The poems “XIII” and “XXXIII,” by Adalber Salas Hernández, come from his book La ciencia de las despedidas, which I’ve translated as The Science of Departures. Each poem in the collection speaks to a different kind of farewell: death, illness, dispossession, exile, oblivion, decomposition, narratives forgotten or re-written over time. Some of the texts address historical figures or even take up their voices. Other poems speak uncannily from within the body itself, whether during life or after death. Still others — and this is true of the two poems published here — attend to the body in transit, trying to make sense of where it goes, confronted with the rigid arbitrariness of invented borders, ever-conscious of what it has left behind.
As a translator (which means, always, and more than anything else, as a reader), what most strikes me about these poems is how supplely they move between lyric and narrative, how deftly they tread. They’re both elegiac and conversational, sometimes openly mournful, often darkly funny. They keep moving, losing, cutting their losses, saying goodbye when they’re already gone. Translating these poems, I thought a lot about how to maintain this sense of constant motion — among tones, registers, times, places, narrative perspectives — in English, how to keep them light on their feet.
about the author