Without Translation

Mamihlapinatapai (sometimes spelled mamihlapinatapei)
is a word from the Yaghan language of Tierra del Fuego,
listed in The Guinness Book of World Records as the
“most succinct word”, and … one of the hardest words
to translate. It refers to “a look shared by two people,
each wishing that the other will offer something
that they both desire but are unwilling to do.”


And as autumn begins to deepen in earnest, I love
late afternoons best— when the yellowing leaves
have not yet all fluttered down, exhausted moths

looking to cluster for warmth. I love the way
the light gilds branches so that they form
a sort of nave in a green cathedral, love

the way their long arms arc over the widest
stretch of the avenue. And sometimes, driving
from work or taking children home from school,

more than once I have been surprised to find
that the light has also touched a hidden lever,
a fiber of longing in my throat. I have

no words for it, just as I have no words
for the film of tears that sometimes comes
unbidden and just as quickly dissipates.

Is it a kind of joy mingled with such
wistfulness, a feeling of being taken up
and embraced before goodbye? Who

are you? I want to ask of no one in
particular, as I pass under the lit up leaves,
before the sky lowers and a little rain begins.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Series Navigation← What We Look ForHeart Weighted With Cares →

Poet Luisa A. Igloria (Poetry Foundation web page, author webpage ) is the winner of the 2015 Resurgence Prize (UK), the world’s first major award for ecopoetry, selected by former UK poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion, Alice Oswald, and Jo Shapcott. She is the author of What is Left of Wings, I Ask (2018 Center for the Book Arts Letterpress Chapbook Prize, selected by Natasha Trethewey); Bright as Mirrors Left in the Grass (Kudzu House Press eChapbook selection for Spring 2015), Ode to the Heart Smaller than a Pencil Eraser (Utah State University Press, 2014 May Swenson Prize), Night Willow (Phoenicia Publishing, 2014), The Saints of Streets (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2013), Juan Luna’s Revolver (2009 Ernest Sandeen Prize, University of Notre Dame Press), and nine other books. She is a member of the core faculty of the MFA Creative Writing Program at Old Dominion University which she directed from 2009-2015. In 2018, she was the inaugural Glasgow Distinguished Writer in Residence at Washington and Lee University. When she isn’t writing, reading, or teaching, she cooks with her family, knits, hand-binds books, and listens to tango music.

5 Replies to “Without Translation”


    You did not say it then, but I saw those unspoken
    words in your hands, your eyes, your half-smile
    when I bade you goodbye the night we would rather
    forget but will always remember as our surest bind.

    You had the children with you; flying off to give me
    space, and for the children, and for the best, and…
    There is no best, I said, we will know when we need
    each other again. Until then, find yourself. I will.

    Did you want to embrace me then but were afraid
    I would not give it back? Did you hope I would say:
    Stay, do not go. Let us try again. Let me try again.
    I did, and that airport parting remains a nightmare.

    When I came back to you, did you want to say:
    I forgive you; please forget that past; forgive me,
    if you can. But we stood apart between the children
    running to hug me. I saw that look, but did not know.

    I have been trying to come home since then. Did you?

    — Albert B. Casuga

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