Sonnets for My Father

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

07-06 Labra
Carilda Oliver Labra
Cuban
1922 – 2018

I.

Father of yesterday who made hope
full of children and debts.
I conjure your hand which was never dry
and never knew stone or spear.

When you were judge, you were ill with insomnia…
as you longed to save so many thieves.
Let the sparrows chirp peace for you
and may you have playthings at last!

I make believe, now, that you’re sleeping
and your affectionate greeting, your amazement, lives on.
My life now moves with entropy;

Now, I’m truly the sad little daughter
that can no longer lean on your shoulder
because you died in January, Father.

II.

Grief arrives so violently
like the rain after the dawn;
today my smile is different:
an invisible tear that doesn’t weep.

(I tell myself in secret: maybe he’s coming by,
and not only as he knows of this grieving
but because I still wait anxiously
in case he asks for the key to our house…)

I can’t believe it… I need you,
and you are dead, my father, little dead one.
This time you are checkmated.

Like a crazy person, in super human delirium,
I lift your chess piece with my hand
and place you playing in the game!

III.

I have dressed in white, green, red,
because grief does not rhyme with love.
It has been a long time, my father, since your eyes
refused darkness or glare.

Don’t let hail and snow fall on your innocent and foreign grave.
Let the birth of spring sing to you
let a flower exude perfume on the ninth!

I reserve the glory of your room for you,
a happy sparkle of the sun, that I keep apart
that piece of earth where you were born,
your robes, your books, your saw…
It’s not enough now to love you so much:
you’re dead, my father, you’re dead.

IV.

Your comfortable chair… where is it?
Your student violin… how does it sound?
You buried pennies in the sand
and gave my mother other names.

I keep all your letters and pictures.
In my dream your prostate is cured.
On the patio floor and in my affection,
your last shoes walk on.

I want to see you beyond the shutter.
Come, spirit; come, my supportive angel.
I no longer know what to do, what to say,

because I long to eat breakfast
with my father, my sage, my almsman,
at 81 Tirrey Avenue.

A different parrot

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 70th birthday.

07-04-22 Rodriguez
Reina María Rodríguez
Cuban
b. 1952

Naturally, Flaubert’s parrot
could not be called Chucho,
his author wouldn’t stick him
with a name like that.
From which follows the importance of names.
But in the stories last night
—the reconstruction of a postcard
which we were creating to
resemble Christmas—
chess pieces
nearly dismembered
in the children’s hands
before midnight,
they had to pull out the parrot
with his blue half-exposed
chest feathers
and the nun who comes
when he sings
“o whore, o whore, o whore,”
and her face colors
all the way to the wine
all the way to believing herself so
—though she wasn’t—
with the pleasure of
momentarily
believing herself something she is not,
spilling
shame into the alien
cup.
Is it true that after an outcry
they erupt – the things we believed ourselves to be?

II

The parrot Loulou “…used to descend the stairs
by setting the curve of her beak
on the steps.”
Then she disappeared forever
and her owner, Felicity, never
got over it,
or the nun either.
The family blames themselves
and they still make the sign of the cross,
for they didn’t train him to the level
of the occasion:
he was not Flaubert’s parrot
who upheld a name
with her hauteur – her meaning –
just an ordinary parrot
named, to his disadvantage,
Chucho.

Translation by Kristin Dykstra

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.

 

Translation by Pablo Medina

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.