If Today Were Tomorrow

Selected Poems
Preorder now for June!

A masterful bilingual collection of poems rooted in K’iche’ Maya culture illustrating all the ways meaning manifests within our world, and how best to behold it.
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“My language was born among trees,
it holds the taste of earth;
my ancestors’ tongue is my home.”
—from “The Old Song of the Blood”

A legacy of land and language courses through the pages of this spirited bilingual edition, offering an expansive take on the internationally renowned work of Humberto Ak’abal, a K’iche’ Maya poet born in the western highlands of Guatemala.

Featuring both Ak’abal’s Spanish translations from the indigenous K’iche’ and English translations by acclaimed poet Michael Bazzett, this collection blossoms from the landscape of Momostenango—mountains covered in cloud forest, deep ravines, terraced fields of maize. Ak’abal’s unpretentious verse models a contraconquista—counter-conquest—perspective, one that resists the impulse to impose meaning on the world and encourages us to receive it instead. “In church,” he writes, “the only prayer you hear / comes from the trees / they turned into pews.” Every living thing has its song, these poems suggest. We need only listen for it.

Attuned, uncompromising, Ak’abal teaches readers to recognize grace in every earthly observation—in the wind, carrying a forgotten name. In the roots, whose floral messengers “tell us / what earth is like / on the inside.” Even in the birds, who “sing in mid-flight / and shit while flying.” At turns playful and pointed, this prescient entry in the Seedbank series is a transcendent celebration of both K’iche’ indigeneity and Ak’abal’s lifetime of work.



Publish Date
8.5 × 5.5 × 0.75 in
14.2 oz

Humberto Ak’abal

Humberto Ak’abal (1952–2019) was a K’iche’ Maya poet from Guatemala. His book Guardián de la caída de agua (Guardian of the Waterfall) was named book of the year by Association of Guatemalan Journalists and received their Golden Quetzal award in 1993.


Michael Bazzett

Michael Bazzett is the author of You Must Remember This, which received the 2014 Lindquist & Vennum Prize for Poetry, The Interrogation, and most recently The Echo Chamber. He is also the translator of The Popol Vuh, the first English verse translation of the Mayan creation epic, which was named one a New York Times Best Book of 2018. His poems have appeared in numerous publications, including Ploughshares, The Sun, and Best New Poets. He is a 2017 National Endowment for the Arts Fellow and lives in Minneapolis.

Praise and Prizes

  • “This bilingual collection by the late Guatemalan K’iche’ Maya poet is a rapturous, often witty ode to nature in all of its infinite variety. Ak’abal’s writing is sometimes as sparse as haiku, yet every word is rooted deep into the earth. From the mighty power of trees and rivers all the way down to the most delicate birdsong, his observations show a poet with an acute attention to detail. Bazzett’s translation has an elegant economy, allowing Ak’abal’s fresh, rain-washed words to glow.”

    Grace Harper
    Mac’s Backs, Cleveland Heights, OH
  • “Milkweed’s Seedbank series is one of the most exciting and visionary projects in contemporary publishing. Taking the long view, these volumes run parallel to the much-hyped books of the moment to demonstrate the possibility and hope inherent in all great literature.”

    Stephen Sparks
    Point Reyes Books, Point Reyes, CA
  • “For nonscholars, the first test of any translation is simply whether it’s pleasurable to read, and Bazzett’s limpid, smoothly paced version is more than satisfying on that score. And it’s a good thing to be reminded, perhaps especially now, and perhaps especially by a text originating in Guatemala, that ‘However many nations / live in the world today, / however many countless people, / they all had but one dawn.’”

    New York Times