Tengo / I have

Cuando me veo y toco
yo, Juan sin Nada no más ayer,
y hoy Juan con Menos,
y hoy con menos,
vuelvo los ojos, miro,
me veo y toco
y me pregunto cómo ha podido ser.

When I see and touch myself,
I, Juan with Nothing only yesterday,
and today Juan with Less,
and today with less,
I turn my eyes, I look,
I see and touch myself
and ask myself how could it be.

Tengo, vamos a ver,
que ya no puedo andar por mi país,
y ver lo poco que hay en él,
importar de bien lejos lo que antes
hice o podía hacer.

I have, let’s see,
that now I cannot travel in my country,
and see what little there is in it,
imported from far away which before it
made or could have made.

De zafra, qué decir?
de monte, qué decir?
de ciudad, qué decir?
ejército -mejor no decir,
ya ajenos para siempre y suyos, de ellos,
y un eterno dolor
de humo, estela, loor.

Of sugarcane, what to say?
of mountain, what to say?
of city, what to say?
army – better not say,
now alien forever and theirs, of them,
and an eternal grief
of smoke, steel, praise.

Tengo, vamos a ver,
que siendo un negro
siempre me pueden detener
y pedirme el carné de identidá.
O bien en la carpeta de un hotel
decirme que no hay pieza,
todas las piezas para el turismo internacional,
mi pieza está en la base de campismo popular.

I have, let’s see,
that being black
they always stop me
and ask for my identity card.
Or at the desk of a hotel
tell me that there is no room,
all the rooms are for international tourists,
my room is at the people’s campground.

Tengo, vamos a ver,
que la guardia de la capital
me agarra y me encierra en un cuartel,
y me sube a una rastra de regreso
a mi provincia oriental.

I have, let’s see,
that the capital police
grab me and lock me in a cell,
and put me on a transport back
to my eastern province.

Tengo que como tengo la tierra tengo el mar,
con griffin,
con coastgar,
y escualos cantidá,
vamos de balsa en balsa y ola en ola,
gigante azul abierto democrático:
en fin, el mar.

I have that as I have the land I have the sea,
with griffin,
with coastguard,
and lots of sharks,
we go from raft to raft and wave to wave
gigantic blue open democratic:
in the end, the sea.

Tengo, vamos a ver,
que ya aprendí a leer,
a contar,
tengo que ya aprendí a escribir
y a pensar
y a callar
y a mentir.

I have, let’s see,
that now I’ve learned to read,
to figure,
that now I’ve learned to write
and to think
and to shut up
and to lie.

Tengo que ya tengo
donde trabajar
y luchar
lo que me tengo que comer.

I have what I now have
a place to work
and fight
for what I have to eat.

Tengo, vamos a ver,
tengo lo que no quería tener.

I have, let’s see,
I have what I didn’t want to have.

Nicolas OnTheCage

Translator’s note:

Tengo [I have] is a poem by Nicolás Guillén (1902-1989), an Afro-Cuban poet who was a communist from before the Revolution.  The original poem is a paean to the successes of the Cuban Revolution.

A note on the alternate stanza presentation:  The blog software makes it difficult to present the poem in two neat columns side-by-side, so I have chosen this format to allow readers who read both languages to more easily follow from the original to the translation.

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