Threatened Species

Mária Ferenčuhová


A light green continent with a spiky peninsula.
The sea, an emerald whitish interface:
The view from above doesn’t belong to a god
but a satellite.
A strip by the coast
the colour and shape of the Milky Way
an oil spill
silently expands.

In a new outfit,
brown and watertight
as a raincoat,
you hide a beak.
successfully concealing the essence of a bird,
you sigh finally
not like a seagull
but a tapir.


Leaning against the damp façade
with one leg draped over the other
and cheap cigarette in hand,
in a flood of green and then
in a white-brown dark.
You create the impression
you have befriended mammals,
birds and salamanders.

From here it isn’t obvious that the animal portraits
are from a calendar.
Under the hat not even the sticky hair is obvious.
Thickening liver tissue is hidden under the skin,
night hides day,
laughter once more fear
and you drown a bleary glance
in thoughts transparent as alcohol.


You possess. You have. It stays with you.
You save
the goods of this world in your palm.
You close it, open again,
it’s empty, you open the newspaper,
also empty, the radio
reporting a frontal depression,
road accidents,
outrages in distant lands.
You no longer see the forest
from the window, only the dull
house opposite.


You should never have been born.
You weren’t even inside properly.
You chose an inappropriate belly,
an improper father,
a wretched country.
You clawed your way out prematurely,
poking into matter, into the wrangle,
where they hadn’t counted on you.

Then you hesitated. You almost didn’t drop out.
They tugged at you with pincers, pressuring your temples
so strongly that since then only dark dreams
survive in them.

They tied you to your mother’s back.
They showed you how to rip,
to bite,
to get under her skin.
They showed a direction
and then
without a word,
tripped you up.


We did not have to meet.
We could have clung on to all
the lives that little by little grow about us.
We could have calmly dozed into death.

But we tore down the nets,
redrew the boundaries,
shifted destiny, enlarged our holdings,
sowed new fields, demolished
monuments, built tracks,
buried the dead,
and the wounded we tended to so long
that at the end they remained with us forever.


We ruined almost everything.
Moved it, deflected, broke, ground down,
stuffed it with rubbish, soiled it—
and now we fill in,
the shambles soonest
pouring in concrete.


Certain folk also go out
in the streets on foot.
From under rotten planks,
from deep burrows and damp cellars
thousands of gleaming
eyes follow them mesmerically.

They still have not lost hope
of grasping, squeezing,
of any sort of rampage,
where they confirm a body count
and preserve their line.


All these children.
They run among the lights
and disappear under the gate.
In piles of dry leaves
they steer clear of traps. They zigzag,
come out as dark falls,
sort out paper after paper,
folder after folder,
they smoke cigarette butts,
drink up wine, sip milk, juice,
curl up under cartons,
cover themselves with branches.
Calmly they wait
until the time comes for them.


(And then silently
occupying abandoned sites
the young whelp
in depopulated neighborhoods,
without surprise they explore their bodies,
armour on their chests, shiny healthy gums,
jaws full of transparent saliva,
which burns holes in plastic bottles
and changes alloy to porridge.)


We do not give up. Carefully
we examine the skin on faces,
maps of blood vessels, craters for cells,
noting trembling hands, stuttering,
cracks in sentences.
As others measure pressure and sugar,
we measure the level in thinking.

When two hands can’t clasp together,
there’s a space still remaining between words.
We fill it with understanding
the way others stuff windcheaters with quilting.


Yet how many must still take to the streets,
how many times must the mechanical dance be repeated,
so we notice our eyes,
our grimaces are alike?
How many times a day must the temperature jump
about twenty degrees up and then back down,
so we understand that to dress
for the weather is no longer enough?

In the wind flow, in the fast moving
clouds, in the front of cumulonimbus
loaded with drops of heavy water
and adorned with plumes of ice crystals,
we unwittingly return to magical thinking.

But at once after the balance of the horizon the rope of logic
is stretched linearly, pragmatically,
without understanding others, just personal consequences.


It doesn’t take much: touch the earth
like one’s own skin,
let the nervous system
overgrow through the border of the body
take root,
descend to the depths of the river,
not to persist in running,
to stop,


Annoying slowness, laziness
masked by masses
of fundamental decisions,
steps forward, sideways, back,
short circuits and procrastination,
all of this has only to delay the clarity of perception.

At least for a while
carefully watch the destruction,
at last with a clear awareness
that you don’t need us,
never ever,
only we you.


Rivers gradually excavate new beds.
Cobwebs will tremble, too, for a while
above the roofs of
buildings. Sludge dries, seals the windows.
Coasts, freshly cut out
on the borders of a new country,
shine first of all. Then
the ocean scours
with multi-colored debris,
fragments and panels.
Finally beaches
with gray or brownish


And what about you?
Will you have the body like I remember?
Or joints, segments. Compound eyes—will you have eyes?
Will you send signals or use speech,
encode messages and toil
towards meaning?

Gravity and other forces
on my surface will create

Will you be able to read them?

translated from the Slovak by James Sutherland-Smith