Wendy War

25 07 2014


Grown in Exercises of Death, Wendy Guerra (Taken from her blog HABÁNAME)

I have death as white and truth far away… – Don’t give me your fresh roses; I am terrible for roses. Give me the ocean…Dulce María Loynaz

Death, solicitous and vigilant followed me until my fall. It was my companion – solicitous and loving – Rafaela Chacón Nardi

Dreadful voice in funeral I mourn, that flies from the seas of my homeland to the beaches of Iberia; sadly confused the wind delays it; the sweet song in my throat freezes and shadows of pain cover my mind. Ah, that suffering voice, that America denotes with its pity and on these beaches the ocean casts, “He died,” is uttered, “the ardent patriot…” “He died”, repeated “the Cuban troubador.” And a sad echo moans in the distance, “the sublime singer from Niagara died!” – Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda

I carry the subject of death very badly. I bow before death with too much grief. Just by peering at a roof I can fall overwhelmed by fear.

This week I wake with the memory of those who have passed on. My parents, my friends, my poets, my personal saints.

The soul, the body, the emptiness, the abandonment or slipstream that our most beloved dead leave, fight within me with severe injuries.

This week the world’s newspapers talk about death, confinement, the hunger strikes in my country. My head and my body are trapped in a bird cage that is the act of dying.

For many cultures it is a cycle that is closed to open other cycles that are clear and bright. This is the way I should see it, as death to me appears to be the end of everything. But death weighs me down and casts me toward a powerful darkness.

It always appeared normal to me that someone would decide to die rather that live indefinitely with an incurable illness. Always, even when the dilemma of euthanasia touched me closely. I looked at the still living body of my mother, looked at her face and closed myself off from any possibility other than finding a miracle or unearthing a hope. I convinced myself that in the care of the body that still flutters before us, hope lives.

The cage of life opens.

I mishandle death but one must confront it. Six Marches back, I had surrendered before my mother on the day of her death.

Between wreaths of flowers, ritual lamenting, condolences or visits to the terminally ill I am rendered defenseless.

I do not support the death penalty. I regret each day of a hunger strike.

In my adolescence I dreamed of the same firing squad. I could not see the faces. I heard the gun shot and saw the gray walls full of bullet holes. The nightmare recurred for years.

I am well aware. We have called it so much that we should not be surprised when it appears. Every day, from a very young age, we repeated that phrase in which we had to choose between homeland or death. We swore to be like a man who had already died, and in that death we placed all of the energy of our growth. “Pioneers for communism, we will be like El Che.”

The busts, the hymns, the patriots, the names of long lost heroes and martyrs that our schools had. Every October the flowers in the ocean for Camilo.

We made long lines to see coffins of the dead arriving from wars distant to the island.

We are a culture that has not prepared itself for death, but which names it easily. We do not celebrate the day of the dead as a Mexican could, but we mention it daily like a mantra, staring it in the face like a permanent possibility.

In the 80s, during the events that took place in Granada, we listened to the official narrative of a false sacrifice. Its protagonists, lost in a place far away from the homeland, died fighting wrapped in an enormous Cuban flag. Such a strong image that still overwhelms us. Even though life and the homeland are for me a very real presence, luminous, fertile, continuous and above all everlasting, they are imposed upon us constantly in contrast with death.

Many slogans have a context, but our emphasis on suffocation, in the “no exit,” has welded us to an immobility that leads to DEATH.

“Homeland or death, we will overcome.”

“Whoever attempts to take over Cuba will collect the dust of its soil drenched in blood if they do not perish in the struggle.”

“Our dead lifting up their arms will still know how to defend it.”

“Even after death we are useful”

“Everyone will cry,'”it will be better to drown at sea than to betray the glory that has been lived.'”

At nine years old I imagined “drowning at sea” as the action of pulling a lever that would trigger a huge whirlpool that would drag us to the very bottom of the ocean. My mother would explain that this was a metaphor, but I kept on seeing myself at the bottom, with everything and homeland.

At the Malecon, between the U.S Interests Section in Cuba and our everyday lives, waves a sea of black flags.

A number of our friends lost their parents in the wars in Africa.

The family farewells on the shore, those goodbyes that guaranteed the possibiity of a voyage, marked the 90s during the exodus of the balseros [rafters].

Headlines from my childhood: attacks, sabotages, threats, epidemics. Our parents were paying eternally for a day to come for the Militias of Territorial Troops that would defend us.

The popular tunnels, the rifle ranges, the war reserves. Special Period in Times of Peace. Evacuation plan. Trenches. Air Sirens. “Every Cuban should learn to shoot and to shoot well.” Military preparation as a subject and a military concentration at the end of our university years were essential for being able to earn your degree. In short, the daily possibility of a war, of death. The speeches partially revealed its imminence, which at the time we felt to be very close, at our side. Death has been a small sheet that unites us or separates us.

A guaguanco permeates the air and says that death is calling us. Some torn boleros prefer death in their endings. How many marvelous songs, classics that we will not forget even in death, speak of death.

I ask myself why the hell I just can’t get used to its presence.

In the news and analysis these days death is mentioned as a possible solution. Is it over death that we should constuct the fullness of life? Hunger becomes death and death is part of a hunger that brings about in us emptiness, weakness, mourning.

I want to learn how to transform life from life itself.

I just can’t get used to death. In the cemeteries, where I can go visit a majority of my loved ones, I seek and take communion with life which opens before me underneath the angels and marble cracks. I should greet death normally, but I cannot remain calm in front of it. I love the manner in which Tomas Gutierrez Alea recreated death, relating it with our everyday life, traversing around with her presence.

Today I think of my mother Oya, so attached to Iku, divinity of death. I look toward the street. I keep thinking that Oya fosters the seasons, the strong winds and hurricanes, the lightning strikes and sparks. She symbolizes a violent and rash temperament and lives at the door of the cemeteries. She represents the intensity of gloomy sentiments, the world of the dead. She is the complete reincarnation of ancestors, the lack of memory and feeling of regret in women. The flag, the skirts, and the cloths of Oya are a combination of all the colors…except black.

I ask Oya to help me understand death, because it stalks us, and now runs at our pace. We have invoked it many times, named it, have alluded to it, and now that it is before us and presents itself, what to do? Those who have called it should receive it.

Now, what face are we going to put on death?

 Translated by: Marlena Papavaritis and anonymous.

To Castro’s Victims in the 13-de-Marzo Tugboat / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

18 07 2014

15 July 2014

Fury and Delirium / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

11 07 2014

The Books on the Cuban Death by Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

There is a literary genre more popular than the rest of Cuban literature, which, by the way, has become a dying phenomenon since a few decades ago.

That genre is the “books on death,” the books written by the serial killers in the island (who spread to Latin America), as if they were perverse characters from an ideological thriller called the Revolution.

Today, 15 years late, I felt the spontaneous urge to read one of the vital and monumental works on Cuban deaths: “The Fury and the Delirium” (Tusquets, 1999), by the killer son of killers and earning wages from killers Jorge Masetti, whose destiny to become a depressing or best-selling star I ignore, but whose prose I will always admire for its morbid monstrosity.

This grotesque genre has no limits, which is why it is superior to all those who can publish the self-censured Cuban writers. It combines an odd Oedipus with the Macho-Chief (or the Mafia in Chief) with a frigidity that, so as not to be recognized as suicidal, becomes criminal.

On the one hand, the horror (more than fury) of failing the totalitarian state. On the other hand, the disaster (more than delirium) in which the narrator’s life is summed up, turning in circles like a shark thirsty for blood, in exchange for some kind of feeling for his sterile and devalued life. Without worth or meaning. Death as a moral.

In this line of reasoning, whoever is capable of killing, is good and beautiful and was right. Those who let themselves be killed are fragile and ugly and out of place and because of that they left the world.

These serial killers act out of a solipsistic atrocity, but not for a moment do they cease having contact with the rest of the world. And this is where the vulgar genre shines for its sinister sincerity: there are no politics, or art, or sport, or disease, or accident, or fame, or frontiers, or nations, or history, or memory, or identity, or anything that isn’t agreed upon a priori by the heroes of pure action, by the pre-political slaughters in this case the international Castroism (whatever the sign is: Castroism is the pluribus unum of our time).

Jorge Masetti thus narrates from the dark holes that we Cubans, like a lost nation, never suspect that without works like these. In this book we endlessly hear the idle chatter of power. We spy the parliamentary halls of the evil ministries, who voluntarily administer mass murder. We intuit the insidious intelligence, that traces the puppet show that is our biography of citizens who serve as props, as grim. We realize unspeakable things in “The Fury and the Delirium” and its agonizing analyses. Things that are literally unspeakable.

In this book, finally, is the nation’s inner voice, its unlivable novel, its intimate and intimidating corpse-like groan. And thanks to this genre we understand, much more than the author (who only thinks he created catharsis), that we Cubans who are still alive are always complicit or at fault, because at some dead point in our lives we have been forgiven by State Security.

On more than one level, and of this Jorge Masetti is perfectly aware, he who survives is a traitor. His options are now simple (perhaps he already chose in these 15 years of delay in my re-reading): insanity or holiness.

After the Cuban Revolution, death will again become meaningless. Castroism has, well, a role to endlessly fulfill: dose the evil that men freely do unto other men, and if possible, precipitate the evil hand of God, his fury is brittle for those who are still alive with so many enemies intermixed.

Translated by: Bianca Martinez

7 July 2014

Street Sense / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

8 07 2014

COWBOY POET Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

It’s called  Street Sense,  which is sort of like El Sentido de la Calle in Spanish, which is a much better title than any Cuban magazine or newspaper has got; and that obviously includes the ones published abroad.

It comes out fortnightly in Washington D.C., which isn’t just the capital of the empire, but it’s also North America’s Homelessness Central. I have never seen so many homeless as I have here. Mostly, they are in the subway stations, where they take up residence according to some kind of timetable, and where, according to Wikipedia,  they have the world’s longest escalators. But I also see them out in the open, exposed to the dreadfully cold springtime rain. And, before that, out in the worst of this city’s infinite winter.

You never come across the same homeless people, not even if you pass by the same place two thousand times. They have either moved, or they have died. No other possibility.

Many of these humble homeless guys get published in Street Sense. Those of them who have not been eaten up by hate, crime or illness. Those who have retained enough mental clarity and nobility of spirit. Those who are trying, as best they can, to get back into the machine that once vomited them out, or who were crushed by it, possibly because they tried to resist the hypocritical mediocrity which comes with any kind of success.

I have kept one of those newspapers dating from the month of March 2013. That was the month and year in which I arrived, stunned by the sleepless early mornings of Washington D.C., in the mercenary luxury of the Hotel Dupont. I had just got off a Megabus when I bought it from a street vendor who turned out to be an author published on page 9. A roofless poet, like me. Who had nothing else apart from his words. Like me. A shabby-looking old boy, who had a proud and absolutely not despondent appearance. The opposite of me. He was outside Union Station. He thought I looked like a friend, and he came over to me. He said:

“I’m published here. Wanna buy it?”

It was true. It turned out his name, or literary pseudonym, was Chris Shaw, The Cowboy Poet. My colleague’s poem, which was illustrated with ice crystals, was called The End of Winter. And that’s what it’s still called, I presume. My poet and promoter was afraid of winter. In barely 11 single word verses, and in spite of the opinions of the global warming experts, Shaw complained alas I fear it will be back!

A very terrible poem, which was appropriate, just as awful as the return of another winter at the end of the following year, 2013, although DC didn’t experience then the murky version it had gone through in 2012.  The one I largely missed. When I had to put up overnight in a homeless shelter, I was able to feel in my bones the sense of the street in Shaw’s poetry. Or next to the unbearably thick walls of a subway station, it’s possible to cover yourself with the newspapers you couldn’t sell. Apart from me, nobody bought one, while we were both waiting for them to come and collect just me (because in March 2013 I was a Cuban counter-revolutionary from Cuba and I qualified for a visa and a temporary residence permit).

I paid the two dollars which is the amount recommended on the first page. I then discovered that the majority of the contributors to Street Sense sign their articles as Vendors. They are vendors of these desperate printed sheets. They sell their poor words, printed in a newspaper, just as others do at every level all over the United States, but these people sell them for a negligible ridiculous amount: the amount which is their hope, which nearly got a second chance. Nearly.

Now I am someone without a home. And, more than that, without a country. I know that one day I am going to decide to sell these sheets to strangers going into or out of railway stations. El sentido de la calle in the United States of Nothing America.

I came from Cuba without wanting to, swept away by too many people being bumped off while the world looked on, and consumed, in secret, by love. The academy of the left filled me with friendly disgust. I was bored by earning money. The right wing is a delusion of the academy. But I am never going to go back to my island, the island that we love, which is intact in our most personal and most aggressive imagination.

My dear Cubans, I am not going to return, even in the event of God or Google restoring democracy there, whether it is with or without the destruction of the corpses of the dictators. I would find it impossible to see my home without me in it, or my mother left to die alone on the hundred year old boards of 125 Fonts and Beales, or my loves dying of my indifference and desperation, although never because I have forgotten, to realise back in Cuba that the United States was an acceptable nightmare and that Cuban exile is an evanescent eternity, and to then live in my ever-present homelessness, in my arrogant foolishness as a free healthy man in the only city I understood while I was alive, and also after that, when I died spitting fuck-words in the face of the tyranny in power: Havana.

Because that’s all totalitarianism is: a sick relay race. And, you know what? I am going to hold onto the baton, because it suits my hatred, or my crime, or my sickness. I am not going to pass it on to any other Cuban. I’m sorry, but you people and me are no longer contemporaries.

Translated by GH

2 July 2014