The Life of Sisyphus – Part 4

April 3, 2009

She enters her apartment and sits in front of the fan trying desperately to stop her sweating, her body just not breathing through her clothes. She looks for her hose and begins filling the water tank in the kitchen and, after, the one on the balcony. Although the pump howls as if it were going to break down along with the buildings that surround it, the water pressure is so low there isn’t even enough to fill two tanks at the same time. Also, she must watch the tanks as they are filling to ensure the water doesn’t overflow and flood the apartment below, for this would cause terrible grief with her neighbors. A few months ago, overwhelmed by never-ending problems, she left for work leaving the valve open and two apartments were flooded. Already feeling so much shame, never had she so wished for the ground to open and swallow her as when she came home that evening and found the neighbors below waiting for her with looks that could kill and mattresses drying off in the sun. She of course accepts the responsibility for being careless but she cannot suppress the thought that if only water was available 24 hours a day, it would be impossible to accidentally leave the pump going and she wouldn’t have to fill all the buckets and tanks crammed into her already narrow apartment.

Water has always been a problem. Or rather, the problem. Fifteen years ago, when she arrived, a bride to this newly constructed building in a clearing without trees or sidewalks on the outskirts of town, they had water on alternate days.  Now there are twice the number of buildings and they only have access to water every three days, and the problem with the water is always a topic of discussion amongst the neighbors and the delegates and council members. The planning continues, almost out of sight and out of mind, but occasionally they issue encouraging words: the finances have already been approved, the new system will be ready by the middle of next year, we’re waiting for the materials to arrive… and so on and so on. Today, ‘the water problem’ remains the same, as does so much in her life and so she no longer goes to the meetings.  She no longer understands those who are consoled thinking there are worse places, places with water only once a week, instead of trying to find ways to solve the problem. But ‘progress continues’, as the corporate catch phrase goes.  Tired of waiting for a solution to arise, people simply find band-aid solutions. Those more fortunate have hung their tanks on the outside of the building giving it a multi-colored make-over. Others, the less lucky, fill the space inside their apartments with water tanks. So many tanks filled to make up for the delayed arrival of the water have upped the danger of leaks and the risk of flood, a flood like hers.

After that horrible incident with the neighbors, she has now made it a part of her early-morning routine to verify that the water valves are closed and everything electrical in her kitchen is turned off. And that is what she does now, and one more time, in the warm morning, she leaves her apartment.

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The Life of Sisyphus – Part Three

March 24, 2009

She finishes getting the children ready and they head out on their daily rounds.  First the older one to school, after that, backtracking, the little one to the daycare center.  Going past the building, the sound of the pump announces that the water has arrived.  After a brief chat, she leaves the girl at the center and walks back.  Each time it’s harder to convince her…I wonder what happened that she’s rejecting it again, she asks herself.  Nevertheless, the answer is right there in front of her, and she knows it.

Who’d want to, she thinks, spend a third of the day in a place with peeling walls, painted with a white powder that sticks to your skin and clothes; where the doors and windows are disintegrating because of the termites, sitting on noisy furniture made of iron bars and wire that are being attacked by rust, competing for faded and boring coarse wooden toys, with not even enough to go around.  A whole third of the day wriggling around in a churning crowd, exchanging bites, lice and colds, tended to by shouting women with bitter faces who, with equal lack of care, teach how to recognize colors, basic shapes, the photos of those who died in some long-ago war and of those who now govern us.

Much is said about the parents’ sacrifice for their children, but this is a sacrifice by children for their parents, that is what she believes.  Nobody can imagine how the children suffer when subjected to such treatment.  And though it may hurt them to see how their children’s childhood slips through their hands, hurrying them in the mornings so they can be on time, hurrying them in the afternoons to take their baths and to do their homework before dinner is ready, and hurrying them to eat and go to bed early, so as not to wake up tired and not to have to hurry in the mornings; though the impotence overwhelms her for not being able to counteract the influence of the violence, the vulgarity and the four letter words that they are absorbing each day; though she suffers because she can’t dedicate the time to them that she would like to on weekends because she has to do the shopping too, wash and clean; though she doesn’t know how to be creative so that the money will stretch every once in a while to fix them up with a toy or some candy that’s only sold in convertible pesos; she knows she has no other option, she can’t afford the luxury of not working.  She didn’t want to do it when she was married, and now that she’s alone, she simply cannot.

While climbing the stairs to her apartment, she starts to sweat.

Life of Sisyphus – Part Two

March 17, 2009

She buys the bread and faces the dilemma of returning to the house to see if the children are already dressed and to get some things done, or to go back for the milk. As she still hasn’t heard the water pump, she decides to get back in the line for milk. On the path she runs into two girls, dressed in their uniforms and singing. Surely they are rehearsing for the morning meeting at school, she thinks, because they are singing a political song, with that artificial voice that all children in school uniforms use when they’re singing political songs in public. Noting that in the almost thirty years that have passed between her school years and now, the topics have changed but not the tone, and she wonders why so many patterns are repeated. To think that soon her own children will join this interminable chain gives her the chills.

The line for milk hasn’t changed, except that the young woman with the pierced navel in orange lycra is no longer there. In her place, there’s a lady with big glasses who’s talking with the old woman carrying the flowered bag. The bald guy, who is definitely an errand runner, is buying milk for six ration cards and is slowing down the line. She observes, fascinated, the robotic movements of the clerk who writes in the ration book, making notes on some large sheets laid out on the counter, opening the package, letting the powder fall little by little onto a used X-ray film set on the balance plate, until the arm raises, folding the film to create a channel for the powder to slide down into the sack the bald guy holds open. The sack into the bag, the film on the balance plate, and starting again. The voices that rise to a murmur return to the line.

The old woman with the flowered bag complains that before the cyclone there was a scarcity of food, how are they going to manage now, she asks. The one with the big glasses answers emphatically that there must be solidarity among the provinces most affected, that we don’t have to give away everything but must share what we have. It feels like she’s hearing a message repeated on television, said with almost the exact same words and in a triumphalist tone. My God, how monotonous, she says to herself, this habit of repeating the same words. All around her people show worried faces, some shake their heads and others murmur quietly. The big glasses woman looks insistently from side to side but no one responds. She turns to her looking for support, repeating her words, but it’s her turn to buy and she goes up, hiding behind the ration book and the sack, without saying anything.

While she buys the powdered milk she can feel at her back the words of the big glasses woman, who has continued speaking in her direction. She walks away and the words continue to fall around her like pirate hooks, trying to attract her attention, we can’t be selfish, we must show solidarity with others. But for her this flood of words is a blast that drives her away more quickly. What this old woman embodies, my God, she says to herself while remembering the litanies her grandmother would pray whenever there was sickness in the house, or trails of clouds in the sky. There are so many people who need to protect themselves with ideas, she thought while playing with the bag in her hands until it formed a ball, almost the size of a baseball. Let’s see what we can come up with for breakfast tomorrow.

Life of Sisyphus – Part One

March 10, 2009

His hands caress her, the morning sun filters through the curtains, instrumental music makes the atmosphere perfect for love. She closes her eyes and is happy. Suddenly, the music is swept away by a car horn and shouts calling for Vicenteee, up on the third floor. The hands no longer caress, they are just one, small, shaking her shoulder. The hand has a voice: Mommy, wake up, the sun is already up.

She wakes up walking to the bathroom, once again the alarm didn’t go off, she’ll have to check it. There’s no water, she uses the two buckets she filled last night. She makes coffee, and breakfast for the kids. Makes the beds and goes out to buy milk. She’s in a rush thinking about the line. From the corner she sees the truck; instead of plastic boxes with bags there are sacks falling over. When she gets there she learns the milk came in powdered form and they have to wait to open the shop until they can weigh it before selling it.

To wait or not to wait, that is the question. She has an image of the four people ahead of her in line, a mulatto in flip-flops and a mesh shirt, an old woman with a flowered bag, a girl in an orange lycra outfit with a ring in her navel, and a bald guy with three big bags, with the look of an errand runner. She speaks to the one behind, I’ll be back in a minute, and goes to the bakery.

Passing near the building she learns they haven’t started the pump, so it follows that there’s still no water. In the bakery there’s an enormous line, just seeing it raises her blood pressure, but it’s not for the rationed bread, it’s the line for “the bread of glory.”

This is an interesting story, as she remembers, while asking who’s last in line, and unavoidably smiles, they’ll think she’s nuts, laughing in a line. The “glory bread” is bread exactly like the rationed bread, but it’s freely sold at six times the cost of the other, and comes with added syrup, dry sugar, or nothing, depending on the level of intransigence of certain anonymous defenders of the status quo. When they began to sell it, the glory bread came out syrupy as if God sent it, but the people didn’t care for it and suggestions were heard to make it a little bit or totally dry, and yes, without changing the price.

One fine day the bakers were encouraged to try and they didn’t add anything and all the bread sold very quickly. The people of the neighborhood were very happy, because they might have a little more bread for a snack for the kids, to make a pudding, or to eat before going to bed in the cold season. And word spread through the neighborhood and the lines for the glory bread started to grow, until it attracted the attention of the status quo defenders, who must be people who don’t need any more bread than what is rationed, so they started to complain and make anonymous calls to certain places, places from where they sent certain inspectors to the bakery.

And because bakers are people who above all love their profession and are sad to be away from it, they returned to the bread soaked in syrup for a while, until the inspectors were gone and the status quo defenders focused their eyes and tongues on more important matters that claimed the attention of their modest efforts. The cautious bakers waited for a while before returning to ordinary bread, today they added a little syrup, tomorrow a little dry sugar, which you could brush off with your hand, until a cycle of plain bread started, along with the enormous lines. People are happy and take it easy, we have to seize the opportunity, because you never know when the anonymous ones will return, along with the inspectors and the unnecessary syrup.

It would be funny if it weren’t so fucked up, she thought. Everyone knows what goes on, the absurdity of the situation, but nobody can do anything. Nobody tries to change the status quo. It’s incredible how there are people who need to cling to the rules in order to live. And she advances toward the counter, her smile fading away.

Colina’s List

February 9, 2009

On January 25, 2007, critic and achiever Enrique Colina took part in the interchange between Cuban intellectuals which ended up being known as the “e-mail wars.”  I use the word interchange in a calculated way because I don’t think what happened was a true debate.   If we discount the declaration issued by the Secretariat of the Union of Writers and Artist of Cuba, who have the greatest responsibility for what happened, we find that they did not express their opinion, but continued to exercise their control over the national culture.  Or better yet, over some of the creators and the media supporting the socialization of such culture.  Much has been written about such an interesting episode, and it is possible that, in a few years, new assessments may present its true significance within the dynamic national culture of the still young XXI century.

In his extensive and courageous message, Enrique Colina intertwines personal experiences lived -or suffered- during the thirty-plus years that his program, “24 per Second”, aired; ideas about the relationships between creators and political leaders, and brief stories about Cuban movies that generated controversy at the time. And as incontestable evidence, he leaves a list of thirty films -not including documentaries- that had never been shown on national TV.

Although I have no basis to support what I state, I want to believe that the subsequent “thawing” of some of those movies was the result of the intellectual exchange and, in particular, of Colina’s list. In the following months, gradually, they showed several of those films on TV, airing “Fresa y Chocolate” (Strawberry and Chocolate), a Tomás Gutiérrez Alea and Juan Carlos Tabío movie, in May 2007. The showing of this film brought an end to an almost 14-year wait for most Cubans, who can only see movies on TV, and who wished to enjoy a highly promoted, lauded and internationally acclaimed movie, considered a symbol of the new Cuban cinematography of the 90’s.

By wonders of happenstance, exactly two years after Enrique Colina sent his message to Desiderio Navarro, on the night of January 25, on educational channel 2, I saw “Madagascar,” made by Fernando Pérez in 1993, the same year as “Fresa y Chocolate.” I wonder if it would be possible -with the collaboration of some enthusiasts- to update the Colina list and see how many films still remain to be “thawed”. Or to compile the documentaries list, which has also moved along. At least, with the movies, old debts are being settled. When will there come a time for settling the rest?

One more year

February 5, 2009

It’s true it’s only the first, but I am very pleased to reach this anniversary with optimism and the hope that many more will come. I don’t plan to do a recap of the past year (the word ‘evaluation’ terrifies me), there are the published entries, and in particular, The old man, the Internet and me.

I want to celebrate, have fun together, if it’s possible in this virtual world. And we won’t talk any more, here comes the cake with its single candle. Look for the Mecano album of 1987, Descanso Dominical [Sunday Rest], and listen to the song that gave its title to this post. I hope its joy will be contagious. It will not be an unmentionable party, nor a monitored party. It’s time to get drunk, forget for a moment, sleep, maybe to dream… and let no one begrudge me this day of my happiness.

Morning Never Comes

January 28, 2009

I must confess I did not write these words. A friend received them from a mailing list, so we have no idea who its author is. We both think the message is useful and we hope the reader receives it with pleasure.

Part of a child’s beauty consists of a lack of a tomorrow, he lives everything in this instant and without conflicts about the future. You start to lose your childhood when you start to think about tomorrow. You stop living in complete wonder, start to live in great sadness and agony, stemming from knowing from the deepest part of you that tomorrow won’t arrive, yet you make plans, you build castles in the air and say:

“Marriage until death” “Your love until death.”

Everything in a tomorrow mode. Your life becomes an ambition to reach your dreams, your fantasies, but sooner or later you realize that you have lost the most beautiful part of you. Your youth, your beauty, your intelligence, and everything has been lost to the dream of tomorrow, with that false promise that you have made to yourself.

True happiness is only possible by living in the eternal now, the past and the future are mirages of the mind, they are traps that the ego has created to make you lose this moment, to rob you of your freedom to live here and now.

Tomorrow never arrives, thousands of beings have waited for a thousand and one things, the resolution to all their problems, the coming of the prophet, the end of the world, but yet they die without seeing tomorrow, only the wise man lives the moment intensely, gives in completely, simply because he knows that this moment will not return, it is impossible that it will repeat itself.

Don’t listen to your mind when it speaks to you of tomorrow, that is the true temptation, that is the serpent of Eden, promising what does not exist, taking advantage of your ambition, of your belief in tomorrow.

The wise man always looks at the inevitable, the inevitable is that this moment will not return, that is why he takes advantage of his vigor, his intelligence, his mental clarity with only one purpose, to go beyond the appearances, to eliminate all his inner negative aspects here and now.

The wise man knows that nothing is forever, and not only does he know it, he also lives it, he lives it in a way that he transforms the places in which he moves, he converts them into a paradise, from there stems the beauty of a man, of a woman who know the truth, who live in God, who have gone beyond the ego.

The present is the only reality that exists. Happiness is in your hands, live the present and make your light shine.

Fabricio’s second death

January 19, 2009

Author: Sindo Pacheco

On September 15th, 1980, at 75 years of age, Fabricio Campoamores’s heart got bored from so much beating. After going through the famous tunnel, the one those who have returned from death talk so much about, Fabricio found himself in an open field facing a steep hill, whose slope, covered in a layer of very thin grass, had a marble staircase leading to the summit, where a stunning blond was descending the steps

She was the most beautiful young lady he had ever seen, the perfect example of a princess whom every man invents and reinvents for himself in his fervent deliberations. Golden curls surrounded her face, from which two perfectly symmetrical, semi-transparent eyes gazed at him with some sort of affection. Her straight nose went down, undefeated, to lips which were the most exact representation there could be of a kiss. She wore a red velvety suit, winter booties and in her right hand carried a long wooden pointer.

“This is the mountain of minor offenses. You have the right to remain silent if you so desire,” she said in a melodious voice, like a tinkle of jingle bells. Fabricio did not understand what he should keep silent about. He had been a fine, upstanding father, worker, disciplined man. During his forty years at the head of the roasted corn meal factory, he was the first to arrive every morning, to observe, standing tall in front of the door, each of his employees’ arrival. He was obsessed with punctuality, and if he had been a reading enthusiast, he would have taken Phineas Fogg, the one in Around the World in Eighty Days, as his idol.

Fabricio could not stop staring at the princess, who seem to be waiting for a gesture of attention on his part. He meant to ask a question, but before moving his lips, she gave him the answer.

“There are nine mountains for you. Number two corresponds to not-too-slight offenses, number three includes those of a deep nature, and so on. The young woman moved her pointer from side to side, as if she were opening the curtain on the landscape, and immediately, the hill disappeared, the funeral home in town appearing before their eyes. He saw his wife Lucrecia, his sons Fabricio and Rafael, and in attendance a reasonable number of other relatives, neighbors and ex fellow workers who were surely there at his wake. His first worry was being late to his funeral, which would be presumption in the extreme, even when he could not be grateful to anyone for their presence.

“Do you know what it is?” asked the young girl
“Me, I’m dead” said Fabricio, shrugging his shoulders

She removed her jacket, which she lay on the grass, uncovering a white sleeved blouse, snug around her torso. Fabricio had started to feel anxious, apparently someone was determined to make fun of him, to humiliate him. The young woman moved the pointer from east to west, tracing a circle in space, and a country landscape appeared, whose wooden house and thatched roof Fabricio thought he had seen somewhere before.

Around the house two children ran, petrified. All of a sudden, one of them took the other one by the ears and started to pull with all his might. When the second child started to scream, a young woman came out to the yard, ready to help him out.

Fabricio felt an indescribable tenderness upon staring at the image of his mother recovered from time and oblivion. Then he recognized his cousin Evaristo, two years younger than he, and he felt guilty for having hurt him. He remembered that he had been a restless, ear-pulling, arm-biting, belly-nipping child, and, in his heart, he repented about that far away event.

“Do you know who the aggressor is?” asked the young woman.
The word aggressor almost paralyzes Fabricio, but his answer was already on the tip of his tongue.
“It’s me, but if you will allow me…”

The young woman did not seem to listen to his arguments. She removed her blouse and her skirt. Her body was blinding inside that small bathing suit. Fabricio shut his eyes. Anyone in his place would have lost his senses before the most beautiful woman in the world, but he started to feel consumed by fear, an icy fear that he did not know how to explain. She moved the pointer and a street appeared, the one where Fabricio had grown up. He recognized it by the sugar cane juice machine belonging to Juan Vargas, who was offering cane juice to his customers, and by the billiard hall where men usually spent those nights of his childhood. Old man, Pancho Cruz, leaning on his cane, was trying to pick up a cigar stub when it leaped, fleeing from his hand. Pancho went forward one step and tried to capture the gift placed there by divine providence, but once again, the stub moved. The old man made a last effort and lost his balance, falling against the cement sidewalk. The cackle of the children could be heard, while one of them, Fabricio, pulled the string that converted the cigar into a slippery object.

Fabricio hardly remembered the incident, but now, when he knew what it was like to be old, and to think like an old man, and to feel like an old man, even more than old, he had a grief attack, but he tried to compose himself, to look for some kind of justification, children were innocent, incomplete creatures whose scarce knowledge of the world made their actions lacking in importance before the law, besides…

“Do you know what it’s about?” the girl interrupted his thoughts
“I used to like the cigar joke” he said, lowering his head.

When he looked up again, she was in her underwear, wrapped in a robe of red tulle, which the wind moved slightly as if it was dancing around her legs. She moved the pointer again and the house where Fabricio had grown up appeared, with the trees as they were back then and the same paint on its walls. An adolescent boy had come out of the kitchen door and was placing a handful of rice on the stone slab of the yard. Immediately, a band of sparrows flew down to eat the tender grain. Fabricio felt relief. At least good deeds were being taken into consideration in that unforeseen confrontation, and of those there were plenty in his life, dedicated to work, to society and to family. However, he hadn’t finished rounding up his conclusions when the boy took out a slingshot out of his back pocket, he inserted a stone on the band, he aimed at the target, and a bundle of feathers fell to the ground, with its little feet shaking in his death journey.

This time Fabricio did not wait for the question.

“I hated sparrows” he said, and took comfort in thinking that everyone had killed a bird during his lifetime, but the image of the little bird would not leave his conscience. Fabricio started to feel agitated. If that was the mountain of slight offenses, he did not want to find himself before the remaining eight. His slight sins were few, but he was no longer sure he had been an honorable man.  He tried to remember his bad deeds, his violations, cruel events of his distant youth, infidelities, selfish acts, double crossings, injustices carried out in his phase as an executive, against fifty or so subordinates on whom his indolence, his ire, or his ineptitude fell. He remembered his pleasures, Elena, his first secretary, and later Rosita and Isabel, this last one, married and with two kids, one of which he suspected was his. For the first time, he questioned having been a good son, a good father, a good husband. Here he could not resort to his patriotic speech and  blame his uncaring to his dedication to the common interest of the nation. His whole life was there, in a sort of video tape: the world under God’s hidden camera.

Fabricio was already horrified. If he had had any blood, it could be said that even his last red blood cell would have turned to ice. A primitive, unknown terror had installed itself in his conscience, and his body started to shake.  The young woman moved the pointer as one who reveals the appearance of the world, and there appeared a cemetery under the midday sun. People were lowering a body amid the sighs and laments of the relatives.  The coffin resounded at the bottom of the pit with a hollow sound, like the very shell of the dead man. Fabricio recognized his wife Lucrecia wiping her tears.

When he turned his gaze towards the young woman, she extended her arms.

“Come, love, wash your sins before you go on to the second mountain,” she said with an incredible shine in her gaze, but Fabricio was exasperated, as if he had seen evil in its most pure state. He gathered all his strenghth and before she could react, he jumped towards the grave, the coffin, and he went inside his body. When the first handfulls of dirt fell against the surface of the glass, he understood he had been stupid, but he felt assured, protected. He had arrived at his burial on time.

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.

CHOICES
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.

SO NEAR THE 21ST CENTURY
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.

XVI
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.

XVII
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.

XVIII
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.

XXII
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.

XXII
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.

THE END