Nothing Out of This World

Cuba has always attracted the passionate sympathies of poets and revolutionaries. ‘Cuba, my love, they put you on the rack,’ wrote Pablo Neruda in Canto General, ‘cut your face, pried open your legs of pale gold, crushed your pomegranate sex, stabbed you with knives, dismembered you, burned you.’ Ernesto Che Guevara was a poet. The country’s national poets, Jose Martí and Nicolás Guillén were also revolutionaries. After the fall of Batista, poets like Ginsberg, Hikmet, Yevtushenko and Enzensberger visited Cuba to write about the Revolution. But Cuban poetry was revolutionary long before the popular triumph of 1959, and it has remained so despite – and because of – the profound changes on the island since.

Nothing Out of This World is an introduction to the work of thirty-six poets from Cuba writing in the second half of the twentieth-century, including Heberto Padilla, Nancy Morejón, and Víctor Rodríguez Núñez. The oldest poet here, Fina García-Marruz, was born in 1923; the youngest, Damaris Calderón, in 1967. It’s an extraordinary and heady mix, combining African and Spanish influences, realism and surrealism, colloquialism and baroque, experiment and commitment, a lucid and moving introduction to a collective poetic subject that defies all kinds of social oppression. Introduction by Víctor Rodríguez Núñez.

Sample Poems

Revolution

for Roberto Fernández Retamar

When the revolution arrived
the crowd entered my home
It seemed to rifle through the drawers, the closet,
change the sewing basket

That old silence ceased
and my grandmother stopped weaving memories,
she stopped speaking,
she stopped singing

Hopeful I saw, had to see,
how the light entered that room
when my mother opened the windows
for the very first time 

Miguel Barnet

The Golden Chair

to the memory of Loló Soldevilla

I’m a faceless little woman
sitting on the tip of a rock,
toward the bottom of a landscape
where a river and two seas are found.
I can’t stop contemplating them:
a river for two seas, two seas for a river;
until the gannet’s cry,
beyond the clouds, awakens them.
I can’t speak, I have no hands.
An age-old whip slowly cut them off.
And I scarcely recognize the newly learned words.
I scarcely have a tongue for good morning
and good night.
Everything is immensity around me.
Everything is immense like my hurricane hair
and my grandparents’ beastliness:

My grandmother Brígida, drowned in the ink of notaries,
yet invincible, murmuring and small;
tattooed in the memory of quails,
there in Ciego de Ávila;
fixed in the furies of turbines
where Felipe Morejón Noyola dwelled;
fixed in the memory of Aida Santana, with her honey hatchet;
fixed in my own heart.
My grandmother Ángela, thrashed and singing
decimated by twenty-four births,
thrown to the tenement houses with her sad song,
thrown to the dogs,
thrown to early undeserved death,
like all early deaths,
yet singing a nameless song
in an armless rocking chair, with María Teresa,
‘con sus trovas fascinantes que me las quiero aprender.’

Deaths of my grandmothers
I never met.
Deaths of my predatory grandfathers
I never met either.

The willows’ leafage calms my worry.
The birds are chirping.
Sitting before this foam,
the memories of La Place Academy splash:
The best student in fourth grade
has the role of a mischievous little black chick
whose brothers and sisters were all little yellow chicks
but the little black chick was the disobedient one,
the sinner, perhaps the true guilty one.
That same student –
barred from studying at the Sorbonne
thanks to some disapproving opinions, wisely hidden,
and above all thanks to the trap set by so many bastards,
interested in proving how unseemly
a little black chick daring to set foot in Paris –
it could never stop being,
never stopped being that little black chick.
I am a faceless little woman.
              The July wind came.
They’d destined me to an old broom and a frying pan,
the last place in line,
a muzzle and the most unaware submission.
They came down hard on me.
They beat me down too.
Blessed the old broom and frying pan,
the last place in line,
a muzzle and apparent submission.
I am a faceless little woman
sitting on the tip of a rock
and the güijes howl in the night
overcome by the July wind
I am who I am on a golden chair.

Nancy Morejón

Marco Polo's Dilemma

for Margaret Randall

I’ve seen something of the world
Managua dust storms
bare snow
covering the pines along the road to Smolyan
and the flags arguing atop the tower
of the University of Puerto Rico

I’ve seen something of the world
Palenque’s bewitched stones
the bay of honey
forgotten by summer at Ponta Delgada
and the Red Square
painted by Kandinsky

I’ve seen something of the world
and it only deepens my sorrow
Nothing belongs to me 

Víctor Rodríguez Núñez

For This Freedom

For this freedom of song beneath the rain
we’ll need to give it all
For this freedom of being closely tied
to the sweet, steady insides of the people
we’ll need to give it all
For this freedom of sunflower open in the dawn of factories
switched on and
     schools lit
and of earth creaking and child awakening
we’ll need to give it all
There is no alternative but freedom
There is no other way but freedom
There is no other homeland but freedom
There will be no more poem if not for the violent music of
     freedom
For this freedom which is the fear
of those who always violated it
in the name of magnificent miseries
For this freedom which is the night of the oppressors
and the definitive dawn of all the people now invincible
For this freedom revealing the sunken pupils
   the bare feet
   the leaky roofs
   and the eyes of children who
wandered in the dust
For this freedom which is the empire of youth
For this freedom
beautiful like life
we’ll need to give it all
if necessary
even shadow
and it will never be enough 

Fayad Jamís