Rómulo Bustos Aguirre (trans. Christina MacSweeney)

The Rolling Head


to all the people in my country who have been disappeared


One man executed another man
cleanly and extra-judicially as he had been commanded
He collected the body to disappear it
but the severed head rolled out of sight
The man searched among the bushes to disappear it
…………………………………………….until he grew tired
and told himself he’d return when it was less dark

Then the head began to roll in the shadows

Hearing the barking of dogs the head rolled away
Hearing the hurried footsteps of the hunters of heads the head rolled away
Hearing the alarming hiss of vultures the head rolled away

And it knocked against rocks because the head was rolling in the dark

It wanted to cover its ears but the head had no hands
It wanted to run more quickly but the head had no feet

On its way the head came across some men carrying a sack of mangos
and it asked them for food
And the men gave the head firm mangos and inquired
about its destination
and the head said it was going to the King’s House to plead for justice there
And it continued rolling to the King’s House
and when it arrived at the entrance to the Palace
it stopped before the Door of Justice and cried out

I am the head
I have come in search of my torso and my left foot
I have come in search of my flanks and my kneecap
I have come in search of my guts and my other kneecap
I have come in search of my little finger and the 234 tiny bones of my hand

But the angry door bolted its locks and refused to listen to the head

The King, his ministers and their hawks had departed with great pomp to go hunting

The guards said that would make a very good football
And they played football with the head until they grew tired

The head saw a bird fly past and wished it were a bird
But then it changed its mind
If I become a bird they’ll hunt me
If I become a snake they’ll stamp on my head
If I become a helicopter they’ll shoot me down
If I become a house they’ll move into me
if I become fire they’ll extinguish me

So it turned itself into an armadillo
that curled up on itself and went on rolling until it came to the river
The head floated for miles upstream
until fish started to nibble it

The rain began to pour down

The head climbed up the hair of the rain to the Milky Way
where Vixó-maxsë lives in his celestial village
And it asked Vixó-maxsë where its body was
And after taking yagé, Vixó-maxsë had a vision
The head descended on a milky shower of the Milky Way
And was swallowed by the Great anaconda-canoe
and was thrown out among the Caxinana tribe
whose Shaman was a wise man who used herbs to heal wounds 

The head became a member of the tribe
and it was given the name Head
In time Head became as wise as the Shaman
and nourished the tribe with its advice
In turn the tribe offered Head nourishment on a large tray
using a long wooden spoon
……………………….as it gave its advice

When Head died it was buried
The right half was turned into a bush
whose knowledge is a remedy against the fear of death and loss of the soul
The left half
ascended the caapi vine to the sky and became a moon
so that there would be less darkness at night
and disappearances would be less easy
since it is well known that the cosmic planes are inverted at night
the sun, the sky and the day are below the earth
while the dark underworld stayed above without light
In this way the head recovered its whole body among the Caxinana people and still lives with them

Almost nothing is known of the Caxinana tribe in the Palace
Curiously, some time ago
the King, who is an admirer of progress and innovation
decreed that executions should be carried out only during the day
……………………….…………………….in front of the Gate of Justice

And so the guards at the gate never lack for good footballs



The Colombian Edition of The London Magazine is out now and available from our online shop. Published in anticipation of next month’s Hay Festival in Cartagena de Indias, this issue will be followed by a Spanish language version, out in January 2022, in Colombia and the UK.
Cover image: Ritual (Pescadores), oil on canvas, 100x150cm (Pedro Ruiz, 2010)


Rómulo Bustos Aguirre was born in 1954, in Santa Catalina de Alejandría, in the Colombian Caribbean. His poetry has circulated at national and international events, as well as in partial translations to other languages. He has also been recognised in various anthologies and collected works. In 2019 he was awarded the Premio Nacional de Poesía del Ministerio de Cultura de Colombia for his anthology De moscas y de Ángeles. 

Christina MacSweeney received the 2016 Valle Inclán prize for her translation of Valeria Luiselli’s The Story of My Teeth, and her translation of Daniel Saldaña París’ Among Strange Victims was a finalist for the 2017 Best Translated Book Award. Other authors she has translated include: Elvira Navarro (A Working Woman), Verónica Gerber Bicecci (Empty Set; Palabras migrantes/ Migrant Words) and Julián Herbert (Tomb Song; The House of the Pain of Others).

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