurled jets of water
to lasso the tiger of the conflagration,
the tiger of squeaking rubies,
who recovered his comet-gone-mad ferocity
as he fell on the crystal hoop straps
of the blue vaqueros,
liquid lariats that held him,
paralyzed with surprise,
long enough to slow his escape,
his flight from the water-made-steam,
while the corsairs, floating islands with tiny eyes,
managed to rope him with new and more powerful
jets of water, slip-knot rings,
whose loops the tiger of squeaking rubies
pulled up among flames and stars,
toward the constellation of the mirage,
the one that lost its foot, the constellation of distance,
and toward the army of blue lakes
parapeted in the mouths of the higher volcanoes,
lakes that before falling into fragments -
conquered, evaporated -
and, coiled on the tiger of rubies, galloped with him,
transformed into serpents of turquoise flames.

The earth was subjected
to a punishment of profundities.
After the conflagration, the invisible rains,
the soil overturned, the hurricane of mud,
the razors of the sun,
the chichicaste nettle in the living flesh...
a punishment of profundities
for having made room
for the first barbarian, not the last,
for the first human beast,
for the first executioner
in my country forged of honey.

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