Wee oors

Wee oors
In the heich oors o the nicht
stars strip aff
and douk in the rivers.

Hoolets grein for them, 
the wee feathers on their heids
birse up.
Humberto Ak’abal

from Drum of Stone (Kettillonia Press, 2010)

translated by Rosemary Burnett and James Robertson

Reproduced by permission of the publisher.
Humberto Ak’abal

Humberto Ak'abal (born 1952) is a Guatemalan poet whose prolific output in his native Maya K'iche' and in Spanish has won him numerous international awards and honours, including the French order of Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres and the Pier Paolo Pasolini Poetry Prize. 

Read more about this poet
About Wee oors

This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2010. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The editor in 2010 was Jen Hadfield.

Editor's comment:
I don't want to paraphrase this lovely thing: these poems are ampoules cracked to release their volatile. Instead I'll sneak in a preview of 'Yin o thae' which says what I want to about 'Wee oors' and its aesthetics of want; dissolving motes of language like 'the herbs/that turn tae hinny/on the slaiverless tung.'

Translator's note:
A hallmark of Ak'abal's work is his engagement with the natural world: in his poetry, every stone, tree, animal and bird has both voice and meaning, and all things in the universe are connected. A brief exposition of 'Wee oors' might read as follows: when in the small hours of the night the stars are reflected in the dark waters of rivers, as if they have gone for a 'douk' or a swim/dive, owls (hoolets), watching, yearn (grein) for them, and their head feathers rise like hackles (birse up) as they spy on them. This however only hints at the depth and shades of meaning, both real and metaphorical, that this tiny poem contains.


'Wee oors' is taken from the book Drum of Stone, a trilingual selection of Ak'abal's work with translations in English by Rosemary Burnett and in Scots by James Robertson. It was published in 2010 to mark the poet's first ever visit to the U.K. and his appearance at the Ullapool and Word (Aberdeen) Book Festivals and at events in Edinburgh and Glasgow.