Through a Closed Mouth the Flies Enter by Pablo Neruda translated from the Spanish by Stephen Mitchell

Why with those red flames
are rubies ready to burn?
Why does the heart of the topaz
have yellow honeycombs?
Why does the rose amuse itself
by changing the color of its dreams?
Why does the emerald grow cold
like a drowned submarine?
And why does the sky turn pale
over the June stars?
Where does the lizard’s tail
buy its fresh paint?
Where is the underground fire
that resurrects the carnations?
Where does the salt get
that transparent gaze?
Where did the coals sleep
that they got up so dark?
And where, where does the tiger buy
stripes of mourning, stripes of gold?
When did the honeysuckle begin
to know its perfume?
When did the pinetree realize
its fragrant effect?
When did the lemons learn
the same catechism as the sun?
When did smoke learn to fly?
When do the roots converse?
What is water like in the stars?
Why is the scorpion poisonous,
why is the elephant benign?
What does the tortoise meditate on?
Where does the shade withdraw?
What song does the rain repeat?
Where do the birds go to die?
And why are the leaves green?
What we know is so little
and what we presume is so much
and we learn so slowly
that we ask and then we die.
Better to keep our pride
for the city of the dead
on the day of the departed
and there when the wind goes through
the hollows of your skull
it will decipher these enigmas for you,
whispering the truth in the space
where your ears used to be.

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