hecatomb of birds
      translated by Thomas Christensen  

homeward bound


Two versions of the recent hecatomb of the birds are offered: the first, mass suicide; the second, a sudden thinning of the atmosphere.
The first version is indefensible: For all the birds, from condor to hummingbird, to take flight (with the consequent variations in altitude) at the same time (high noon) would require one of two possibilities: either they were all obeying some command, or they had made up their minds to soar in the air in order to dash themselves to the ground. The most basic logic tells us that man is incapable of executing such commands. As for the birds, to endow them with reason is to make folly of reason itself. The second version must likewise be rejected: If the atmosphere had been thinned, only the birds that flew at that
moment would have died.
There remains a third version, so fallacious that it cannot withstand analysis: an epidemic virus, of unknown origin, made the birds heavier than air.
Any version is ineffable, and any act is tangible. In the scholiast resides something that forever aspires to the demiurge. His pride is punished with tautology. The only way to escape the ineluctable fact of the mass death of the birds would be to imagine that we had conjured up the hecatomb in a dream. But in that case it could not be interpreted, since it would not be a true dream. All that remains is the established fact. With our eyes we see them strewn over the earth. More than the terror the slaughter itself produces in us, we are filled with fright by the impossibility of discovering an explanation for such a monstrous fact. Our feet tangle among the wretched plumage of so many millions of birds. Suddenly, like a crackling flame, they all rise up in flight. The fiction of the writer, erasing the deed, returns them to life. And only with the death of literature will they fall again wretched onto the earth.

By Virgilio Piñera, from Cold Tales, copyright © 1987 by Estela Piñera
Translation copyright © 1987 by Thomas Christensen


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