REINVENTIONS OF THE BAROQUE
Carpentier: FOR THE TRUMPET SHALL SOUND...
Corinthians, 1, 52
Venice seemed ready to drown, from hour to hour, in its turbid and churning
waters. A great sadness hovered, that night, over the sick and hollowed-out
city. But Filomeno was not sad. He was never sad. That night, within a half an
hour, would be the Concert - the much awaited concert by those who could make
the trumpet vibrate like the God of Zacharias, the Father of Isaiah, or like
the choral singing of the most jubilant psalm of the Scriptures. And because he
had many tasks still to complete wherever music was defined by rhythmical
values he went, with a quick step, towards the concert hall whose poster
announced that, within a moment, the unique copper of Louis Armstrong would
begin to sound. And it seemed to Filomeno that, when all is said and done, the
only live, actual, projected satiety in the future which remained for him in
that marshy city was rhythm, the rhythms, at once elemental and Pythagorean,
present down here, non-existent in other venues where mankind had proved
--very recently, to be sure--that the cosmos held no more music than his
own cosmos, contrapuntal monotone of revolving geometries, now that the tribal
inhabitants of that Land, having been raised toward the sacred moon of Egypt,
of Sumeria and of Babylon, had only found there an astral trash heap of
insensate stones, a rocky and dusty trail, announcing other greater trails,
placed into the most distant orbits, already given in revealed and revelatory
images showing that, in the final analysis, the Earth, being sufficiently
messed up at times, still was not so excremental nor so unworthy of gratitude
as some said--that it was, say what will be said, the most habitable House in
the System--and that the Man we knew, so damned and afflicted as a gender, with
no other peoples with whom to compare himself in his roulette of solar
mechanics (almost Elect thereby, nothing indicated the contrary) had no better
task than to occupy himself with personal affairs. Let him search for the
solution to his problems in the iron of Ogun or in the ways of Elegua, in the
Ark of the Covenant or in the Expulsion of the Moneychangers, in the great
Platonic bazaar of Ideas and consumption articles or in the famous bet of
Pascal & Co. Assurances, in word or in deed - thus, they were his own.
Filomeno, for now, understood them with terrestrial music - for him, this was
carelessly included in the music of the spheres. He presented his ticket at
the theatre entrance, was conducted to his seat by an usher with extraordinary
buttocks--the Negro saw it all with a singular perception of the immediate and
the palpable--and approached a thunder, a great thunder that was the applause
and exaltation for the prodigious Louis. And, mouthing the trumpet he attacked,
as only he knew how to do, the melody of Go Down Moses before moving
to that of Jonah and the Whale, lifted from the copper horn to the
heights of the theatre where fluttered, as if immobilized while they flew by,
the rose-colored minstrels of an angelic choir, due, perhaps, to the clear
brushstrokes of Tiepolo. And the Bible returned to join in the rhythm and
dwell among us with Ezequiel and the Wheel, before launching into a
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, that evoked, for Filomena, That person--the
Jorge Federico of that night--who reposed, beneath a baroque statue of
Roubiliac, in the great Club of the Marble of Westminster Abbey, together
with Purcell who also knew so much of mystical and triumphal trumpets.
And now the concert was in a new execution, behind the virtuoso, the
instruments united in the scenario: saxophones, clarinets, double bass,
electric guitar, Cuban drums, maracas (were they not, perhaps those
gourds once conceived by the poet Balboa?), cymbals, wood impacting from hand
to hand which sounded like silversmith hammers, percussion boxes, the fringe
of brushes, cymbals, triangles and rattles, and the piano with its top up that
no one even remembered calling, during other times, something like a "well-
tempered clavier." "The prophet Daniel, he who had learned so much in Chaldea,
spoke of an orchestra of copper, strings, sitar, harps, and horns, which must
have seemed like this one," thought Filomena... But now everything exploded
behind Louis Armstrong's trumpet, in an energetic strike-up of brilliant
variations upon the theme of I Can't Give You Anything But Love, Baby
- a new Baroque concert, to which there came to join in, as an unexpected
portent, falling through a skylight, the hours announced by the bells of the
Thrilled with stabbing,
he himself is a penknife:
cuts slices of the moon,
until the moon is gone;
cuts slices from the song,
until the song is gone;
cuts slices of the shadow,
until the shadow is gone
and then scratches what itches,
his flesh of darkest black.
Sarduy: I DEDICATE THIS MAMBO TO GOD
Like a goose's neck the fin of the enviable Cadillac undulates in the mist,
feathered white against the gloomy pavement. And so the three proceed, or the
two who add to three,(1) to some Moors in search of an, although hidden,
distinguished physician, the relevant Dr. Ktazob who, in a fine tangerine
suit removes with a pull the superfluous, and sculpts in its place a lubricated
crevice, topping the apparatus with notes from a Muslim balsam that converses
in mellifluous whistling to the ears of a Neapolitan officer, reduces the feet
to Ming-size, creates a Byzantine facial expression and on the chest inflate
two pearly turgidities, imitations of those that Saint Olalla displays on a
Writing is the art of the ellipsis. Thus I pass over our ambulants'
encounter with four monks of mercy--black garments, white cloak--who in Madrid
tried to dissuade them, contemplating with oval gestures, as if they caressed
invisible doves on a ribbon, and to close every argument brought the pertinent
Latin concerning the mutation to which they aspired, to conclude, like
charismatic intransigents, that it was "violence against the web of life, a
gift among many from the Holiest, on whose wise providence all creatures
depend--and pointed to a book (in the distance a convent, a beatitude consoling
paralytics) on the windowsill with an apple on it--and therefore a sin."
I record nevertheless, and with what care, the dialogue that the lady had
in Guadalupe with Father Illescas, a retired theologian formerly with the
Representative Sargassoans arrived then at the mountain convent from
distant islands, whether to learn storytelling, receive baptism or die of
cold, gentle, naked and painted indians, smug with their necklaces and glass
beads; they brought the smoothly delightful trained parrots who recited an
affirmation, trees, fruits with the most marvelous taste, parakeets with eyes
of crystal red, aromatic herbs and, why not, among so much painterly detail,
the roasted seeds of the fat chiles which adorn the faith, cornucopia of
floral motifs, becoming knots and arrows, borders and spirals, swaying Aladdin
lamps, stores of Sephardic fruits, viceregal tableaus and heavy Gothic crowns
suspended over Tridentine whirling dervishes.
Cobra continued to be bedazzled by all the primitive ornaments and dyed
feathers. He wanted to dress in fauna, with stalks interwoven with carved
tortoise shells, and with tobacco leaves, melons and mangos create a high and
showy hat like a weather vane, with tiny broken Puerto Rican statuettes like
fragile fetishes hung in circles over the surprised gestures.
Pup, having become a Venetian usurer, had joined the candidate's arena:
against disguises and opiates he urged on them, with flashing eyes, in glossy
paragraphs, the polished pages that he would pull from the true hymnal.
But, enough arabesques, let us pass to the core subject, to the
fundamental theory of the change.
--What a fate, my daughters! And, from what rustic and broken lie do you
inherit such a lamentable invention?--the Father began as if he had attained
access to the enterprise which motivated the pilgrims, and in an instant
lifted the pen with which he signed a document. Pup, beneath the table,
felt a slight thrill. And once converted to his opposite and duly buried
(as the English insist be done with loose fingers and even joints), as to the
surplus pudendal parts, on the Day of Judgment: by what natural law shall the
undone appear before the Creator and how will it be recognized without the
attributes given in His wisdom, remodeled, redone, like a home-made
--I am amazed that it seems so to you--replied Teorica; the body, before
reaching its perishable state--and I see, with the eyes of compassion, a skull
and a sand clock arrayed on a closed frontispiece, in a corner of the parish
table--is a book in which is written the divine dictation, why, in a case like
the present, when a minute though gross error in Written on a Body has
escaped the light, why not amend the mistake and put an end to the sprouting
weed, like treating children when they fight, or discarding an extra organ or
a gizzard. And it is precisely in this township, Inclita continued, where I
reverently bring to fruition that which to your heretical eyes I remedy, it is
because I know how to find myself among desiccating experts, and that I feel
much distress is largely attributable to excrescences, as I would here baptize
those inconsequential gifts of nature, and malformations of the living.
Shrinking between processional columns, Cobra followed the discussion
lying in a corner of the central room, surrounded by polished silver
tabernacles, wartime reliquaries that displayed tibia and titles between
weapons, three chasubles bordered with tiny gems, tablets with glasses,
breads, flasks of wine, and monks in white, and speakers where the gold of
matins emitted its sirens.
Pup, the Clothed Monster, had escaped by naval vessel and the diocesan
underground: at the site where he would debate the prickly matter he appeared
very cheerful and because of obesity, even the episcopal robe constricted his
neck, a reverse mitre atop and the puppy in his arms chewing on a scepter.
--What baroque jape do you bring, full of it, or what blasphemy?--she
rebuked the Father, engaging the messenger of God in slapping to exorcise the
demons and sulfurous vermin that doubtless roiled his ganglia and spleen from
his bristly body.
Suffocated, he proceeded: --The remedy to which your discourse alludes,
madam, has more resemblance to Leng T'che, the Chinese torture of the 100
pieces, and with medieval outrages of mixed animals, grafted into organs and
bent bodies, than what the benign lessons of post-mortem anatomy here approved
by the Sacred Congregation of Rites and by ecclesiastical license have
--But you defame me, estimable churchman--the exegete continued without
rest--how brainless do I seem to you--. And without annoyance: --Citole, to
close this delightful discussion and not have any more suspense, a precedent
that I hope does not offend you: consider an Alexandrine saint who, in an
ecstatic rapture and as if possessed by surgical seraphins, should amputate
the basilisk in one swipe, delivering it like a scrap to the dogs; thus,
quickly ascending a staircase of gnostic sentences, to the supreme symbology
of the Platonic pantheon--. And amid sobs and badly-formed sighs, to Cobra:
--Cut it out and let's go.
--But consider the case, my daughters--the indignant deacon concluded
--and the embers of that mendacious pit, that to Gehenna itself and without
more prolegomena all will come to a stop, even this fool, who is not more
innocent for being chaste and ascetic, so that one would say it is no more
than the double misfortune and travesty of transvestitism.
--You refer to me!--he said exasperated, with a neoclassical gesture, and
she (who of this ambiguity I shall make a fuss and even a miniaturized analogy)
took Pup by one arm, who began to proffer excuses--I a fat half-breed but know,
priest, that if I have come to these straits it is to untie Gordian knots, clear
up intrigues and, naturally, correct many injustices.
And with that the three descended from the perch, not before provisioning
themselves with nougats and aniseed, bread and raisins, white rice dishes, and
some of those meatballs which Pup loved so much.
In the plaza, next to the fountain, vespers were administered to the
needy and the beggars.
They cured the afflictions of the faithful.
They were so good.
1) [Sra + Cobra (+/=) Pup = (3/2)].
2) See his portrait by Carreño (1614-1685) on the Prado (no.646) with its
epitaph "the disagreeable, yet magisterial, nude painting, although with
characteristics of Silenus to diminish the figure's repulsiveness", F. J.
Sanchez Canton, Guide to the Prado Museum.
Arenas: FIFTH AGONY (LIFE OF THE DEAD)
Night time. The gunfire and the organs of the Eufrasia rebels fill the
neighborhood with their monotonous rhythms. The moon dampens its sharply cold
face among the clouds. Someone coughs, someone groans, someone rolls over in
the sheets, howls softly filling that silence which is nothing more than the
union of all the screeches until they form an anonymous and elusive regular
rhythm. This is the hour when Celia slowly rises, walks towards the patio
(sometimes she trips on the washstand, against the radio, with a wall), leans
the old wood ladder against the bathroom roof and climbs up on it. Once on
top, laboriously maintaining herself in equilibrium, she slides to where the
debris is (pieces of tile, wood, cans) that covers a chest. Celia inhales,
then opens the chest. Now she roots through the objects contained in that
moldy box: cups, pieces of glass, empty perfume bottles, a stocking she
separates with indifference, the magazine Bohemia...until, finally,
there in the back, her fingers begin to feel the desired objects. Her hands
extract Esther's intimate garments. Her first brassiere, her first bloomers,
her first pair of shoes with high heels, a pair of sandals, fragments of her
hair the last time it was cut, some pieces of fingernail, stubs of the candles
that shone for the last time on one of the flowers which formed a crown,
one of the bronze casket handles. Funerary objects, costume pieces, personal
fragments, everything is deposited with patient ceremony up on the bathroom
roof. Later, the ritual begins. Celia kisses the bloomers, tries on the
brassiere, wears the shoes; a candle in her hand, another in the mouth,
masticating, dances requiring fantastic equilibria upon the slippery roof. She
turns, turns among funerary objects, rags, inky lifelines, residua of a body,
and lights. All those indifferent, maybe already non-existent, night lights,
illumining her while she dances.
The Palace of the White Skunks
Lezama: AN OBSCURE GRASSLAND INVITES ME
An obscure grassland invites me,
its prairies stable and square,
turn in me, they sleep in my balcony.
They fill their shape, their indefinite
alabaster cupola their recreation.
Upon the waters of the mirror,
curt the voice on one hundred roads,
my memory prepares its surprise:
deer across the sky, flashing, ablaze,
Without feeling that they call me
I penetrate the spacious grassland,
proud in a new ruined labyrinth,
Where may be seen, famous remains,
100 heads, trumpets, 1,000 functions
open the sky, their calm sunflower.
Surprise is missing in this sky,
where against one's will footsteps return
and voices sleep in its swollen center.
An obscure grassland is passing by.
Between the two, wind or fine paper,
the wind, wounded wind of that magical
dying, unitary and bidden farewell.
A bird and then another does not quiver.
Cabrera Infante: BACHATA
--What do you think of Bach at 60?--he asks me.
--Bach, John Sebastian, the baroque fornicating partner of the fecund Ana
Magdalena, the contrapuntalist father of his harmonious son Carl Friedrich
Emmanuel, the blind man of Bonn, the deaf one of Lepanto, the lame marvel, the
author of that manual of all spiritual bondage, the Art of the Fugue--he tells
me. --What would old Bach say if he knew that his music travels along Havana's
Malecon esplanade, in the tropics, at 50 miles per hour? Which would give him
more fear? What would be most dreadful for him? The speed at which the
continuous bass sounds and moves? Or the space, the distances attained by his
organized sound waves?
--I don't know. I had not considered it--and truly I had never thought of
it, neither then or now.
--I do--he says. --I have thought that that music, that that thick subtle
concert--and he leaves the empty space in his dramatic phrases hanging so
that the music will fill them--was created to be heard in Weimar, in the 17th
century, in a German palace, in the baroque music room, by the light of
candelabras, in a not only physical but also historical silence: a music for
eternity, that is to say, for the ducal court.
The Malecon passed beneath the auto like an asphalt plane, at the sides
in the shape of houses buffeted by the salt and the endless wall and above in
the cloudy and partly cloudy sky the sun descends unforced, like Icarus, to
the sea. (Why this mimeticism? Everything ends up being something else: tell
me how I speak and I will tell you who I am, which is like saying who I walk
with.) I now heard Bach in the interstices of the explanation and thought of
the verbal games that Bustrofedon would have played were he alive: Bach,
Bachata, Bacchanal, Bache potholes (which there were in the pavement,
breaking the continuous space along the seawall), Bachillerato, Bacharat,
Bacaciones--and to hear him create a dictionary from a single word.
--Bach,--says Cue--who smoked tobacco and drank coffee and fornicated
like any Havanero, now moves among us. Do you know that he wrote a cantata to
coffee--he asked me--and another to tobacco, to which he wrote a poem that I
know: "Whenever I grasp my tobacco to light / and smoke so as to pass the
night / my thoughts, when I sit and focus / come to stop on a sad, grey and
dim locus: / which proves that with a toke / I am most fully in the smoke"
--and he stopped quoting, reciting--What do you think of the Old Man? He is
almost of the Cuban genre. Damn!--he became silent to listen, to make me
hear. Listen to that current minstrel, old Silvestre, being Cuban along this
Malecon who keeps being Bach without being precisely Bach. How would the
physicists explain it? Speed can be a constant cauldron. What would Albert
Schweitzer say about this?
Speaking in Swahili?--I thought.
Cue drove and at the same time kept time to the music with his head, with
his hands following a forte with the fist closed and following a
pianissimo with the hand open downwards, going down an invisible,
imaginary musical staircase, and he seemed like a teacher of deaf-mutes
translating a discourse. I remembered Belinda and almost was reminded of Lew
Ayres, in his face the most honest of the dramatic cliches, conversing in
silence with Jayne Wyman before the admiration or the ignorance, in any event
mute, of Charles Bickford and Agnes Moorhead.
--Cannot you hear how the old Bach plays with tonality, how he constructs
his repetitions, how he produces unforeseen variations yet where the theme
permits and suggests it and not before, never after, and despite that succeeds
in surprising one? Ah, old-timer, he is better than Offenbach, I can swear,
because he is aqui, hier, ici, here in this Havana sadness and not at Parisian
Cue had that obsession with time. I mean that he sought time within
space and our continuous, interminable trips were nothing but a search, a
single infinite journey along the Malecon, like now, but at any hour of day or
night, touring the decayed landscape of the old houses, those that are between
Maceo park and the Point, which ended up becoming that which man stole from
the sea to build the Malecon: another barrier reef, receiving the constant
salt and marine spray when there is wind and waves on the days when the sea
spills over the road and strikes the houses seeking the coast that receives
them, augmenting them, creating another wave, and later the parks where now
the tunnel begins and where the coconut and false almond trees and vineyards
do not completely conceal the solar odor of the goats while the sun manages to
burn the plants and toast the green to a straw-like yellow and the excessive
dust creating other walls of light, and afterwards the port bars: New
Pastores, Two Brothers, Don Quixote, the bar where the Greek sailors dance
with arms linked while the whores laugh and the San Francisco church, by the
convent, facing La Lonja and Customs, indicating the various historical times,
the different denominations passing through this plaza which in the era and in
the copies by the English of the Tome of Guan-Havana resembled a Venetian
marvel and the bars that repeat the entrance at the exit to Paula avenue and
remind us that footprints begin or end oceanside strolls in Havana, and later
following the gentle curve of the bay we regularly went to Guanabacoa and
Regla, to the bars, seeing the city as by a foreigner from the other side of
the port, in the Mexico or the Piloto bar, piloting ships in the water,
hearing and seeing the steamer that makes the trip every half hour, and later
we returned by way of the Malecon to 5th Avenue and Marianao Beach, and then
continued to Mariel harbor or ducked into the bay tunnel and we appeared in
Matanzas city and then at play in Varadero to return at midnight, at dawn, in
Havana: always talking and always telling tales and making jokes and always
also philosophizing or aestheticizing or moralizing, always--the question was
to make one see how we did not work because in Havana, Cuba, that was the only
way of being fine people, which is what Cue and I had wanted to be, wanted to
be, tried to be--and we always had time to converse about time. When Cue spoke
of time and space and covered all that space in our entire time I thought it
was to entertain us and now I know, it was thus: it was to create a distinct
object, another thing, and while we traversed space he managed to elude what
he always avoided, I believe, which was to cover another space outside of time
--or more clearly--, to remember. The opposite of myself, because I enjoy
remembering things more than living them or to live things knowing they are
never lost because I can evoke them (there should be time, this being the
thing that at present is most perturbing and if time exists which is in the
present, most perturbing is the thing making that present perturbing),
can live them again upon remembering and it would be good if the verb
grabar (record a record, a tape) were the same as in English, remember
or recordar, because that is what it is, which is the opposite from
Arsenio Cue. Now he spoke of Bach, of Offenbach and maybe of Ludwig Feuerbach
(of the baroque as the art of good credit, of reconciling the Austrian with
the happy Parisian because he said he knew that in the grove of music he would
never be a nightingale, of praise for late Hegelianism that applied the
concept of alienation to the creation of the gods) but that was not to record,
but instead the contrary. That is, to memorize.
--Do you see, oldtimer? This type was a sum and it seems a multiplication.
At that moment (yes, just at that moment) the universal silence occurred:
in the car and on the radio and in Cue, and it was because the music ended.
The announcer--whose voice seemed much like Cue's--spoke.
"You have just heard, ladies and gentlemen, the Concerto grosso in D
minor, opus 11 number three, by Antonio Vivaldi. (Pause.) Violin: Isaac Stern,
Viola: Alexander Schneider..."
I emitted a chuckle and think that Arsenio did too.
--Amigo,--I told him--culture in the tropics. Do you see, oldtimer?--I
said to him, imitating his voice, but making it more pedantic than friendly.
He did not look at me, and said:
--At root, I was right. Bach spent all his life stealing things from
Vivaldi, and not only from Vivaldi--he wanted to save himself through
erudition, I saw it coming--but also from Marcello--he said it sharply,
Marchel-lo--and from Manfredini and Veracini and even Evaristo Felice Dall'
Abaco. Thus I spoke of a sum.
--You should have said remainder, subtraction, no?
He laughed. The good thing is that Cue had a more developed sense of
humor than of the ridiculous We have presented in our Great Paintings series
a program dedicated... He turned off the radio.
--Yet you were right--I told him, temporizing. I am the temporizing El
Cid. --Bach is the father of music, by law as they say, but Vivaldi sends a
wink to Ana Magdalena from time to time.
--Viva Vivaldi--said Cue, laughing.
--If Bustrofedon were in that time machine he would have said "Vibachdi"
or vivant Vivaldi or Valve-D and would go on into the night.
--Well then, what do you think of Bach at 60?
--That you lowered the speed.
--Albinoni at 80, Frescobaldi at one hundred, Cimarosa at 50, Monteverde
at 120, Gesualdo at whatever the motor will do--he took a pause more exalted
than refreshing and continued. --It doesn't matter, that which I said remains
true and I think about how Palestrina will be heard in a jet.
--A miracle of acoustics--I said.
Three Trapped Tigers
NARRATIVES OF THE NATION
Sarduy: CUBAN CURRICULUM
That she entangled him with her champagne bangs, that he pricked her with the
open pin on one of his medals, that the cherry jam fell onto the caramel khaki
of the uniform, that he diluted it with a gallon, that both became entangled,
that they became silent as courtesy, that they insulted, that the creamed
asparagus remained among his decorations, that being Pyrrhic he invoked the
patroness of artillery, the invincible Chango, that she responded naming the
queen of the river and of the sky, her antidote and detente: nothing is now
Let us record then just how they appear in those instants: before the
dessert department, among little trays wet and trembling like burned moths,
Auxilio has combed her hair... No: her hairs have become entangled in the
aluminum tray that sustains a skinny general of the armada.
There the two are--plumed serpents--cheek to cheek, pressed one against
the other, trays stuck together. Floundering Siamese twins. The Bacardi bat,
ink blot, double animal, open oyster, body with its reflection, Auxilio and
They go on there, touching from the top, the extremes touching. Like a
snake on which is found a small hissing appetitive mouth, a pyramidal pastry
then is ingested in one gulp and then the cry is made, because it has just
ingested its tail, and thus it disappears and returns to the bad Infinity.
--But, why did the General not take off his top and be done with it?
Listen to the question from Socorro, only from her.
Me --Daughter of mine, do you not see that if the General removes his
hardware he would be like the bird painter from Lacan who removes their
feathers? Like a goat without black stripes because they went into a Vasarely.
Socorro --What I want is for them to finish getting Auxilio out of this
Me --She will soon get out of it. Soon return to her house, modest,
Socorro --Listen to that! Three adjectives at once! It was different in
my day. What is happening to this young literature...
Me --Yes, my dear, three adjectives in a row, yet very well chosen. So
accept and be quiet.
Socorro --I do not have a sense of the digression so, quickly, what
happened with my little friend?
Nothing at all, since that originally promising cosmogony turned out
badly. Like faith in fishhooks under a river, or like feathers to a vacuum in
a chicken factory, thus the dyad Auxilio-General sucked up everything around
them and, clearly, sucked up a black and a Chinese: thus the Cuban curriculum
The fourth element which is always the Unnameable Item had begun, was
close to the third that always is idealized in the sense of a force, yet here
accomodated the two who were lacking. There they arrived, stone twins, fish
with identical eyes, to ignite in the hair and the medals, to add to Auxilio
the Concept of the Universe:
1) an Asiatic, powdered with corn starch, diva of the Opera in the
2) a black with round buttocks and breasts, very semi-circular, very
full, everything squeezed into a live red cloth and with hair recently
smoothed like a river of vines.
Thus it is, seen from above, from an imaginary mirror that we can place
for example atop the ATM machine (and which is certainly there and allows one
to see if someone is taking the slips or hides putting a chocolate cookie in
their pocket) the arrangement is a giant four-leaf clover, or an animal with
four heads that face toward the four cardinal points, or a Yoruba sign for the
the white of the wig and jacket,
the Chinese charade and the mouth of the cat,
the braided negress,
and the last--which was the first--the
Sola-Vaya the wax figure.
We fall, then, into the fourfold parts of which the old lecher of the
Black Forest speaks.
Socorro --Yes, the only one who has put an end to the matter!
There I shall leave you. Four distinct beings whom are only one. They are
already leaving, already looking. How sweet!
Where the Singers Are From
Cabrera Infante: THE BIRTH OF A NOTION
Cuba is the country that has produced the most exiles during more than a
century and a half of american history. That history is the chronicle of a
Cuban fight against a demon. Cuban literature, without a doubt, was born in
exile. It was in effect the origin of the birth of a nation. But in reality it
was the birth of a notion: no one is as successful as the exile. So now I
speak not of Miami but of our literature.
Today like yesterday, there have been not a few writers in exile. Yet
none, not even Jose Marti, showed an exceptional talent in Cuba before
endeavoring "to navigate through other crazy seas," to emerge and at the same
time arrive at our particular Citerea. Citerea was an island off the coast of
Laconia from whence "laconic" derives. Curious metaphor for a nation that has
produced so many talkers! But Citerea was consecrated to Venus, who was the
goddess of beauty, the mother of love, the queen of laughter and the soul of
grace and pleasure and the patron of free women. If all this is not Cuba at
least it was Havana. Citerea vade mecum, that it goes with me, that I
carry it within like an inner voice.
Almost all those future teachers were mere mediocre trade apprentices in
Cuba. What is extraordinary is that so many of the century's uprooted became
notable writers. Even, like Marti, great writers. Everything changed abroad
that was at once friendly and hostile. Or at least friendlier than the island,
less hostile for those Cubans who engaged in writing during the time and space
of exile. Even more curious is that the Cubans who remained behind, on the
island that should have seen the birth of Venus but instead saw the invasion
of Mars, those stragglers seemed to learn the art of writing badly, perhaps
because they employ their time in simulating an ever stricter adhesion.
Literature, a jealous goddess, permits no other loyalty than to herself, an
extreme devotion. All those writers come from the same country, at times
from the same generation of islanders left behind by history who nevertheless
invoke the departed, the absent, as Mallarme invoked for Poe, remoteness, a
kind of eternity, was changed in them, into something better than themselves.
Everything began in the previous century and almost always, as in this
century, for political reasons. Yet for us the Cubans this is the century of
exile. The Roman zero hour that sounded for Ovid has sounded for us for some
time, banished by a false emperor. A million and a half Cubans have already
chosen the road without a homeland. It is more than a tenth, for that figure
represents 15 percent of Cuba's entire population: in effect it is a tenth and
a half. This century could almost be designated in Cuban history, as was done
in the Bible, as the book of Exodus. As as Calvert Casey said, that
writing made and unmade by exile, Our Diaspora. Exile is in itself a form of
martyrdom. But it is also a rare privilege.
And now the sad business of recounting. I shall begin by speaking of the
poets because they were the first exiled. At times Cuba has appeared
surrounded by poets in every direction. There there were poets up to the
tropical sky and the waters were profound, poetic. It was such that the
maximum Cuban literary expression has flowed from the pen of the poet. During
the past century it was Julian del Casal, in this century it is Jose Lezama
Lima: both internally exiled, both wishing to leave the island and both
deathly afraid of the foreign lands. Casal was simultaneously the precursor
and master of modernism and there is no doubt that if there are five poets who
write in Spanish in this century in whose work greatness reached genius, among
them, counting on the fingers of one hand, central, will be Jose Lezama Lima.
Guillén: A LONG GREEN LIZARD
"In the sea of the Antilles
Also called Caribbean
Beaten by waves
And polished by foam
Burnished by the sun
And embossed by the wind
Eyes filled with tears, but singing,
Cuba straddles the map:
A long green lizard,
Eyes of water, eyes of stone."
The sugar canes weave
you a tall crown;
not a free coronation,
but the crown of a slave:
queen of the outer shell,
of the inner shell, servant,
sad as the saddest who
navigate the map of Cuba:
a long green lizard,
with eyes of stone and water.
Near to the edge of the sea,
you who are a still sentinel,
observe, ocean guardian,
at the point of the spears
and in the thunder of the waves
and in the calling of the summons
and when the wakened lizard
puts its claws on the map:
a long green lizard,
with eyes of stone and water.
Paloma de Vuelo Popular
Lezama: MONOLOGUE OF PRACTICAL WISDOM ON CUBAN FOOD
Our food forms part of our image. I do not know if what I am going to say is
excessive generalization, but forgive it as the nonsense of exile. The
majority of people when they eat, above all the Europeans, seem to force or
exaggerate a division between man and nature, whereas the Cuban seems to
incorporate nature when she eats. They seem to incorporate the fruits and the
viands, the fish and the shrimp, from the outdoors. When one savors a crab
they seem to put their hands on one of those sources of sweet water that flow
to our seas. She is eating or she is bathing, are formulas that
the Cuban employs like a prayer to God. He is eating or he is
bathing are among the few formulas of civility or of courtesy that have
permanent force among us. They have universal respect, no one dares to defy
them. She took me from the table, he came and interrupted my bath are
formulas of execration, of an almost Biblical curse, which the Cuban rejects as
a discourtesy. Perhaps that may be due to the secret meaning of our viands. In
some american dialects "yucca" means forest. Other etymologists affirm that
yucca means the juice of Bacchus. Yams represent an Antillean edible root. Upon
consuming those viands it is like the empowering of the woods by means of
edible roots. Other victuals seem to actually exercise an influence in the
moral world. The boldest etymologists believe that boniato, yams,
derives from bonus. Its first use was as an adjective, thus in Venezuela there
was the Boniato boss, that is, the good boss. In our own countryside I have
observed the boors who bully due to boniato and those who abuse due to
espresso coffee. The two are very different. The good-old-boy abuser is
easygoing, gossipy, familiar, and musical. The caffeine bully is discordant,
rapacious, a cock fighter, fantastical. An observation, which I send as a gift
to Champollion, always malicious: in our argot it ate at him, in
relation to a maiden, that is it left on horseback with his virginity, in the
same way that we "tune out" at the completion of the sexual act, an extremely
delicate phrase, for it alludes also to an adequate state for the vibrations
of a musical instrument. It ate at him means he adopted it, with the
violence of the act and with the totality of the women's message. But to be
in tune is the adequate coincidence of our accords, is as Cervantes
says, the music between our dreams. Thus the sexual act for the Cuban is like
eating in a dream; the woods, the root and the goodness of what we eat, and the
possessive act, are unitary in their imagery, the temperate humors of the
dream. Precisely that it ate at him is the way one refers to something
irresistible, triumphal. If someone's impertinence, smoking their pipe, were
to confidently advance integral or vector calculus, the chorus exclaims as
applause: it ate at him. In the same way among ourselves the attraction,
the heroism and the tuned vibration of the sound are as interlaced as that
which the metaphysicians call conical time, a wide horizontal base of the
incorporative and the attractive which are transmuted into the vibrations
that travel like the rotating eye of a cyclone from the base up to a point
that they penetrate.
Arenas: BETWEEN THE SEA AND THE SLOGANS
...At one side of the highway you see the ocean; on the other, some solitary
and yellowing pines that the sun and the wind have been drying out. On one
side of the highway you see the sea; on the other a group of almost immobile
cows who graze listlessly. On one side of the highway you see the sea; on the
other, an unplastered tiled house with no trees, with four windows and a tower
(or something resembling one) of which I do not know what meaning it may have;
I see it, from afar, while we pass, looking sorrowful in the middle of the
savannah, supporting the air and the sun. The car continues and the house
remains in my memory for a few moments... On one side of the highway you see
the sea; on the other, a huge sign with immense letters. YOU ARE ENTERING THE
MASTER PLAN FOR THE HAVANA CORDON. On one side of the highway, the sea; on the
other, a long fence. 80 THOUSAND FROM HAVANA CUTTING CANE! On one side of the
highway, the sea, while on the other a poster. 100,000 COFFEE DESSERTS SOLD! A
sign with an athletic arm, grasping a rifle. ON THE OFFENSIVE WITH FIDEL IN
FRONT! A military station with two armed guards at the entrance. A huge
standard. ALL CAMAGUEY'S YOUTH FOR THREE YEARS! Two disheveled women sheltered
in a bus stop. A gas station. A gigantic banner. COMMANDER IN CHIEF, LEAD ON!
A sign. ALL TO THE SCHOOL OF THE FIELDS! A mural. TOTAL WAR ON WORMS AND
SCABS! An illustrated scaffold. THE STRUGGLE GIVES NO QUARTER! A palisade that
includes another signboard. GRAND PROVINCIAL PRESERVE. COUNTRY ABOVE ALL! A
cloth forming a red arcade that passes over the highway and on which a smiling
man appears drawn planting a coffee tree. TO REAP ONE MUST SOW! Another
enormous billboard illustrated with smiling women and men who lift mochas.
EVERYTHING FOR THE TEN MILLION! Another signboard. NOT ONE CANE LEFT STANDING!
Another. FACE TO THE FIELDS. Another. AGRICULTURE MUST BE FOR THE CUBAN LIKE
MOUNTAINS TO THE GUERRILLERO. Another great mural with a gigantic image. LEAD!
Another decorated platform. EVERYONE TO FILL THE BARRELS AT PINAR DEL RIOS!
Palms with their trunks covered with photographs. MAKE IT COME INTO BEING!
Photos, photos, more photos. Another large sign appearing. TO THE FINAL
CHARGE! Another: HE WHO SHAKES HIS HEAD WILL HAVE IT CUT OFF! Another: HEED
THE NATION'S CALL! Another: NOT A GRAIN TO REMAIN ON THE GROUND! But listen,
but listen, but look, pay attention to me: On one side of the highway one
keeps seeing the ocean. The smooth sea. The ocean flowing timelessly; the
ocean sliding beneath a group of gulls which drift very quietly. The sea,
clear at the coast (almost transparent), then green, later blue, indigo
farther out. A scintillating black there, where it is impossible to guess its
depth. The ocean, the sea. Hear me, heed me: aqua, green, blue, resonant,
deep, black, still, transparent, incessant, fixed, immense. The sea...
Once Again the Sea
Carpentier: CREOLE ORPHANHOOD
...The car had barely traversed the first street, throwing mud to left and
right, leaving the maritime odors behind, swept with the breath of vast
mansions replete with leather, ante-chambers, wax breads and sugar cubes,
with onions stored a long time, which sprouted in their obscure corners,
together with the green coffee and the cacao spilled on the scales. A sound
of cowbells filled the afternoon, accompanied by the customary migration of
orderly cows toward their extramural pastures. Everything smelled strongly at
that hour near a twilight that soon would light up the sky over several
minutes, before dissolving into a sudden night: the badly lighted wood and the
trampled flax, the canvas entirely wet, the tanner's leather and birdseed from
the canary cages hung in the windows. The humid tiles smelled of clay; the
still-wet walls of old moss; of well-boiled oil the chips and fried bread of
the corner stands; a bonfire on Especias Island, coffee toasting with the rich
smoke which, blowing about, settled among the cornices of the classical
structures, where it lingered between parapet and parapet, before dissolving,
like a warm cloud, in turn into some saint of the bell tower. But the jerky,
unmistakably, smelled of jerky, omnipresent jerky, retained at every cellar
door, whose acridity ruled the city, invading the palaces, impregnating the
curtains, challenging the incense from the churches, inserted into the opera
box seats. The jerky, the dust and flies were the curse of that market, visited
by all the ships of the world, yet where only the statues--thought Carlos--
standing in their squares smeared with red earth, could be content. As an
antidote for so much jerky smoke, suddenly released with the ventilation of a
dead-end alley, the noble aroma of tobacco heaped in bales, tied, tightened,
injured by the knots that bound the bundles of palmy fiber--even with tender
sprouts among the thickness of the leaves; with clear golden buds on the fluffy
surface--still living and vegetal amidst the jerky which surrounded and divided
it. Breathing an odor that ultimately was pleasing to him and alternated with
the fumes from a new coffee kiln discovered next to a chapel, Carlos thought,
cogitating, of the routine existence which now awaited him, his music muted,
condemned to live in that ultramarine district, an island within an island,
with ocean barriers closing off any possible adventure; it would be like seeing
oneself mortified in advance in shroud of jerky, of onion and brine, victim of
a father accused--and it was monstrous to do so--of the sin of having had a
premature demise. The adolescent intensely suffered, at that moment, the
sensation of enclosure which living on an island produces; to be in a land
without a road to others where one could arrive stumbling, riding, walking,
crossing frontiers, sleeping in towns for one day, in a wandering with no more
north than a whim, the fascination exerted by a mountain soon disdained by the
vision of another mountain - perhaps the image of an actress, known today in a
town spurned yesterday, which goes on for months, from one scene to another,
sharing the hazardous life of the comedians...
Century of Lights
Lezama: THE TWO JOURNEYS OF FARRALUQUE
Farraluque in his boredom resumed crossing the patio, when he observed the
daughter of the director descending the stairs, her face in a forced smile. Her
gait revealed that she wished to force an encounter with the sanctioned
scholar. It was the same that I had observed behind the blinds, bringing the
droll gossip to the wife of the director. When I passed by her side she said:
--Why are you the only one who has remained this Sunday without visiting
your family? --I am punished--Farraluque dryly answered her. --And the worst of
the case is that I do not know why they have imposed this punishment on me. --
The director and his wife have left--the young lady answered him. --We are
painting the house, and if you help us, we shall find pay for you. Without
awaiting the answer, she took Farraluque by the hand, moving to his side while
they went up the stairs. Arriving at the home of the director, he saw that
almost everything was covered over and that the smell of the lime, of the
varnish and of the turpentine indicated the evaporation of all those
substances, rapidly scandalizing the senses.
Upon arrival at the hall she let go of Farraluque's hand and with feigned
indifference mounted a ladder and began to spread the dripping brush of lime
over the walls. Farraluque watched in turn and could appreciate that in bed in
the first room the director's cook, a Mayan mestiza of some 19 bloated
years, was submerged in the untranquil apparent serenity of sleep. He pushed
the half-closed door. The body of the swarthy Mayan reposed on its back. The
vividness of her back continued down to the bay of the resistant cheeks, like a
deep and dark river between two hills of caressing vegetation. She seemed to
sleep. The rhythm of her respiration was secretly desirable, the sweat that the
summertime deposited in each one of the openings in her body, communicated
spark-like reflexes to determinate regions in her back. The salt deposited in
each one of those hollows of her body seemed ardor. The reflexes of temptation
were stimulated, united with that distance communicated by her sleep. The
challenging nearness of the body and the presence in the distance of the dream.
Farraluque stripped in a blaze and leaped into the square of delight. But
at that instant the sleeper, without awakening, gave a complete turn, offering
the profile of her body to the recently arrived youth. The continuity without
breaks of the Mayan's breathing avoided suspicion of pretence. To the degree
that the probe of the macrogenital leptosomatic penetrated her, it seemed as if
she was to roll over again, yet those oscillations did not interrupt the domain
of her slumber. Farraluque discovered in that moment of adolescence, that when
copulation ended, the erection remained beyond its own purpose, inviting at
times a frenetic masturbation. The immobility of the sleeper began now to
frighten him, when on approaching the door of the second room he saw the little
Spaniard who had brought him in hand, equally asleep. The body of the little
Spaniard did not have the distension of the Mayan, whose melody seemed to be
invading his muscular memory. Her breasts were hard like the primeval clay, her
trunk had the resistance of the pines, her carnal flower was a fat spider,
nourished on the resin of those same pines. A bulging spider, squeezed like a
sausage. The carnal cylinder of a powerful adolescent, it was required to split
the arachnid through the center. Yet Farraluque had acquired his vices and very
soon would begin to exercise them. Secret encounters with the little Spaniard
seemed more obscure and difficult to decode. Her sex seemed corseted, like an
inane bear at the fair. A bronze door, a stable of clouds, guarded her
virginity. Lips for wind instruments, hard as spades.
When Farraluque returned to leap into the feathered picture of a second
center, the little Spaniard's rotation was the inverse of that of the Mayan.
She offered the plain of her back with the bay hidden. Her copper circle
yielded easily to the animal probes of the gland in all the accumulation of its
engorged skullcap. This convinced us that the little Spaniard guarded her
virginity theologically, but was distracted with regard to the maidenhead, to
the resistant integrity of her body. The easy surges of the blood in
adolescence made the prodigious possible, that a normal coupling completed,
another could begin per angostam viam. That amorous encounter recalled
the incorporation of a dead snake into the sibilant victor, in those monstrous
organisms that even remembered the indistinctness of the beginnings of the
Tertiary, where digestion and reproduction comprised a single function. The
relaxation of the tunnel upon return demonstrated of the little Spaniard that
the arrivals of the sea serpent in her grotto were frequent. Farraluque's
phallic configuration was an extreme propitiation of that retrospective
penetration, for the probe had an exaggerated aspect of length against the
bearded root. With the astuteness proper to a Alpine porter, the little
Spaniard divided the size incorporated into three zones, which motivated, more
than pauses in her sleep, true gasps of proud victory. The first additive
segment corresponded to the hardened cap of the gland, united with a bumpy
fragment, extremely tense, that extended from the lower outline of the gland,
the tendon stretched like a cord for resonance. The second addition suggested
the spectacle of resistance, or of size properly speaking, which was the most
compromised element, for it raised the question of whether the incorporation
would be abandoned or with courage would reach its goal. But the little
Spaniard, with the tenacity of a classical potter, who with only two fingers
can open the mouth of the jar, came to unite the two fibers of the contraries,
reconciled in those darknesses. She distorted her face and said to the
macrogenital a phrase that he did not understand at first, yet which later
caused him to smile with pride. As is frequent among peninsulars, those whose
vital luxuriance lets them employ a great number of creole expressions, but
outside of their meaning, the petition left to fall upon the hearing of the
attacker on two established fronts, was: permanent undulation. Yet that
phrase exhaled in the ecstasy of her vehemence, had nothing to do with a
dialectic of the zones. It consisted in asking that the manager of the energy
should strike with a flat hand the foundation of the introduced phallus. At
each one of those beats, their ecstasies transformed into corporeal
undulations. It was a tickling of the bones, which that blow animated with all
the fluency of muscles impregnated with a starry Eros. That phrase had come
obscurely to the little Spaniard, but its meanings had been given an
explanation and an application as clear as light through stained glass.
Farraluque withdrew his probe, considerably exercised in that day of glory, yet
the undulations continued in the excited hispanic, until slowly her body was
transported by sleep.
The vibration of the bell was prolonged, convening attendance at the
refectory. He was the only diner in that hall prepared for 400 students, absent
on the day of the Lord. The marble of the table, the whiteness of the floor-
tiles, the venerable bread dough, the limed fly-spotted walls, including its
Zurburán motif, were harmonizing counterweight on that orgiastic Sunday.
Arenas: A SINGLE ABUNDANCE
...The two friends toasted in silence. Carlos rose from his armchair, went to
the window, placed the glass on the night-table where the clock said two in the
morning, pulled the curtains and threw himself headlong onto the bed. Ismael,
who had hardly tasted the drink, lay down next to that person. When the
outstretched hands touched Carlos's skin, Ismael felt one's arrival at a
forgotten yet not unknown place and time. And intuited somehow that that person
(that object, its attraction) had been reserved especially for oneself. The
front, flesh and muscle, the erectile tissue; the entire person was a promised
land, something that unlove, disillusion and resentment had postponed, but
about which secretly, very secretly, he knew that by having refused to accept
the possibility of such an encounter now it itself was made more sublime. The
renunciation, the rejection, the exile, the disenchantment, and the solitude
had not been in vain if everything had led towards this other person, not only
ideal but tangible. And all the horror, all the humiliations, every previous
time disappeared from Ismael's world when he too was embraced by the receptive
Carlos. And at that instant, Ismael ceased being a 50 year-old, to also be
transformed into such a person as was loved and comprehended by that lovely
companion. Sensation of floating, certainty of dilution, of integration, of
relation to someone who, like oneself--himself--becomes opposite, the wanted
and needed resistance, which being one can give us the pleasure of being
other, an other so heartbreakingly given up for lost already and now, in the
midst of hell, in full flower, recovered... Sensation of being, of feeling
traversed, probed, surrounded by live flesh, desirous, sweet, current, wishful
yet complicit, and above all dangerous, and above all dangerous, and
above all ephemeral, and above all being impossible to digest, and above all
impossible once experienced, once having thereby benefited, to therefore
renounce... Sensation of being alive for the first time and therefore ready
for the sacrifice, for the imminent good-bye, for risk, for authentic, true,
glorious mortality. How was it possible that never before had one noticed that
that was precisely life? And that in their case--maybe in every situation--to
be alive is to be in danger, in imminent danger. For to be alive is to be at
the mercy of strange bodies, beautiful and terrible, in a provisional room, at
sites infested with assassins and at walls where surely all types of recorders
have been installed that now detect one's triumphal ejaculations. How was it
possible that for so many years it was not understood that only two options
exist: the risk which presupposes the advent of a certain felicity, or the
absorption, the slow demise before a security without meaning nor lustre,
previewed, petty even in its trivial enjoyments, foreign to any vital
explosion, to all grandeur, and thus to all risk. And Ismael at once understood
and sympathized with the drug-addicted who fell fulminating in the streets of
New York, to the vagabonds who one fine day suddenly break, like those who have
led an unchecked existence. What better tribute to life than to blow up
precisely from having lived. Yes, it has been necessary to travel to Havana, to
return there, to revisit that undoubtedly frightful and unique site, to
experience all that, to definitively know--to comprehend--all that. Ismael drew
closer to the body of the other who seemed to furiously favor this as if one
also had awaited it a long time. Forming a single breath, breathing the same, a
single abundance, they remained asleep.
Voyage to Havana
Cabrera Infante SELF-LOVE
I am not going to speak of unmeasured appreciation for oneself but instead of
the well-understood love that, like charity, begins at home, at the home of
one's own body: that field of sexual battle where I had early triumphs and in
which I suffered not a single defeat. I speak of masturbation, that which at
first was called paja (it was much later that it came to be masturbation
because for a long time it was simply wanking and its exercise, wanking-off) in
which, through it, thanks to it I conquered my solitude: I never felt alone
given my hand and still remember the most imperishable moment of love I have
felt in my life, the day, after years of wanking practice, where in one of the
baths at Zuleta 408 I alone with my hand produced an instant that lasted more
than an instant, temporal immortality, the lapse of time taken by the arrival,
delayed many times, a deed of coital interruption, the organ jumping from the
hand, the hand releasing the organ at the last instant, until the culmination
became overpowering with the sinking of the humid cement floor, achieving the
disappearance of space (no more floor, no more walls, no more door, the ceiling
lifting thousands of yards above the swamped shower with the sky as witness),
the moment made of pure time, hearing a song on the distant radio which sounded
like celestial sounds, the music of the spheres, perfect chords for hearing
musically, sinking, sunk, falling with loosened legs, conceding the lower torso
(because the abdomen and the lower abdomen had volatilized) yet the right hand
still existed welded to my solid parts at the moment--cathedral of my religion-
-and because of which, universal plexus, the entire body ceased now to exist,
throbbing like an enormous solitary heart giving its last beats, trembling like
flesh in a final tremor, extinction of self, its being disappearing with the
semen which flew in spasmodic packets against the now materialized door a yard
and a half away, not knowing then that never again would I feel so intensely
that which still was not called orgasm, that which was the coming of comings.
stirs its thick music
with a stick.
Ginger and cinnamon...
Wicked, because now the cocky black will come
Spice of the hips,
Flexible, golden rump:
In the water of your robes
navigate all my worries:
The desire for shipwreck
in that warm, deep sea:
of the sea.
With your foot trace the music,
the tight knot around me:
smock of white fabric
on your olive flesh.
The lower belly's madness,
breath of a dry mouth;
the rum that surprised you,
and a scarf for your reins.
I shall tame and hold you,
shall see you very gentle,
as when now you flee,
toward tenderness you come,
or toward tenderness go,
The pause should not be long,
nor the feast be eternal,
your hips will ache,
hips hard and sweaty,
Desist, depart, let us leave...
Sarduy: POEM OF THE WATERFRONT
--And what should we do now?--asked the shivering patron, while he turned his
head to successively contemplate his easy-going corruptors.
--Now?--they asked in turn and in unison, while they looked surprised
among themselves and exploded into coarse and gravelly laughter, like that of
inveterate smokers or the knaves at the end of an operetta. --The
sandwich!--they laconically concluded.
Cocuyo looked at them strangely, trying to untangle the libidinal
certainty, but he could not pursue his laborious mental inquiry: with all her
strength, which was at once concentrated and extensive, with her arms, giant
pistons, one of the harsh ones pushed him onto the bed.
He fell face down onto the the bed's fabric, whose odor, upon finding
himself immobilized by the strong shoves of the abuser, suddenly reminded him:
fingers of the old witch, smelling like those of the Teacher when, choleric,
she administered blows to the pupils, and her knuckles remained reddened and
hot: Could that incarnate web-weaver be the mother of the pseudo-Sevillans?
And, if this were so, why did they not live with her, seemingly so productive,
sewing and singing, not dedicated to such a stray purpose.
Thus, brushing against the pestilent patchwork, smelling the
threads, gnawed by impatience and fear, which was taking over his body
like a hailstorm, Cocuyo awaited the secret of sex.
It was not for long.
While one of the violators held him, with large hands, face down against
the quilt, the other, at once conscientious and distant, efficient as an
official mourner at an expensive wake, introduced her fingers into his pants,
without unfastening zipper or belt. That hand, at once soft and flat, warm,
quickly moved with brief tremors, as if the respiration or the words of this
large one were reflected throughout her body, like the silk of a
récamier, smooth, prepared for stroking, at once loose but tense
against his sex, next to the notebook and the pencil which he had in his
The first hands, the big ones holding him to the bed, opened against his
back, and now lower, sheltered in the curve above the buttocks, as if its
volume coincided exactly with that space, began to move intermittently, from
top to bottom, as if wringing a Turkish towel, or with gestures indicating:
Cocuyo closed his eyes, breathed deeply, as if it were a sigh, remembered
what he had felt flushing the urinal, he pulling on the handle, the basin
beneath, in the golden shadow of the flamboyant cry of a cockatoo, in the midst
of the guffaws of the aunties, when the porcelin basin shattered against the
floor. He felt it again now: a shock that rose from his abdomen.
It was night-time. It was at the beach. The water was oily, black and hot;
full of luminous jellyfish. Flying fish, like daggers, jumped from one wave to
the next. He let himself float, face down, in the water. The fresh wind
carressed his back. From the coast, his sister called him: "Cocuyo, Cocuyo!"
But he paid no attention. The voice was unreal, excessively distant, or
imitated by someone. Nothing mattered more to him than this abandonment, than
this lethargic letting go in the surf.
Carpentier: NIGHT OF THE STATUES
One night in which Solimán and the Piedmontese had remained alone in the
kitchen due to the lateness of the hour, the black, very drunk, wished to
adventure beyond the rooms destined for service. After following a long
corridor, they opened into an immense patio of marble illuminated by the moon.
Two superimposed columns bordered that patio, projecting, halfway up the wall,
the profile of the beams. Raising and lowering the lantern for walking the
streets, the Piedmontese revealed to Solimán the world of the statues
that populated one of the lateral galleries. All were of female nudes, although
almost always provided with veils appropriately lifted, by an imaginary breeze,
to where they would reclaim decency. There were many animals too, placed so
that some of those women nestled a swan in their arms, embraced the neck of a
bull, leapt among hounds or fled from two-horned men, with goat's hooves, who
must have had some parentage with the devil. It was all a white, cold, immobile
world, yet whose shadows were animated and grew, by the light of the lantern,
as if all those creatures with eyes in the shadows, who looked without seeing,
revolved in turn toward the midnight visitors. With the gift that drunks have
of seeing terrible things out of the corner of their eye, Solimán moved to
warn that one of the statues had lowered its arm a little. Somewhat shaken, he
ushered the Piedmontese to a stairway that led to the heights. Now it was
paintings that seemed to emerge from the wall and animate themselves. Suddenly,
it was a smiling youth who lifted the curtain; it was an adolescent among
tendrils who lifted to his lips a silent caramel, or sealed his lips with an
index finger. After crossing a gallery adorned with mirrors upon whose glass
flowers had been oil-painted, the maid, with a racy gesture, opened a narrow
walnut door, lowering the lantern.
In the back of that small cabinet was a single statue. That of a totally
naked woman, reclining on a bed, who seemed to be offering an apple. Trying to
find himself in the disorder of the wine, Solimán approached the statue
with uncertain steps. The surprise had lessened his drunkenness a little. He
knew of something similar; and also the body, the body as a whole, reminded him
of something. He anxiously felt the marble, with his smell and sight measured
now by touch. He evaluated the breasts. He passed one of his palms, rounded,
over the belly, catching his little finger on the umbilical scar. He caressed
the soft curvature of the backbone, as if to rotate the figure. His fingers
sought the roundness of the hips, the curved whiteness, the shine of the bosom.
That journey of the hands refreshed his memory bringing images from a great
distance. In other times he had known that contact. With the same circular
movement his had relieved that ankle, immobilized one day by the pain of a
strain. The matter was different, yet the forms were the same. He remembered,
now, the nights of fear, on the island of la Tortuga, when a French general
agonized behind a closed door. He remembered one who would have him stroke her
head to fall asleep. And then, moved by an imperious physical memory,
Solimán began to make the motions of a masseuse, following the path of the
muscles, relieving the tendons, rubbing the back from the inside out, touching
the pectorals with his thumb, smearing here and there. But, suddenly, the
coldness of the marble, risen to his wrists like the jaws of life, immobilized
him in a cry. The wine spilled over himself. That statue, tinted with yellow by
the lantern's light, was the cadaver of Paulina Bonaparte. A recently hardened
cadaver, recently deprived of heartbeat and sight, of which there perhaps was
still time to bring back to life. With a terrible voice, as if his heart would
break, the black began to utter cries, great cries, in the vastness of the
Palacio Borghese. And his stamping was so primitive, his heels on the floor
banging so, making the underground chapel the body of a drum, that the
Piedmontese, horrified, fled up the stairs, leaving Solimán face to face
with the Venus de Canova.
The Kingdom of This World
POETICS OF HISTORY
Cabrera Infante: THE ISLANDS EMERGED FROM THE OCEAN
The islands surged from the ocean, first as isolated isles, later the keys
became mountains and the low waters, valleys. Later the isles joined to form a
great island that soon became green where it was not gold or pink. Isles
continued to form at the side, now the completed keys and the island became an
archipelago: a long island next to a large round island surrounded by thousands
of isles, big isles and even other islands. Yet since the long island was a
definite formation it dominated the set and no one had seen the archipelago,
preferring to refer to the island island and to forget the thousands of keys,
big islands, isles that bordered the great island like coagulants from a large
There is the island, still emerging from between the ocean and the gulf:
there it is.
AND THERE IT WILL BE
And there it will be. As someone said, that sad, unhappy and long island will
be there after the last indian and after the last Spaniard and after the last
African and after the last American and after the last of the Cubans, surviving
all the shipwrecks and eternally bathed by the gulf current: lovely and green,
View of Dawn in the Tropics
Guillén: BALLAD OF THE TWO GRANDFATHERS
Shadows which I alone can see,
go with my two grandfathers.
A spear with a bone point,
a leather and wood drum:
my black grandfather.
A ruff upon his wide neck,
grey warrior's armor:
my white grandfather.
Naked foot, stony torso
those of my black;
pupils of Antarctic glass
those of my white!
Africa of humid plains
and of fat deaf gongs...
--I shall die!
(Says my black grandfather.)
dark alligator waters,
green coconut mornings...
--I am tired!
(Says my white grandfather.)
O candles of bitter wind,
galleon burning with gold...
--I shall die!
(Says my black grandfather.)
O coasts of virgin flesh
fooled by glass beads...!
--I am tired!
(Says my white grandfather.)
O pure embroidered sun,
captive of the tropical arc;
O round, clean moon
over the dream of the monkeys!
What of the ships, what of ships!
What of blacks, what of blacks!
What a great brilliance of cane!
What a slave trader's whip!
Rock of weeping and blood,
veins and eyes wide open,
and empty daybreaks,
and sugar mill afternoons,
and a great, strong voice,
shattering the silence,
What of the ships, what of ships,
what of the blacks!
Shadows which I alone can see
go with my two grandfathers.
Grandpa Federico shouts at me
and Taita Facundo quiets;
the two sleep in the night
and walk, walk.
I with them.
Facundo! The two share abrazos,
The two sigh. The two
lift their strong heads;
the two are the same size,
beneath the height of stars;
the two of the same size,
black urge and white urge,
the two the same size,
shouting, sleeping, crying, singing.
They dream, weep and rejoice.
West Indies, LTD
Arenas: THE FRIAR CONSIDERS HIS HANDS
The hands are what best indicates the advance of time.
The hands, which before age 20 begin to disappear.
The hands that never tire of examining, are never defeated. The hands,
triumphantly lifted and then lowered in failure.
The hands, that touch the transparency of the earth.
That light timidly and brief.
That do not know and sense they do not.
That set the limits of the dream.
That plan the dimension of the future.
These hands, which I know yet still confound me.
These hands, that once told me to "cut and run."
These hands, already speeding back to infancy.
These hands, that never tire of lighting the darkness.
These hands, having only known real things.
These hands, now almost beyond my reach.
These hands, which age has turned with colors.
These hands, that mark the limits of the time.
That are raised anew and seek refuge.
That signal and are left trembling.
That know there is still music between its fingers.
These hands, that now lead to self-control.
These hands, that extend and encounter in touch.
These hand, which ask me, wearily, to die.
And he went again onto the balcony, and saw the trees, dazzling with a
clarity erasing leaves and shape. And once more he entered the great residence.
And dressed in his best clothing. And, in his orbit, he left the Palace,
traversing galleries and treading on carpet.
The friar went checking all the doors. Greeting and briefly conversing
about the times and the Republic. And next he broached the object of his visit:
"You are invited to my extreme unction."
And it reached you, seemingly, that last morning. And you saw the streets,
like whitened mirrors, which responded to your step. Behind came the religious
communities, the schools, the brothers with their insignias and standards, the
ordained Latin clergy, and the entire public. They heard a bugle-call and later
a drum roll. And the infantry company was seen emerging, playing a war march
that filled the main square.
Listen to that music, friar. This is your last day. Hear that music.
And you reached your habitation. The whole Palace full of murmuring. Of
voices. Of faces which passed down the aisles, through the great halls, and
touched, softly, the door of your bedroom. And they entered your room. And they
witnessed how sacred oils were applied and you received communion. And, the
sacrament over, you led them in the Word, in a final discourse of complaints
and reforms: "They say that I am a heretic--said the friar, now from the
bed--assuring that I am a Mason and announcing that I am a centralist.
Everything, dear compatriots, is a chain of atrocious imposters (Taken from
the book, The American Expression, by José Lezama Lima). If I do
not say mass it is because my hands are destroyed. And I am not in the cloister
because of having secularized in Rome. And I am not a Mason, because Masonry is
a party, and I detest that type of grouping..." And you stopped talking. And
the residence began to empty out. And when I saw you alone, you began to draft
your tombstone, putting the year, the month and the day. And you gave orders
that it be taken to the printer, and that they return the proofs as soon as
possible, to correct them.
And again it was afternoon. And the reflection of the sun, in its very low
moment, surrounded the friar's dwelling with a golden splendor.
It was the moment of the transfigurations.
And the most common objects, subsumed in the penumbra, acquired surreal
dimensions. And the voices, at that moment when the shadows balanced, took on
unidentifiable magical undertones. And even the simplest words, on being
pronounced, seemed as if they were unfolding in marvelous symbols.
Hallucinations: or, the ill-fated peregrinations of Friar
Carpentier: THE COMMAND
...I knew, in any case, that now my navigation days were numbered. If something
extraordinary did not occur tomorrow, day after tomorrow or the next day, one
would have to return to Castilla, in such misery of shattered illusions that I
did not dare to think of the frown with which the Madrigal of the High Towers
would greet me, and with reason, who when she became furious, knew how to do it
with the royal vocabulary of a mule driver, imitating the Moors in invective
and curses, out to five generations, towards the maternal lineage of the guilty
one... But most extraordinary was Thursday the 11th, with the retrieval, by my
people, of a wooden stick curiously carved by human hands. Those in the
Niña, for their part, found, floating, a twig covered with berries.
We all were set waiting, anxious, expectantly. Some said that the breeze
smelled of land. At ten in the night, I seemed to make out some lights in the
distance. And to be more sure, I called in the watchman Rodrigo Sánchez,
and the official King's bursar, who agreed with my sighting... And at two on
Friday morning, Rodrigo de Triana emitted his cry of: "Land! Land!" which
sounded to us all like heavenly music... At that point we dimmed all the
lanterns, remaining only with the pilot lamp, and placed ourselves on the
gunwale, awaiting the day. But now to our happiness, since we did not know what
we were going to find, were added curious questions. Island? Terra
Firme? Had we truly reached the Indies? Furthermore, every sailor knows
that there are three Indies: that of China and Japan, in addition to the large
one --the Quersoneo Áureo of the ancients?-- with many lesser
lands, from which spices were brought. (For my part, I also thought of the
danger involved from the fierceness and aggressiveness of the northerners of
Vinlandia...) No one could sleep, thinking, now that we had arrived, fortune or
fatal tributes could await us where, on the coast, some bonfires kept
glimmering. At this Rodrigo de Triana came to me to claim the silk tunic,
promised as a prize to whoever sighted land. I gave it to him immediately, with
great satisfaction, yet the sailor stayed there, as if waiting for something
more. After a silence, I remembered the fund of ten thousand mils, agreed upon
by the throne, in addition to the tunic. --"You will see that when you have
returned"--I said. --"But it is..." --"What?" --"Could you not Your Mercy,
Admiral sir, advance me some change on account?" --"What for?" --"To go
to a prostitute, and with pardon... It is more than 50 days since I have." --
"And who told you there are whores in these lands?" --"Where sailors arrive,
there are always prostitutes." --"Here your coins are worthless; for in these
lands, as I have understood it from the tales of the Venetian Marco Polo,
everything is paid in pieces of paper the size of a hand, where the seal of
Genghis Khan is stamped..." Rodrigo left, contrite, with his tunic thrown over
one shoulder... Regarding his prize of ten thousand mils (and this would have
to be said to the confessor) he could notate it on ice --and be careful not to
go about demanding much or mentioning more about the account, since I know
some inconvenient things about you!-- because I have already appropriated that
fund to the benefit of Beatriz, the handsome viscountess with whom I have had a
child without taking her to the altar, and who, for quite a while, lamented
with tears my departure and oblivion --departure and oblivion due to Royal
Favor which spilled over me, like a sprouting Roman cornucopia, the fortune of
three ships ready to set sail, with the confusion of my enemies, the
inebriation of new directions, the glory of being here this night, awaiting the
emergence of a sun which delays, which delays --and how it delays, damn--
its appearance, and perhaops immortality in the memory of men, from whose world
I exited, and now could aspire to the title of Extender of the World... No,
Rodrigo! I screwed you! I kept your fund of ten thousand mils! I too could
shout: "Land!" when I saw the glimmerings, and I did not. I could have shouted
before you, and I did not do it. And I did not do it because, in having
discerned land, on having put my anguish to rest, I could not activate my voice
like that of a simple lookout anxious to gain a recompense that became too
small for my sudden greatness. The tunic that you took, Rodrigo, would have
been tight on me, on one who a moment ago grew to the size of the Giant Atlas;
a fund of ten thousand mils seems limited to me, and which now, dwarfed by my
incipient fortune, will come to stop in the hands of whom I stipulate,
swollen woman, impregnated, with offspring in the end from One who just assumed
the dimension of Annunciator, of Clairvoyant, of Discoverer. I am who I am,
like the Man of Sorrows, and starting this minute I shall have to be called
Don, since starting at this minute --have everyone present and have them
say it-- I am the Great Admiral of the Oceanic Sea and Viceroy and Perpetual
Governor of All the Islands and Firm Land which I discover and which from now
on, under my command, are discovered and claimed in the Oceanic Sea.
The Harp and the Shadow
Lezama: MYTHS AND CLASSICAL WEARINESS
Only the difficult is stimulating; only the resistance that defies us is
capable of raising, reviving and maintaining our ability to know, but in
reality, what is that which is difficult, what is submerged, so alone, in the
maternal waters of the obscure, origination without causation, antithesis or
logos? It is form in becoming that transforms a landscape into a
feeling, an interpretation or a simple hermeneutic, leading later to its
reconstruction, which is definitely what denotes its efficacy or its disuse,
its ordering force or its extinguished echo, which is its historical vision. A
first difficulty in its sense; the other, the greater, the acquisition of
historical vision. Sense or the encounter with a causality bestowed by
historicist valuations. Historical vision, which is that counterpoint or
interweaving given by the imago, by the image participating in history.
If we review a series of canvases, from illustrations in prayer books to
flamenco or Italian Renaissance painting, we can situate, with the visibility
that the painting gives to historical process, that causality of sense, and
that image which provides the historical vision. If we contemplate the
illustration, "September," by the Limbourg brothers in The Book of
Prayers, by the Duke of Berry, we see the peasants happily washing near the
foot of the castle. We immediately underline that the meaning occurs through a
series of scales established in history. The rich enamel of the blues moistens
the large points of the autumnal stars, and the castle, on the height of an
imposing outcropping, is wrapped in wisps that reveal the secret and essential
life of it feudal inhabitants. Despite an insignificant nearness that
delineates the work of the peasants, beyond the domain charmed by the castle,
it is seen that the dependency of work on the abode, of peasant to master, is
strict and solemn. If we compare that prayer book illustration with the picture
The Harvest, by Brueghel, we suddenly understand that equivalencies to
historical causality are established over familiar regions or stations. Here
the peasants do not seem to be working, as in the page by the Limbourgs, and
the legendary illuminations of the castle part in fleeting, replete moments,
allowing entrance into the spirit of the kermesse, to complement their
meals, enjoyment and their happiness. The counterpoint and the connections, in
the retrospective projection of the second painting over the first, traces an
historical vision, an animated stylistic illumination, in which we capture,
through the intervention of an image incarnating it, two forms of peasantry.
One, we could say, as overcome by a spell; another, abandoned to the song of
its own happiness, which is recreated and extends into an ideal time...
The American Expression
Sarduy: THE END OF THE WORLD
Today the politicians celebrate a double occurrence: the repair of the
electrical plant and the rally by presidential proclamation. Since the early
hours of the morning the loudspeaker cars cover the city, disseminating the
candidate's virtues between bugle calls, repeating the jingle at every corner
which announces: The Tale of the Vienna Woods. The announcer, in the car,
speaks, plays the record, speaks. On arriving at the plaza the written
propaganda begins: a man involved with four red boxes with the hair, the gait
and the face of the candidate, gets out of the car, advances a few steps and
throws various packages flying into the air; the wind takes them apart like a
cloud of yellow pages which fall onto the sidewalks, empty. Suspended by
hundreds of wires, the brilliant sequins fill all the air. The towers are
covered with pennants. Fringes of yellow fabric wrap the balconies and pass
over the roofs leaving the streets dark and deep like tunnels. The wind of the
eddies inflates the cloths and moves them such that the airborne letters follow
the lines of a four-leaf clover. The scarce public that comes and goes do not
lift their heads to look at them, do not lift heads.
At the back of the plaza for the proclamation the stage lined with flags
rises. A steep staircase leads up to the platform surrounded by microphones. On
both sides a long file of bleachers, folding chairs, and lastly, against the
walls, canvas standards, pinwheels, oil portraits and a series of large letters
piled together. The clusters of horns blare from the eaves and the fenceposts.
Conducted by the political sergeants, the first sympathizers begin to arrive
from the fields. They have shoeshine boys from the bars polish their boots, and
in turn gather at the music being played and the games, now newly in action.
The beer of the encounter, the other.
The cafe bells ring, ring. The departures do not outweigh arrivals. They
Merchants of everything. At every price. Various magicians. A candle-
eater, a sword-swallower, two hypnotists, a dislocator, three comedic
improvisers, a juggler, various beggars. Card players, poker, dominos,
guessing. Psychics, palm-readers, telepathics, card sharks, spiritualists.
They continue arriving. Trucks and jeeps from the fields. Forerunners of
the great caravan that starting from the outskirts will cross the entire city.
The trucks also come covered with green flags. On some cockpits there are
banners with the name of the originating village. The people descend from the
vehicles, yawn, stretch, rub their eyes and in turn crowd around the organizers
of the event.
A blindfolded woman strolls amidst the multitude with a serpent coiled in
her arms. A semi-naked man leaps into the air and catches a series of metallic
hoops. Applause. Ovations. Vivas. The woman removes the blindfold. The snake
returns into a metal box. A black girl enters the ring and takes up one of the
hoops; the man grasps it from the other end. The little girl begins to run. The
man rotates himself around, faster, faster, suspends her, causes her to fly
--Yes, a flying discus!
The woman passes the hat requesting support.
They keep arriving. Also on horseback, from the nearby towns. The
saddlebags are embossed with berries, the saddles polished; the humid pads
envelop the sweating bellies of the animals. New trucks arrive, these full of
musicians. In the center of the plaza the circus enjoys the arrival of the
second flying discus. The musicians remove the instruments from the truck and
place them near the sidewalk: the flutes lying alongside the counterbasses, the
violins on the guitars, all their strings facing upward.
The Witnesses arrive. Not in trucks, nor in Jeeps, nor on horseback, but
in organized infantry companies that break into smaller groups. They do not
congregate. The work individually. Uniformed in gala, messengers of the
apocalypse, the army of Witnesses enter the multitude. This prophets' invasion
creates a white and fragile circle that stretches towards the center of the
plaza. The prediction comes true:
--The end of the world!
Taking refuge in the center of the plaza, as if attracted by an
incantation, by an intuition of class, the gypsies and the psychics mount a
resistance to the evangelical invasion.
In the arena, the third flying discus goes into action. Aware only of the
acrobatic prodigies, the jugglers, the mortal leaps, the circus public stirs up
The great manuevers begin. Both armies invoke the divine word, both
receive celestial orders, see tongues of fire, illuminated by the unknown speak
strange and threatening languages.
And the white circle tightens to smother the pagan group, subtly encircle,
close in, expand to link again, then coil. The shouts and cries of triumph.
Always with the hand of God, with the eyes of God, with God's revelation.
Citations, verses, entire psalms.
--I shall make you fishermen!
--Let the children come unto me! We want the lamb! Let the skies fall!
The snake does a somersault; uncoiled, it springs from the box, turns
twice in the middle of the area, tightens, expands to gather again, coils as
quick as a whistle. The first shout, the word "mercy." The discuses fly. The
girls come forth shot through the air: four flying disks, four comets, four
girls who fall from the sky. Imploring. Cataclysm. The end of the world. The
end of the world.
POLITICS OF THE WRITTEN
Guillén: POETIC ART
I know the blue lagoon
where the sky is doubled.
And the stars, untroubled.
And the moon.
In my April jacket
I picked a live lily,
and kissed the lovely
with lips dejected.
A bird I knew
taught me how to warble.
Wine gone from my goblet.
Just crystal seen through.
And the lead that hums and kills?
And the long imprisonment?
Hard sea like iron sediment,
not moon and silver!
The gloomy cane field
has voracious jaws,
and of stars knows the laws
of hunger and cold.
The foreman raises the whip.
Backs injure and tear.
See and with your guitar
Tell the rosebush about it.
Tell it too of the splendor
which with the new sun appears:
in the air where it veers
to flowers' applause and ardor.
The Dove in Traditional Flight
From the contradiction of contradictions,
the contradiction of poetry,
to obtain with a little smoke
the resistant response of the stone
and return to the transparency of water
that seeks the calm chaos of the ocean
divided between a continuity which questions
and an interruption which answers,
like a hole that is filled with larva
and one later finds a lobster there.
Its eyes trace a carbuncular circle,
those lobsters with headlight eyes,
keeping half in the deep
and the other clawing in error,
the frenzy of watched fauna.
First contradiction: to walk barefoot
upon the interwoven leaves,
which top the burrows where the sun
is covered like the tired shovel
that tamps down a recently fueled bonfire.
Second contradiction: to fuel the flames.
Last contradiction: to enter
the mirror that moves towards us,
where our backs are found
and in the resemblance begin
the eyes meeting eyes in the pages,
the contradiction of contradictions.
The contradiction of poetry,
erasing itself and advancing
with the comical eyes of a lobster.
Each word destroys its support
and traces a common Roman arch.
It then revolves like a dervish,
carressing and appearing
indistinct like a phallic prow.
It rubs the lips which give
the order to retreat.
It explodes and the sled dogs
chew on the tree trunks.
From the contradiction of contradictions,
the contradiction of poetry,
letters are erased and you breathe them
at dawn, when the light erases you.
Filings to a Magnet
Sarduy: TEXTS ON NOTHING
Writing is useless. Because it does not serve to rescue those who crawl on a
lava sea, and those who already lie beneath that tombstone.
Writing and the rest. Lessons and ephemera for those impotently viewing
the bodies covered with mud, enclosed, asphyxiated by a crust that hardens
gradually, the white marbled hair, the bleeding faces. The brackish water, of
coaldust and ashes, vomited by the earth, rises up to the drowning, up to the
pallid mouth praying, sexes ripped away with a slash.
A healthy entertainment, against those images which pass, is the applied
coherence of words, their just alignment and consonance: absurd pastime of the
idle, benign vice of the unemployed.
To open and close the eyes, thread together a sentence, and an entire city
has been buried, everyone petrified in their sleep; the children embracing
their toys, their dogs: porous lava statues.
To write supposes that unconsciousness, the superficial irresponsibility
of one who forgets or evades while, imprisoned in the magma solidifying behind
them, the shroud binding, a child calls to one's mother who prays.
The Christ of Rue Jacob
Carpentier: IRRITATED WRITING
...Three young artists had arrived from the capital a moment ago, fleeing, like
ourselves, from a curfew order obliging them to enclose themselves in their
houses after twilight. The music was so white, the poet so indian, the painter
so black, that I could not but think of the Magi kings upon seeing them
surround the hammock in which Mouche, lazily reclined, responded to the
questions they put to her, lending herself to a sort of adoration. There was
only one theme: Paris. And I now observed how those youths interrogated my
girlfriend as the medieval Christians might have questioned the pilgrim who
returned from the Holy Lands. They did not tire of requesting details
concerning the physique of such and such a school chief who Mouche bragged of
knowing; they wanted to know if a specific cafe was still frequented by a
certain writer; if another two had reconciled regarding a polemic about
Kierkegaard; if non-figurative painting still had the same defenders. And when
their knowledge of French or of English did not suffice for understanding all
that my friend recounted, there were imploring glances at the painter for her
to deign to translate some anecdote, some phrase whose precious essence might
be lost to them. Now that, having interrupted the conversation with the malign
proposition of removing Mouche's opportunities for elucidation, I questioned
those youths about the history of their country, the first stammerings of its
colonial literature, its popular traditions, I could see how little pleased
they were with the detour in the conversation. I asked them, then, not to leave
the words to my friend, if they had been to the rain forest. The indian poet
responded, shrugging his shoulders, that nothing was to be found on that path,
however far one might go, and that such trips were left to outsiders avid to
collect rainbows and amusements. The culture--the black painter affirmed--was
not in the rain forest. According to the musician, today's artist could only
live where thought and creation were at present most active, returning to the
city whose intellectual topography was on the mind of their companions, very
given, by their own confession, to daydream before a Carte Taride,
whose Metro stations were depicted in thick blue circles: Solferino,
Oberkampf, Corvisard, Mouton-Duvernet. Between those circles, over the
picture of the streets, at various times cutting the clear artery of the Seine,
they painted the same roads, interwoven like the cords of a net. Into that net
soon fell the young Magi kings, guided by the star lit up like the great manger
of Saint-Germain-des-Pres. Depending on the day's tone, we would speak of the
desire for evasion, of the advantages of suicide, of the necessity to awake
cadavers, or of shooting the first transient. Some master of delirium would
make them embrace a cult of Dionysus, "god of ecstasy and of shock, of savagery
and of liberation; a crazy god whose mere apparition puts living beings into a
state of delirium," though without telling them that the invoker of that
Dionysus, the official Nietzsche, had once been painted sporting the uniform of
the Reichswehr, with a saber in hand and the helmet placed on a guardsman in
the Munich style, like an ominous prefiguration of the shocking god who would
be unleashed, in reality, upon the Europe of a certain Ninth Symphony. I
saw them slump and grow pale in their lampless studies--the indian looking
green, the black's laughter gone, the white, seasick--ever more forgetful of
the Sun left behind, trying desperately to achieve what within the net had been
done naturally. At the end of the years, after having lost their youth in the
enterprise, they returned to their countries with a vacant gaze, their boldness
broken, with no spirit to engage in the only task that seemed opportune to me
in the medium which now was slowly revealing the nature of their values: Adam's
task of putting names on the things. I already perceived that night, looking at
them, how much damage an early uprooting from that medium that had been mine
until adolescence would do; how much the easy show of the men of my generation
had contributed to disorient me, carried by theory through the same
intellectual labyrinths, to be devoured by the same Minotaurs. Certain ideas
tired me now, of having held them so much, and I felt an obscure desire for
saying something that was not said here, there, when one considered overall the
things that would be negated, erased, within 15 years. Once more we attained
here the discussions that had so entertained me, sometimes, in Mouche's house.
Yet leaning on that balcony, above the torrent which mutely boiled at the
bottom of the ravine, sucking in the cutting air that smelled of wet hay, so
close to the earth's creatures which slithered under the reddish-green alfalfa
with mortality contained in their loins; at that moment, which the night made
singularly tangible to me, certain themes of "modernity" were intolerable. I
would have wanted to shut down the voices that spoke at my back in order to
find the croak of the bullfrog, the sharp tonality of the cricket, the rhythm
of a wagon that squeaked on its axles, higher than the Calvary in the clouds.
Irritated with Mouche, against the entire world, wishing to write something, to
compose something, I left the house and descended towards the banks of the
torrent, so as to then resume contemplation of the stations of the urban
The Lost Steps
This house has always been a hell. Before the whole world would die, here they
spoke only of the dead and more of the dead. And grandmother was first in
putting crosses in every corner. But when things became truly bad was when it
occured to Celestino to make poems. Poor Celestino! I see him now; seated by the
living room door extending his arms.
Poor Celestino! Writing. Writing ceaselessly, even on the backs of the
booklets where grandfather put the dates when the cows were impregnated. Even
on the maguey leaves in the stalls of the mares, when the horses arrived too
late to eat them.
Writing. Writing. And when not one maguey leaf remained to deface. Nor a
mare's stall. Nor the grandfather's record books: Celestino then begins to
write on the trunks of the trees.
"This is perverse," said my mother when she learned of Celestino's
scribbling. And that was the first time that she threw herself in the well.
"Before having such a son, I prefer to die." And the water in the well
rose a level.
How fat mama was then! Indeed she was fat. And the water, with her
plunging, rose and rose. If you had seen it! I went running to the well and
could wash my hands in the water, and almost without bending over, drank,
stretching out my neck a little. And later I began to drink using my hands as
if they were pitchers. How fresh and how clear the water was! It delights me to
wet my hands and drink from them. Just like the birds do. Although, clearly,
since birds have no hands, they take it with their beak... And if we have hands
yet are the ones mistaken? I do not know what to say. Since things in that
house go so badly: I do not know, in truth, even what to think. Yet, in any
case, I think. I think. I think... And now Celestino approaches me again, with
all the inscribed palms under his arm, and the carpenter pencils strapped to
the middle of his stomach.
--The son of Carmelina has gone crazy!
--He has gone crazy! He has gone crazy!
--He is making doodles on the tree trunks.
--He is utterly crazy!
--What a shame! My God! Let such things appear no more to me!
--What a shame!
Celestino before Daybreak
Cabrera Infante ALLITERATURE
Literature is littérature in French, and litter is garbage,
waste in English, while rature, again in French, is erasure, and
lit is bed, that bed where I lie to make literature: only in Spanish
does literature mean nothing else.
Exorcisms of Style