Ode to dehydrated birds fallen from the skies to dirt by Laurent Grisel

Translated from French by Dennis Nurkse and Laurent Grisel

Ode to dehydrated birds fallen from the skies to dirt by Laurent Grisel


Ode to dehydrated birds fallen from the skies to dirt

birds, fallen birds, swept-up birds,

speak, what do you bring from the heights?

What air, what tainted air? What useless struggles?

What smells? What visions of distance?


you, victorious over gravity,

never falling, not chained to the forces

that pull toward the center of the earth,

you who fly all around the earth

according to the compass rose


but we, upright, stooped, tested

by the strength it takes to climb

even a slope divided into stairs

even a road divided in switchbacks


we, upright. reduced to earth

like a burnt car

on an ascending curve

like a bicycled freighted

with spiders and rust


our stooped back, our muscular buttocks,

our pillar thighs, our quick feet, tired


old woman with round shoulders

in the ascent, heavy shopping bags,

bulky purse–could I help you?


it isn’t us, the elegant effort, the tremendous power

to tear yourself off ground, two wings

beating down, pushing the entire self to the heights

and two wings stalling, soft descent, speed hoarded

and again the glide, a litle higher, swifter, stronger


symmetrical body design,

shoulders, elbows, wrists, flanks,

beginning at the center, articulated segments

toward the outermost quills

your shoulders angled upwards, driving

elbows, wrists, feather-fingers,

prolonged to the utmost to catch air, the gusts,

and your shoulders canted down,, to push

and climb

always forwards


say: wingspan

repeat: wingspan, windgspan, wingspan


birds, wholly attuned

to your body-spirit

at home in this in-between of space

below, distracted violence of zoomans

above, self-contained violence of clouds

clouds that hoard their suspended waterfalls

tons by the hundred thousand, so much gravity, mass

attracting masses, picture the waters of the body

attracted, waters by waters, driving

ever upward?


birds, fallen birds, swept-up birds,

speak, what do you bring from the heights?/


we, earthbound, what scorching air,

dusty, turbulent, numbing,

sustains us? can we breathe?

what is our state of breath?


birds that glide on the currents

spirit and body whole beyond separation

outstretched wings, quivering

legs and sustaining tails


all feather-roots tell you

throughout your bodies, the strengths of wind,

tell the wind’s motion and

wings, legs, tail, answer in the moment

balanced flight, honed flight

revealing to earthbound eyes

the journeys of the air which otherwise

no one could know


what do you bring back from the heights?

what dreams? what premonitions?


do you see your death coming

or much earlier did you sense it

in the fight against the thickened flow

thwarting you more and more

the air gone from sustaining to turgid

unnavigable molasses



from heat and hunger

stove-in eyeballs,

swollen wing vein


fractured wings

shattered skulls


speak, in your fall, did your hear

the wind passing though the leaves

never to hear it again?


you, discovered in thousands on the ground

your symmetry broken in the fall, your life

reduced to undone feathers, fused, heaped,


speak, in your fall, did you hear

the roar of machines

never to hear it again?


the moment is at hand

when pain vanishes, great calm

of the tunnel of light

when you are high aloft,

watching your own flight

from above yourself, watching

the wide plain, the prairie, the flowers,

bugs within reach of your beak


don’t given in to pity


don’t speak of the animals, ,

the plants, the forest, glaciers, oceans

the birds–to mention only you


don’t encounter death

eye to eye, beak to beak,

to feel sorry for yourselves

the way mourners do

filing into cemeteries, weeping

for an approaching extinction


we know whom

solid egoism

made them fall like stones

while chirping

that they were right


better end in anger, blunt

and sustainable


Translated by Dennis Nurkse and Laurent Grisel





Laurent Grisel: worker in the outskirts of Paris, then in the Dunkirk region, where he ran an inhouse trade union. Certificate in high tolerance mechanics. Studies in psychology (psycholinguistics, neurophysiology), For nine years, secretary-general for a consumer rights organization (CLCV). Then director of development and general director in an environmental consulting organization (Ecobilan).
Author of works including La Nasse, a long critical poem in reference to a dialogue between the philosophers Pierre Bourdieu and Hans Hacke; Un Hymne a la Paix (16 fois); Climats, épopée; Journal de la crise de 2006, 2007, 2008, d’avant et d’apres, record of the present and a premonition of the future.
La Nasse and numerous poems were translated by Cid Corman and published in broadsides and literary magazines in Japan and the U.S. Other poems like (PP comme polypropylene) and Musique were translated by Penny Allen or Dennis Nurkse and published in The Saint Ann’s Review

D. Nurkse is the author of twelve poetry collections, most recently A Country of Strangers, a new and selected, Knopf 2022

“Our idea in calling this the ‘Translator’s Page’ is to show the ways and/or languages in which a translator works. Monthly posts may include translations from different languages and styles and centuries. The connective thread between them is the ability of the translator to interpret cultures and time periods for the contemporary reader.”

—Jonathan Wells, curator of The Translator’s Page