Roses

We present this work in honor of the 25th anniversary of the poet’s death.

04-27 Loynaz
Dulce Maria Loynaz
Cuban
1902 – 1997

 

In my garden, roses:
I don’t want to give you roses
that tomorrow…
that tomorrow you won’t have.

In my garden, birds
with crystal song:
I do not give them to you;
they have wings to fly.

In my garden, bees
craft a fine hive:
A minute’s sweetness…
I don’t want to give you that!

For you, the infinite or nothing:
what is immortal or this mute sadness
you won’t understand…
The unnamable sadness of not having
something to give
to someone who carries on the forehead
a portion of eternity.

Leave, leave the garden…
Don’t touch the roses:
things that die
should not be touched.

Jewels

01-25 Bernal
Emilia Bernal
Cuban
1884 – 1964

 

Amber. Marble. Sapphire. The jingling babble
of magic treasure. May my bold desires
make the most of such enchantment. Let me
stir them around with my hand.

Alabaster and azure. Day’s blood.
Stones in a heap. Roses made of milk.
Great laughter of light. My longing grasps
and tumbles the precious jewels.

Sea. Sky. Sun in my arms!
Fire
of bright diamonds playing!
Malachite, topaz. Serpentine ribbons
sparkling in my hands! Caught
in my fingers, wreaths of turquoise,
lapis lazuli, jade, aquamarine!

 

Translation by Liz Henry

In Difficult Times

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 90th birthday.

01-20 Padilla
Heberto Padilla
Cuban
1932 – 2000

 

They asked that man if they could
take his time and join it to history.
They asked for his hands,
because in difficult times
there is nothing better than a good pair of hands.
They asked for his eyes
that once had tears
so he could ponder the bright side
(especially the bright side of life)
because for horror one terrified eye is enough.
They asked for his lips,
dry and cracked, to affirm,
to erect, with each affirmation, a dream
(the high dream);
they asked for his legs,
hard and gnarled,
(his old high-stepping legs)
because in difficult times
is there anything better than a pair of legs
for building or trench-digging?
They asked him for the forest that nourished him as a child
with its obedient tree.
They asked for his chest, his heart, his shoulders.
They told him
that it was strictly necessary.
Later they explained
that all this giving would be pointless
unless he gave up his tongue,
because in difficult times
there is nothing so useful for stopping hatred or lies.
And finally they begged him
please, to begin to walk
because in difficult times
that is without a doubt the decisive test.

 

Translation by Mark Strand

Son, Are You…?

12-21 Valls
Jorge Valls
Cuban
1933 – 2015

 

‘Son, are you suffering?’
(It was your voice, mother, speaking to me…
and your cheek and your smell
and the warm tenderness of your lips.
I became seas and marshes:
All the fallen stars plunging into my waters,
Unrelenting waters, mother, ungovernable.)
‘Is that you, my son?’
(As though your finger touched
in the midst of the night’s depths
soothing my brow,
and I, shuddering and with choking throat
wracked by boundless pain.
Mother, my bones, my tendons hurt;
the joints of my blood hurt;
this stone wounding my breast hurts…
and the jaws tearing at my back.)
You there as limpid as a moist jasmine flower!
‘Son, are you suffering?’

Heroics

12-06 Valdes
Zoé Valdés
Cuban
b. 1959

 

I.

Very much the bride with a belly of five months
she made her devotions to insomnia.
Three knocks on wood cracked her open.
The thieves shrieked around the splinters.
Very much the bride she cold-creamed her face,
abandoned in the middle of her honeymoon.
“Let battle commence!” the little boys said.

II.

Let the stone-ground light exist.
We were not inhibited
and trod on each others’ feet as when dancing a bolero.
I bumped into his groin,
splitting it on purpose.
Villain that I was trod on it I poured cold water on
his message.
I told him I was tender,
that I anchored my self at street corners.
Let the yellow light of oregano exist.

 

Translation by Verity Smith

Elegy and Such

10-20 Pinera
Virgilio Piñera
Cuban
1912 – 1979

 

I invite the word
walking its barren bark among the dogs.
Everything is sad.
If it crowns forehead and breasts with shining leaves
a cold smile will blossom on the moon.
Everything is sad.
Later the sad dogs will eat the leaves
and bark out words with glistening sounds.
Everything is sad.
A dog invites the hyacinths by the river.
Everything is sad.
With loony words, with doggerel arrows,
with tiny toothy leaves
the hyacinths wound the mute damsels.
Everything is sad.
The black grass grows with a quiet hum,
but shiny edges caress the rhythm.
Everything is sad.
Behind the words the serpents laugh,
deaf earth allows no sound.
Everything is sad.

A heavenly bird barks in the sky
to scare death away.
The bird discovers it with with the flowers of night
and seduces it with words of a dog
and buries it with a cupful of earth.
Everything is sad.
I invite the earthbound word
that cuts through life and mirrors
and splits the echo of its image.
Everything is sad.
A play of words and barks.

Everything is sad.
A javelin whooshes through the speeding wind
in virile variations.
Half a cup of earth silenced the music.

Everything is sad.
Then the earth drank itself.
Everything is sad.
And when the time for death arrives
place me before a mirror where I may see myself.
Everything is sad.

I Will Appoint Things

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 100th birthday.

09-25 Vitier
Cintio Vitier
Cuban
1921 – 2009

 

I will appoint things,
the sound heights that see play the wind,
the deep porches, screens closed shade and silence.
And the internal sacred,
the gloom that ply the dusty offices,
the wooden man, the night wood of my body when sleeping.
The poverty of the place,
and the dust where the footsteps of my father made a will,
the clear and decisive stone places,
bare shadow, always the same.
Not forgetting the piety of the fire,
in bad weather the distant home,
nor the joyful sacrament of rain,
the humble cup of the park.
Neither you wonderful wall,
noon and indigo skies and endless.
With the building of the summer look,
my love will remember the paths
to where they escape the greedy Sundays,
Mondays and return with bowed head.
I will appoint things, so slowly,
that when I lose the Paradise of the road,
and oblivion me turn into a dream,
I can call them suddenly with the dawn.

Out of Africa

09-10 Pintado
Carlos Pintado
Cuban
b. 1974

 

You know you are truly alive when you’re living among lions
Isak Dinesen

I never had a farm in Africa, nor was I at the hills of Ngong, and perhaps because I was a rebellious youth, I refused to read the book. Isak was a country on my mind, never a body skinny and consumed by the syphilis, an echoless shadow the grass cut through without any perceived musicality.

For years I held the book in my hand and my hands would tremble. I recall the rain falling over the prairies. If I closed my eyes I would see those men lingering at sunset, seen from that false luminosity that only the written page can give.

Death moved the doors. The lover or the money vanished like leaves. I never had a farm in Africa; I never felt the smell of coffee invading the rooms at sunrise. There were only lions occupying my sleep, their roaring was the only memorable thing as I awoke.

Scene in the Tropics

08-04 Casal
Julián del Casal
Cuban
1863 – 1893

Insects and dust. A leaden atmosphere
Where loud the clappings of the thunder sound.
Like swans in mud, pure white against a ground
Of ashes, clouds immaculate appear.
The sea has paralyzed its waves, their clear
Green rush is still; above that bosom round
Lightning, within a frame of peace profound,
Lets forth a swift and sudden crimson spear.
Dreamily nods the lazy tree its head;
Deep calm, unbalanced, reels before attack,

And rapid sea gulls rend the air amain.
Across the spacious vault a bolt is sped,
And then upon the earth’s great smoking back
Sharply descend the crackling drops of rain.