About Angels

Through the night, coated in frost,
the woods around my town wait for the light of dawn.
Like closed leaves, the monarch butterflies
cover the trunk and branches of the trees.
Superimposed, one upon the other, like a single organism.

The sky goes blue with cold. The first rays of sun
touch the clusters of numb butterflies
and one bunch falls, opening into wings.
Another cluster is lit and through the effect of the light
splinters into a thousand flying bodies.

The eight o’clock sun opens up a secret that slept
perched on the trunks of the trees,
and there is a breeze of wings, rivers of butterflies in the air.
Visible through the bushes, the souls of the dead
can be felt with the eye and hand.

It is noon. In the perfect silence, the sound
of a chainsaw is heard advancing toward us,
shearing wings and felling trees. Man, with his thousand
naked and hungry children, comes howling his needs
and shoving fistfuls of butterflies into his mouth.

The angel says nothing.

(Trans. George McWhirter and Betty Ferber, in “Eyes to See Otherwise,” New Directions, 2002)


Writer Homero Aridjis (born April 6, 1940) is a Mexican poet, novelist, environmental activist, journalist and diplomat known for his originality and independence. In March 1985, Aridjis founded and became president of the Group of 100, an association of prominent artists and intellectuals, devoted to environmental protection and the defense of biodiversity in Mexico and Latin America. Under his leadership the Group of 100 achieved in 1986 the official decree ensuring protection for the forests where the migratory monarch butterfly overwinters near where he and his wife Betty live. From April 2007 until the abolition of the post in January 2010 he was Mexico’s ambassador to UNESCO, where he was a staunch defender of human rights, freedom of expression and cultural diversity.