Poem of the Intermolecular Forms

by Yuri Herrera, translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman

The bottle of juice began vibrating like a telephone. I brought it to my ear and heard nothing, then came a riiing riiing, tho more like a deep gravelly ruhhhn ruhhhn, as the bottle vibrated. I unscrewed it and brought it to my ear and heard someone say:

“The pot, uncover the soup pot.”

And the call dropped.

I hung up, or rather, screwed back on, and put the juice back in the refrigerator.

“Who was it?” she asked from the bedroom.

“Nobody,” I said.

I turned and touched the pot. Still warm, even tho it had been a while since I’d turned the stove off. I uncovered it. There was a quivering in the soup, as if the broth were indenting, and then there emerged from the pot a liquid head and a liquid neck and two liquid arms and then a leg with which the whole liquid body awkwardly impelled itself over the pot’s rim and took a step and fell onto the kitchen floor.

“Motherfucker,” he said. He burred his r’s a bit.

He shook his hands to get some noodles off and then gazed at me.

“Shitty-ass planet you got here, eh? No way to…”

But then the liquid body collapsed in on itself as though it had just been spilled and became a puddle on the floor. After a few seconds the torso emerged once more and then the hands, which the soup-body levered into the floor in order to stand back up.

“…That’s exactly what I mean! No way to make a decent body with this kind of matter.”

Making the most of this hissy fit, I snatched the chef’s knife and confronted him. He looked at me in uncomprehending alarm with his brothy orange eyes. The knife was nothing to him. Obviously. I dropped it and took up a soup spoon.

“Easy, now,” he said, raising his hands defensively, in a constant ebb and flood, unable to stay the same size. “Easy, it’s not you we came for.”

Wary, I grabbed a cup with the other hand and took a step toward him.

“No, we have no interest in you or this place. We’re looking for an intelligence agent who came to investigate whether it’s an inhabitable planet and never returned. We know they made it to this exact spot on this fucking planet.”

I stopped but continued to wield cup and spoon. He seemed sincere, this brothalien.

“Well, your agent’s not here,” I said. “If anyone did arrive, they must’ve gone to investigate someplace else. What could anyone learn here?”

“Nothing,” he said, barely keeping his head above the puddle expanding and shrinking beneath him, “that’s precisely what I mean: it only takes a few seconds to see there’s nothing we need to do here. Shit! There’s nothing to be learned. Therefore, either they stayed here, or they were set on investigating and something went wrong in this hostile environment.”

He pointed outside with a finger that quickly disintegrated into droplets. I looked out at the street. It had been doggedly hot the last few days. The sidewalks had baked in their own moisturelessness.

“Exactly,” I said, “So I can’t help you.”

The brothalien stopped struggling for a few seconds, his body began softly to dissolve into the puddle as he turned his head this way and that.

“Fuck this,” he said finally, straightening a bit, “I’ve done my job. ‘No trail to follow and no chance of survival here’, that’s what my report’s going to say…Give me a hand.”

He gestured with a stump toward the pot. I regarded him mistrustfully.

“Bring the damn pot over,” he said, “I’m out of here.”

I placed the pot on the floor. The brothalien pulled one leg from the puddle, stuck it into the pot and began adjusting the rest of his body. Once entirely submerged, he stuck his face out of the water to say:

“Lid, please.”

I covered the pot and managed to hear him say, “Fuck’s sake, with all the pretty places in the universe.” Then nothing.

I stood there, staring at the pot for a few seconds. I took off the lid. The soup lay there, self-absorbed. A layer of fat had formed on the surface. I put the lid back on again and moved it back to the burner.

“Is he gone?” she asked.

“Yes,” I replied, on the way to the bedroom.

I heard her walk into the bathroom. I walked into the bedroom.

“How did you know who they were?”

“Your phone is on the dresser,” she replied from the bathroom, “but I heard another one ring from the kitchen.”

I stood there by the bed. Ran a hand across the mattress. No one would have guessed that a few seconds ago it was soaking.

“They won’t be back,” she went on. “Those bureaucrats are incapable of adapting.”

I went into the bathroom. Stood next to the tub. The water rippled into ringlets of placid smiles. Then it splashed in my direction.

“Come on,” she said. “Get in.”

Lisa Dillman

Lisa Dillman translates from Spanish and Catalan and teaches in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at Emory University. She has translated over twenty novels, including those of Sabina Berman, Andrés Barba and, by Yuri Herrera, The Transmigration of Bodies, Kingdom Cons, and Signs Preceding the End of the World, which won the 2016 Best Translated Book Award. She is based in Atlanta, Georgia, USA.

Yuri Herrera

Yuri Herrera (Actopan, México, 1970) has written three novels -- Kingdom Cons, Signs Preceding the End of the World, and Transmigration of Bodies -- that have been translated into several languages and have been published in English by And Other Stories. In 2016, he shared the Best Translated Book Award for the translation of Signs Preceding the End of the World with translator Lisa Dillman. He is currently an Assistant Professor at the University of Tulane in New Orleans.

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