Archive for December, 2008

New Year’s wishes

December 29, 2008

For myself I wish for nothing, my life is complete and on a good course. If I ask for anything it is for forgiveness, for allowing myself this opportunity to speak on behalf of others without being qualified to do so.

I wish for my children, in your classrooms, to have in front of you teachers like those I had. Mature and educated people who teach you with patience and correct you firmly without insulting you. First-rate teachers who base their authority on esteem, morale and mutual respect. Let them teach you math and also how to be better human beings.

I wish for the youth the determination to reject the reins and barriers imposed on you and the decisiveness to chart your own course. I wish for you integrity and moderation, to avoid falling into prostitution, as much for the body—most common—as for the most damaging and irreversible, which is the prostitution of the soul. Finally, I wish for you the wisdom and patience to stay here and to not abandon us. Your place is here, together with your elders, even though coexistence at times can be suffocating. Here begins the long and torturous road to your rightful place that has been denied you for so long. Only together can we make the change.

I wish for my country, freedom.

Only this, nothing more is needed.

And with these wishes, I leave you until 2009.

Happy New Year!

Nothing makes us different

December 28, 2008

The guardian angel of today is Abilio Estévez. Playwright, storyteller and poet, well-known and a winner of literary awards, this Cuban who lives in Barcelona has published mid-year the novel The Sleeping Navigator, the final part of a trilogy that examines three tragic moments of a family and a city. A family that tries, without success, to remain united.  A family that waits, with slow haste, in a city where time doesn’t move forward, or doesn’t move at all, maybe we are the ones trying to slip through a wall of time. The immobility has been our only mobility. A city which is loved or hated with equal need.

They’re hated, the grimy, unpainted walls, the stinking streets, where it’s been days since the garbage was collected and where there is a dull light of lethargy and a shadow of despair.  A city where one feels there is nothing to do is hated. The constant need to escape is hated.  However, those same walls and those same streets, with a strength that forces you to repudiate it, are loved. And most surprisingly: when you’re away, you want to return, to go on hating it and to go on loving it with equal fervor, with the same need. You want to be rid of it and you don’t want to be rid of it.  It’s fatal, like your own body, like your own family.  A city is a destiny.

It happened in the early nineties. The Berlin Wall had already fallen, in Moscow thousands of people were lining up in front of McDonald’s and in Havana dozens of uniformed cops out of uniform were lining up in front of the movie theater to see “Alice in Wondertown.”  Trying out my twenty-two years of age for the first time, I was going through life with that sensation of omnipotence, the result of hormones, lack of worries and not being well-read. Hemingway used to say that every man always has one drink too few. In my own version of the phrase, I substituted book for drink. So, one of my favorite occupations on arriving in any town or city, was to look for the bookstore, to browse through it without haste and—like a devotee visiting the temple—to make an offering of a little money in exchange for a certain quantity of printed paper. It was on one of these explorations that I found it.

It was a little notebook, small and brief. It fit in the palm of my hand and its scant sixty pages took up a space about the same as that between the thumb and forefinger when we demonstrate the size of a little bit. The cover, delicate and discrete, told about the title: Handbook of Temptations, the author’s name, and specified—as if it were necessary—that the contents were poetry. I remember that while I was looking at it, I thought it peculiar that Abilio did not seem like the name of a poet, but like that of a hick. It could be, perhaps, about a book of décimas—ten line poems. I opened it at random and what I read made me forget my speculations about names and décimas:

One afternoon some man will go past your door.  By chance, you will look out over the street. You will look at each other. Your eyes will meet for a second.  Only one second.  And then nothing will be the same.  Never again will you ever see him, nor will he again ever see you. But both he and you will know that everything in the past and in the future was contained in that instant, and the two of you will believe that to live is to prepare yourself for one glance in which everything is said.

My debts to this discrete gem that Abilio wrote for us are several. To verify one more time that poetry is more a question of essence than of form. To discover two indispensable names among many others: Lezama and Virgil.  To enjoy a sober and profound style which—I confess shamelessly—I try to imitate and capture ravenously. Understand that the temptations, large and small, are inseparable from our existence and that without them there is no happy ending to the journey.

My gratitude to the angel is twofold today, for his beautiful writings and for allowing them to be published here, for the enjoyment of visitors.  Gracias, Abilio.

To choose one door is to leave doors unopened.  A pleasure presupposes that many pleasures will not be lived, as each sorrow deals out so many sorrows.  The lover you take into your bed is one among all possible lovers.  The chosen word prevents the use of an indefinite number of words.  You visit a place so that other places will be left waiting for you.  Only the day that dawns for your death is any old day, a coincidence.

As it has happened since forever, we also must await the night and the ceremony of dream and silence.  We must hide -so that they won’t see us, so they won’t hear us–even though we are at the end of the 20th century and the next century threatens to transform us into the most advanced society of those who inhabit the universe.  This is one night of all times.  I enter your house, unseen, and descend to the bedroom.  I have accomplished this like any lover of Cnosos.  The prejudices have been left out on the street, and as I mingle myself with you, I feel clean and outside of time.  You are there and I wake up.  So near to the 21st century your loveliness moves me and I embrace you and am afraid.  The silence of your house is a civilization that peeks at the window.  Nothing is different in our kiss: it’s the same, simple and lasting, from the first man who could discover your lips.  We undress and are in Alexandria or in Havana.  I caress your chest, explore your thighs with my mouth, and reach the same pleasure as the young men from Umbria.  Nothing makes us different: when we join together it’s possible to prove that time has not passed.  Now I know the delight of the artist on having chiseled the torso, pelvis and arms of Hermes.  You are the pleasure and so am I, we belong to all time, and if you caress me it is the present, but also the past and the future and there can be nothing shameful. One in another, one on another on the whitest sheet, we become the couple rescued from death.  Eternity also has also descended to this damp and dark cellar.

From the book: Manual de Tentaciones, Letras Cubanas, (Handbook of Temptations, Cuban Letters), 1989.

There once was on Earth an island-most-island-of-the-islands. All around it, the horizon was not an imaginary line, but the place where the sky and the sea were truly united.

Perhaps the story he narrated is not true. What story cannot be told from the opposite side? The lie is my only truth.  I lie the same way I flee and my biggest lie is the return.

I was not king, however, I could neither drink the river water nor eat the fruit.  I wandered around the island and the beauty withdrew from me.  I wanted to touch a body and the glare of its violent youth stopped my hand.  There was never a body I could touch.  At the banquets I was alone, without touching a bite.  No one looked at me, no one wanted to look at me, as if serpents were growing from my head.  I was alone for years in my house by the sea.  I wasn’t born to live but to recount that I lived.

Heaven is in hell and both are on the Island.  I slept with the anguish that wine brings, or hashish.  So much escaping left me without legs.  So much saying goodbye left me without arms.  So much hiding they granted me invisibility.  Everything and nothing, I slept in the sweet-serene-horror of the island.  Pursued.  My biography is the book of persecution.  I slept without monsters: the most atrocious and inoffensive ones had fled from a land where intoxication leads to fright.  There were no monsters, I had to make myself into a monster.  I invented the being-awake-in-being-asleep.  Thus I could defend myself and build another world in places where the world began to disappear.  I slept awake, feigning drunkenness, now the fat giant using word-enigmas, now the basilisk of furies.  I possessed the codes to the island.  They didn’t see me, I was sleeping, and while sleeping, I fled to injure and blaspheme; I wept for an impossible love, the only possible way to be in love; I recounted the unmovable garden; I returned to seed, I changed a woman into a blackish rabbit, born with the Peace of Basilea, I went out to see on a three mast boat, I was in jail, I lived in Jesus del Monte Road, I was a murderer, an aristocrat, a laborer, a pornographer, a tuberculosis sufferer, gallant poet and ambassador.  I was persecuted, condemned.  My biography is the book of condemnation.  I was locked up in rooms, trunks, barrels, hand tied, gagged, writing on walls while I slept.  I would write autumn and the ground of the island would be covered in leaves.  I lived, exiled, in Persia and China, in the moors of Yorkshire. I always lived here.  They cremated me in Paris and New York, and at the end, my ashes ended up here.

I never abandoned the island in spite so many ships and fake seas.  They wanted to make me crazy and I made them crazy.  Transforming myself, with each death, being everybody and nobody, returning asleep in appearance, with an unexpected name, my radically changed name, my disguise, made of contradictory disguises and yet strangely the same.  Dazzling changing to confuse, deep down, the unique man, apparently asleep, writing raindrops on the walls so that the water would heal the bodies.  I got to be the first multiple man on the island and I don’t regret it.  I would have liked a different destiny, potter, thief, for example, villain, dancer. Gladly, I would have given my hands to wake in others the spark of desire.  I would have given myself with pleasure to the inactivity of the hammock and tasted the nectar of the medlar.  But I was born for insomnia and simulation.  Happiness is the only word that remains inert on the wall.  If others receive its strength, I do not.  Nevertheless, Can I speak of bad luck? I am here and that’s enough.  Pilgrims come to my grave on a daily basis.  They bring flowers, basil leaves, then they take honey and praises to the place where I am to be born.  I die and I am reborn on the island.  I hate it only because they taught me how to love by hating.

From the book: “Death and Transfiguration,” Holguin Editions, 2002.


Homage to JFP

December 13, 2008

Juan Francisco Pulido would have been 30 years old last November 14th. I’ve learned his story from Cousin Frank, who has come to visit. He brings me a draft that he had been preparing for some time and that he decided to complete with the verses from JPF that make up the title and the foreword.  Coincidentally with a previous post, the theme of suicide occurs. We have decided, despite the paradox, not to publish the details of the life and work of Juan Francisco, in hopes that it will motivate the reader to search on his own and discover, without mediators or influences, what parts he decides to keep for himself.

To Hell with Life
By Cousin Frank

…I am free, but I am sleepy.

Juan Francisco Pulido, poet, émigré and suicide
(Cienfuegos 1978-Minnesota 2001)

Turn off the light? It’s an energy saver bulb above the mirror in the bathroom that shines brightly, although with having to twist it to turn it on, it won’t last long, but it doesn’t matter, better to leave it alone, it’s not going to use much electricity and there’s money left. This one in the bedroom I am leaving off, I’m already used to the darkness.  These last three days I’ve had my eyes covered because of this fucking conjunctivitis; first it was the lungs, then the dust from the wallboard and now this blindness that’s turned me into a shit inside and out. The doors are already closed tight because I asked her and she always does it without being told, it’s that, at this point, I wouldn’t like it if thieves beat me.  Let them take some of whatever’s going to be left, though they will take something when they come searching for the first thing they will want at headquarters: “You didn’t find anything in writing? Keep looking!” a letter, a note, a small piece of paper is the first thing they need to find to give themselves an explanation, if there is one, because everything has to have one, but I’m not going to be the one who will give it to them, let them look for it and let them be fucked like me, when it was my turn then.  I’m sure they’ll take the little black date book but it only contains names, addresses and a few rhymes.  They’ll also look for them, but those I’m going to leave around, both quite close, although maybe that won’t make them happy and they will keep on looking  “Search carefully because this place must be full of weapons!” as if this fucking house was a pirates’ lair. That’s what I must look like with this scarf on my head, me, who never liked pirates. I prefer cowboys, with high boots and a hat which I don’t have because I’ve had boots but I’ve been trying to find the hat for some time, one that looks cow-boyish, but no one brings or sends one to me to wear on the day the Yankees get here. On this block no one knows what they’ll have to do that day, I am the only one who has a plan, I am going to go out like a cowboy and attack the shopping center, but I’m going to just grab the food and take everything that will fit in my gunnysack and when I get back to the block I’ll hand out to everybody the sausages and ham, the cheeses and chocolates with the little olives.  I’m going to share everything except the milk because that’s for us although my old man brings it home for me, of course he’s lucky because he doesn’t hide and they almost never stop him, I know he uses  my name when they have stopped him “This milk is for the Colonel!” and my old man is a piece of work, but I am a bigger piece of work.  That’s why when he wanted to increase one peso per liter, I told him no way, “And my name? How much is my name worth?”  It depends, my old man named me after a very rich guy of that era but the thing about names is unfair because you don’t get to choose your own and sometimes you don’t even get to choose what you want to be, like me, who wanted to be a pilot but you couldn’t, you had to be a guerrilla, a soldier, always a fighter, ready to go where they ordered you, to Escambray, to National Liberation, or Angola.  Derailing a train and making explosives with a condensed milk can, pulling the trigger like in Escambray because in Angola I didn’t have to do it.  There, I only had to advise the FAPL as to which of the prisoners had participated in the assault on the testicles and later witness the firing squad. Those were the orders from headquarters.  There, in the Escambray, I did pull it (the trigger), so much that I still wake up when I finish releasing it and all the shots have already come out, then the names come back with their last names, their aliases. I don’t succeed at forgetting anything, to die must be easier than to pull the trigger and go on living with so many memories, and then to watch it on television, saying it never happened: “How can it not have happened, if I was there and remember everything?” it would be best to write a book that goes something like, “The stories of the Macorina,” the little black doll that we gave them to hold in their companions’ presence: “is this the tough guy that commands you ?” and the prisoner, putting the little black girl doll to sleep singing a song to her. There are some left around who remember, like me, but I don’t like to write, I prefer to make up stories and then tell them or watch them on the television set, like the documentary they showed today about the fat guy with the cap. Lots of blood, lots of shooting, lots of dead young men with their dreams ruined. Like hers, asleep but no longer dreaming, only aching for him, for me, for herself and no longer wanting to even leave me alone, although sometimes she says I am unbearable.  I know how she feels and she won’t leave me so I won’t do something crazy.  That’s the first thing they say, “He went crazy!” now, when I’m the sanest.  It’s hot, but I won’t turn on the air conditioner. I leave the room shut.   It’s better I use the little one because they will come looking for the big one, tracing it by its license, but this one has people backing it up who are crazy about it.  It’s true that it’s comfortable on the ankle and light in your hand but don’t even think about giving it away.  I wanted to sell it to a friend recently and he didn’t buy it from me but it showed up with the load he is carrying.  Now that she is sound asleep will she feel nothing? I will indeed feel it again for the last time, though I would just like to know one thing: who will turn out the lights?

Reinaldo Arenas in memoriam

December 7, 2008

December 7, 1990 was an ordinary Friday in New York City.  Nothing unusual changed the rhythm of life flowing in the Big Apple.  In his apartment crowded with books, the writer Reinaldo Arenas prepared to put an end to his life.  Sick with AIDS, he’d concentrated his energies on finishing his novel, The Color of Summer, and his autobiography.  Now that they are done, he hurries to stick out his tongue one last time at the bald woman, laughing to himself.  Giving proof of a bravery that many who boast of their manhood would like to have, imposing his own conditions on life and death, until the end.

Eighteen years later, reading his novel has made me feel his greatness.  Dispersed fragments of his personal history, anecdotes told and transformed, the ebb and flow of subterranean currents contribute to the weaving of his legend.  With more doubts than certainties, knowing that his work is an unresolved subject for many of us, today I want to remember the great Cuban that is Reinaldo Arenas.  And for this I am going to borrow the words of another great Cuban, a writer like him, who dedicated these words a year ago.  Words to which I subscribe, except for the reference to landing in New York, for obvious reasons.

When Arenas finally managed to escape from Cuba, in the 1980 exodus, I was only seven and had never heard his name.  When I landed for the first time in New York, many years later, he had already committed suicide.  I never got to meet him in person. Maybe that’s why I don’t give a hill of beans for the insults and other ad hominem attacks with which his detractors, even after his death, attempt to silence him. It’s clear he was no saint.  Simply a writer with an enormous talent for frankness who defended, come hell or high water and against all odds, his right to express himself with complete freedom.  One who yielded nothing on the battlefield where so many, even today, are dragged down.

Taken from:
The thrill and the laughter
Ena Lucia Portela
28 April 2007

Bottled dreams – Part Three, Final

December 1, 2008

But it was already too late, at least to recover his family.   Although his craft brought in better earnings and gave him more time at home, the drunkenness, increasingly frequent, ended up antagonizing everyone. His son was the first to go in search of a dream, which he found in much colder lands.  His wife asked for a divorce, even though she continued living in the house, having nowhere else to go.  They put up with and kept a watchful eye over each other and, according to the gossiping tongues—which there are in every village—were temporarily reconciled, until she managed to escape to a mission in the Latin American jungle, to make a little money and get something better when she returned.  Even though she’d made it very clear the marriage was over, he didn’t lose hope of winning her back.

The years of loneliness have affected him greatly.  Above all the lack of people to talk to, accustomed as he was to dealing with so many people, in discussions and drunken binges.   When someone visited him he found it difficult to let go of the easy conversation, the stories and witticisms, that burst out like when a dammed current finds a channel of momentary relief. Sometimes, when he went out in the evenings to find material for his workshop, he ended up some place where he found drink and conversation. And once again he felt at home, amid the interminable discussions that thrive so well in the shadow of the bottle.  Because he hadn’t lost the habit of saying what he thought, his fame as a crackpot rose among those who frequent these places.  Others thought him provocative and informative, because they couldn’t imagine that someone who could say such things could be in the gutter.  To others he was simply an old drunk.  One more.

When he gets home late a worried neighbor never misses bringing him a plate of food if he’s awake, or closing the door if he’s sleeping.  The next day, he wakes up in a bad way, feeling the weight of his years.  This repeats for the umpteenth time though he’s already too old for these tricks, while he prepares the day’s work, which he knows from experience will be more tiring than usual.  And so it continues, day after day.  After so many years, the sailing ship of his youthful dreams has been reduced to fit into a tiny little vial.