Only the Road/Solo el camino: An Anthology of Cuban Poetry

Only the Road/Solo el camino: An Anthology of Cuban Poetry

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Abel FL Berriz

Sunday afternoon. November 20. A good time to visit Miami Book Fair. We ride downtown-ward up to MDC Wolfson Campus. The beautiful Wolfson Campus. I like it in here.
We leave the car in the parking. 4th floor. I must remember. Directions.
There’s people in the street. Not too many. Not a crowd. Just a bunch of people, walking.
It’s a cool and hazy Sunday afternoon.

I get to the window where the tickets are sold. No tickets. A sort of paper bracelets. Like in an all-included resort.
Is it all-included here?

I pass the gates, looking for the hall where the presentation is meant to be. Only the Road/Solo el camino, an anthology of Cuban poets by Margaret Randall.
Building 6, Room 6100.

A few feet past the gates, to the left.
I get into room 6100. A white hall. Too white. Too holy.
Four people in the board. Margaret Randall, first to the left.
A man speaks. Talks about the book he translated. The man speaks both in English and in Spanish.
A presentation. Bilingual.

I pay little attention to his words –though there’s something in what he says, something I should be interested in. I’m only waiting for the end, the anthology. That’s what I came here for.
It’s just a Sunday afternoon. November. Miami Book Fair.
Not a very good time for listening.
When the man finishes speaking, another man asks the audience for questions. The man extends a microphone to a random guy from the audience.
Questions. Answers. Etcetera.
Another man presents his book. English and Spanish.
The same cycle. Again.
And again.

Finally, Margaret Randall is introduced.
She walks to the podium. She’s brief. Her Spanish is good. She hasn’t forgotten.
Bilingual.
As the anthology itself. Bilingual.
Only the Road/Solo el camino.
Eight decades of Cuban poetry.
Margaret Randall finishes her speech. No questions.
‘Authors will sign books outside,’ someone says from the podium.
A simple ceremony in this white hall that reminds me of the interior of a synagogue in Havana.
The Malecon of Havana on the book’s cover. Sea waves breaking against the stones.
Breaking the stones.
An old blue car. A Chevrolet.
An old street lamp.
The Morro Lighthouse.
An old town.

Fifty-six Cuban poets, from old and new. More old than new. Almost every old one is there. Most of the new ones are missing.
Taste? Maybe.

The new ones haven’t passed the proof of time yet. There are too many poets right now in Cuba.
Most of them won’t be remembered. Ever.
But here, in this road/en este camino, Margaret Randall’s anthology/la antología de Margaret Randall, meanwhile/mientras tanto, there’s a bunch of Cuban poets to walk with. ‘Edited and translated by Margaret Randall,’ says the book cover.
Bilingual.

From Nicolás Guillén (1902-1989) to Anisley Negrín Ruíz (1981).
A great bunch of Cuban poets.
Of course, Dulce María Loynaz is here. Of course, Lezama and Virgilio Piñera are here.
Of course, Gastón Baquero. Of course, Eliseo Diego. Of course, Cintio Vitier and his Fina García Marruz.
Of course, Carilda Oliver Labra.
The old ones.
The 20th century old ones –no 21st century here, no yonder.

Only that road / Solo ese camino.
I’ve walked that camino, so many times.
Every time I walked the streets of Vedado, Línea around 16 St., D around 17 St., I remembered Dulce María Loynaz: Madre imposible (…) / Agua arriba de ti.. Y sal. Y la remota / luz del sol que no llega a alcanzarte.
Impossible mother.

I think of Lezama and Virgilio every time I walk by Centro Habana. I think of them in Reyna, and in San Rafael, and in Neptuno.
Una oscura pradera me convida, / sus manteles estables y ceñidos, / giran en mí, en mi balcón se aduermen.
Como un pájaro ciego / que vuela en la luminosidad de la imagen / mecido por la noche del poeta.
Like a blind bird, in a dark meadow, I think of them, Lezama and Virgilio. Dawn and dusk.

I speak with Baquero by the Spanish Embassy, by Cárcel and Zulueta.
Mi madre no sabe que por la noche, / cuando ella mira mi cuerpo dormido / y sonríe feliz sintiéndome a su lado, / mi alma sale de mí, se va de viaje / guiada por elefantes blanquirrojos.

I hear the voice of Eliseo Diego, along the border of Santos Suárez and Lawton, by Diez de Octubre, by the wall, the great stone wall of Jesús del Monte. El sitio donde gustamos las costumbres, / las distracciones y demoras de la suerte.

Cintio and Fina walk beside me when I go down by the Cathedral of Havana, or down Reyna, by the Sacred Heart, or down Infanta, by Carmen, or down 19 St., by Letrán.
I hear them chatting by Calzada and 4 St., by Boyeros and 20 de Mayo, by Príncipe and Hospital.
Nunca estoy conmigo. Otro. / El otro, por dentro, afuera, / entre, despertando olvido.
Ya yo también estoy entre los otros / que decían mirándonos, con aire / de tan fina tristeza “Vamos, jueguen.”

I remember Carilda Oliver at Casablanca, by the train station. I remember her, walking, riding by La Monumental, going to Matanzas.
Alegre huésped del espanto, / convidado del hambre, / fabuloso, / ya puedo hablar contigo.

There are other people in this road / en este camino.
Of course, Pablo Armando. Of course, Retamar. Of course, Heberto. Of course, Arrufat.
I’ve walked este camino with them all.
By O’Reilly, by Obispo, by Aguila and Dragones. By H and 17 St. By H and 21 St. I’ve walked with them all.
Si uno pudiera, como quien juega o sueña / las secuencias del tiempo reordenar…
Ahora entra aquí él, para mi propia sorpresa. / Yo fui su hijo preferido…

A aquel hombre le pidieron su tiempo / para que lo juntara al tiempo de la Historia…
Una vez escribiste / “vivo de los que parten…”

I’ve walked, of course, with Kozer, by I and 13 St. By Acosta and Picota. By Muralla. By Guanabacoa. Es de mañana, mi mujer y yo nos hemos sentado a desayunar, estamos en nuestro departamento de La Florida…

I’ve walked, of course, with Wichy Nogueras, by H and 17 St., by 23th and 10 St., by Zapata and 12 St., by Prado, by Muralla. Dijo de los enterradores cosas francamente impublicables…

I’ve walked, of course, with Lina de Feria, by Muralla, by 17 St., by 3rd and G. Hace una noche espléndida para morirse…

And I’ve walked, of course, with Novás, by 3rd and G, by Carlos III, by Malecon. Quién seré sino el tonto que en la agria colina / miraba el sol poniente como viejo achacoso…

Ah, all them remind me of a path, a road, a corner of Havana, of Cuba. I’ve walked all those streets with them in my ears.

Soleida Ríos reminds me of Obispo, Esto está oscuro y tiembla.

Norberto Codina reminds me of 23 St., El próximo domingo seremos cuatro mil millones.

Reina Maria reminds me of Animas, mira y no las descuides.

Alex Fleites reminds me of Calzada, En la octava línea de este texto.

Angel Escobar reminds me of San Lazaro, Qué nos hicimos sentados como estamos en el muro.

Ramon Fernandez-Larrea reminds me of Pepe Antonio, of 19 St., of 17 St., El niño está inventando pájaros sin cabeza.

I watch again the cover of the book. Looks like a postcard for naive tourists.
How come they’re only fifty-six? There must be more than fifty-six.
There are much more roads, much more streets and avenues to walk by and with.
But this is only one road / solo un camino.
The poetry in Cuba is more like a map.

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