Sugar Mule #15

Cover Photograph by Pedro Portal:

"Cuba... cuesta arriba/Cuba... up hill"


The exodus prompted by the 1959 Cuban Revolution is distinguished not only by its geographical and numerical proportions but also by its longevity. This special issue of Sugar Mule is dedicated to the overarching theme of "Cuba Transported" in that it features the voices of a wide range of Cuban born poets - some well established and some new - all of whom are residing outside the Island.

As this collection suggests, displacement and the consequent psychic and spiritual conditions of exile sometimes function as a spur to creativity and creative possibility. Yet the "wages of exile," to borrow Ricardo Pau-Llosa's words, are evident in many of the works featured in this special issue in their expression of loss, longing, and dislocation. Reflecting upon the nature and function of poetry, William Carlos Williams once observed:

"To understand the words so liberated is to understand poetry. . . As birds' wings beat the solid air without which none could fly, so words freed by the imagination affirm reality by their flight."

For these authors, poetry becomes the site of an agonistic struggle where personal and collective history and memory are affirmed, and identity is negotiated, translated and transformed. Through the language of poetry, moreover, each stages a kind of revolution of the word and the imagination which, in its final practice, is liberating.

In closing, I would like to dedicate this special issue in memory of Heberto Padilla (1932-2000). In most ways Heberto represented a unique historical perspective in his ability to view the Diaspora in relation to all diasporic experiences, all forms of exiles - both historical and metaphysical. He possessed a kind of Blakean double vision or consciousness that was prismatic in its total effect; for he approached the themes of exile and loss simultaneously from the dual vantage points of a man who was subject, as a result of his ideals and principles, to torture and humiliation (only to be met upon his release from prison and consequent exile with the cold indifference of the world); and, on the other hand, with the eyes of the Poet, who possesses the capacity to elevate human loss and suffering to the level of the universal - the archetypal. As a result of his ability to dialogue and communicate across temporal, social, cultural, generational, and geographical boundaries, his work represents in my mind a transcendent and seamless continuity between past, present, and future. And thus I dedicate this collection to him with the deepest respect, admiration, and affection.

Andrea O'Reilly Herrera, guest editor
December, 2002

For a long time now

I have also lost the sea

I lost its companionship, its presence

I even lost its memory. . .

- Dulce Maria Loynaz

Table of Contents:

You Spoke With Blake - Lourdes Gil

Agua Sedienta - José Kozer

Éste Es El Libro De Los Salmos Que Hizo Danzar A Mi Madre - José Kozer



from Poemas del exilio/Poems of the Exile (I, II,III) - Sara Rosell

En medio del camino de la vida/In the Middle of the Path of Life - Francisco Morán

Luis Cernuda - Francisco Morán

Farewell - Francisco Morán

IT CAN HAPPEN TO YOU - Jorge Guitart

PETIT SLAM - Jorge Guitart

TRACT - Jorge Guitart

Cinco Misterios - Pablo Medina

Of Aerodynamic Shapes and Navigators' Mirrors - Carlota Caulfield

Tasting Heaven, siguiendo a Bly - Jesús J. Barquet

Afuera/Outdoors - Jesús J. Barquet

Mercado - Madrid, 1972 - Virgil Suárez

Paul Klee Visits Santiago de Cuba - Virgil Suárez

Anhelo - Luna Rubia

Revivir - Luna Rubia

Untitled - Ramón Rubio

Vivo - Ramón Rubio

A Fragile Heritage - Iraida Iturralde

Over a Baroque Portal: The Meow of the Offspring - Iraida Iturralde

The Man Who Saved the Fish - Iraida Iturralde

Allí - Aimée G. Bolaños

Letanía - Aimée G. Bolaños

Ahoy the Indies - Olga Karman

Aller's Farm, Iowa - Olga Karman

Second Home - Olga Karman

London Latino - Eliana Rivero

More Journeys: Gibraltar - Eliana Rivero

Finally El Yunque, Puerto Rico - Eliana Rivero

Poem Against Myself - Elías Miguel Muñoz

Carta a mi madre - Uva de Aragón


Notes on the Contributors


Lourdes Gil

You Spoke With Blake

You spoke to Blake not as poet to poet
but rather as someone
who understood the storms raging in the soul
someone who never reached
the places that he loved.
You said to him the twentieth century
could not be contained in his engravings.
That the battle between the devil and the archangel
was now a dead tongue
- as mythic as Achilles and his chariot and the walls of Troy
had been to Blake.
For a very long time I believed this
along with you.
Through endless vigils
we stared at the false gods of our century
prophets unbound by anger
disguised as blazing heroes under a thousand masks
strings of silver beads gushing from their mouths.
We stared together
wondered talked held on.
We heard so many voices chants
the ancient hymns of Greece
traversing time like rolling ocean waves.
We saw
or thought we saw
the wooden horse of Troy transform
into the faceless crowd that tore the Berlin wall
hammering it blow by blow.
But where was Blake we asked.
He had not been with you in Moscow
during the Missile Crisis
the fatal days and nights
when you began to doubt his words
the wisdom of his drawings.
And then the void the archetypal schism.
And when the healing season
would not come
will never come
we knew that Blake's devils and angels
were living inside us.

José Kozer

Agua Sedienta

Agua sedienta de inquietud se remansa, inconexa.

Yo la apago, reposa en la taza de té.

Reincido: soy el pez del estanque zigzagueando entre arañas de agua (luz) lotos.

El agua desprovista de declive, rezuma: indivisa, la vierto.

¿Adónde? Bebo su venero, bebo espuertas de agua, me sacio de sus calcinaciones:
        prolongo su recorrido, me apresuro a mirar
        los reflejos: pinedas, floración, res retenida
        entre unas espadañas. El vaso; el cáliz
        labrado; y tras la oblea sacramental el
        rumor, el estruendo, la configuración de la
        inexistencia de la sed del agua por
        inexistencia del agua.

Éste Es El Libro De Los Salmos Que Hizo Danzar A Mi Madre

Éste es el libro de los salmos que hizo danzar a mi madre,
éste es el libro de las horas que me dio mi madre,
éste es el libro recto de los preceptos.
Yo me presento colérico y arrollador ante este libro anguloso,
yo me presento como un rabino a bailar una polca soberana,
y me presento en el apogeo de la gloria a danzar ceremonioso un minué,
brazo con brazo clandestino de la muerte,
yo me presento paso de ganso a bailar fumando,
soy un rabino que se alzó la bata por las estepas rusas,
soy un rabino que un Zar enorme hace danzar ante los bastiones de la muerte,
soy el abuelo Leizer que bailó ceñido ceremoniosamente al talle de la abuela Sara,
yo soy una doncella que llega toda lúbrica a dilatar las fronteras de esta danza,
yo soy una doncella dilatada por un súbito desconcierto de los tobillos,
pero la muerte me impone un desarreglo,
y hay un búcaro que cae en los grandes estantes de mi cuarto,
y hay un paso lustroso de farándula que han dado en falso,
y son mis pies como un bramido grande de cuatro generaciones de muertos.

Ricardo Pau-Llosa


From the bowl's edge balcony, skirted by parsley,
a lip of flayed orange - fourth of a kiss,

half a bilabial stop, partner in stammer -
pretends to be the author of its poise,

though given away by the resonations of kin
sent into boil to find self and joy.

And what it finds is a way to melt while keeping
the code without which there is no name.

What it finds as well is the breast of context.
What a skin is echo, the stage prop and the cypress

by the road, the tasseled lamp and the crumpled pillow
are our ingredient language, transferences that compass

leap the merits of being singular. The orange on its pearl
white rim, knowing itself a portion but searching

the anise fragrances and the toasted coconut arcs,
probing the supple, panko-breaded conch strands

and the shellfish stock for its originating sign
will do more than seek comfort in finding itself

in this ochre chorus, the faded gold of that honey
which flesh aspires to. Sieve the light from the flame

and you will see this mirror, though not its orange task.
Cheap survival. The fragment's joy is the builder's fate.


The leaves choke, the twigs
sweep by will of drainage
into the sunken corridors
that do gutter's work
between the bright raised slabs
of concrete. A poinciana
colonizes the roof
with a clumpy rust
of leaves, ant thorough,
and the wrinklings
of flowers once.
A calligraphic branch
prongs an upward swing
like a bow unstrung,
parabola as odalisque.

The issue is range
and the hopscotch
of clarities, the random
as message.
Were these fallen bits
a voice calling from the last
mercies of a torn sea,
would the cry reach the lifeguard?
Were this a letter recovering
the compass of love
or clinching a furtive deal,
would it sway or scare?
Or would it let
a judgment pass -
ignored, quotidian -
like a life between

Sara Rosell

from Poemas del exilio/Poems of the Exile

Con el ombligo abierto
el mar
descubre sus demonios
las naves olvidadas
el ojo del náufrago
los huesos almidonados por los siglos
el mástil de un barco sin bandera

Un mundo escondido a flor de agua

Toda la plenitud de los sentidos
en el centro
perdidas las orillas
para siempre
en el manto azul de la memoria

* * *

With open navel
the sea
dicovers its demons
forgotten vessels
the shipwrecked seafarer's eye
bones starched by centuries
mast of a ship with no flag

A world hidden on the water's surface

The fullness of the senses
in the center
shores forever
in the blue mantle of memory

(translated by Steven F. White)

* * *

Yo sueño que regreso
un día cualquiera
to the pleasure of letting
la tierra correr entre mis dedos
Yo vivo en permanente exilio
cuando sueño
I can only speak in the tongue of desire
Yo sólo puedo hablar la lengua del deseo
When I dream
your stretched body is my island
Yo puedo perderme en las prominencias
de tu cuerpo
in the sugar cane flavor of your tongue
in the dark cinnamon color of your gaze
Yo puedo perderme rozando tus riberas
like a wave
get lost inside of you
Yo sólo sueño que regreso
I can only speak in the tongue of desire
in exile
from your body

* * *

(italicized lines originally written in English)

I dream that I'm returning
to the pleasure of letting
the earth slip through my fingers
I live in permanent exile
when I dream
I can only speak in the tongue of desire
when I dream
your stretched body is my island
awaiting me
I can lose myself in the rolling landscape
of your body
in the sugar cane flavor of your tongue
in the dark cinnamon color of your gaze
I get lost when I gently touch your shores
like a wave
get lost inside of you
I only dream that I'm returning
I can only speak in the tongue of desire
in exile
from your body

(translated by Steven F. White)

* * *

Llevo noches de siglos
la marea
que crece con la espuma
el rito del adios
se hace presencia

Miro alrededor
abierta la pupila en dos
un lado viéndose en el otro
bordeando el abismo
del recuerdo

Qué soledad
de verse acompañada
tantas noches de siglos

* * *

I have been navigating
the tide
for night-filled centuries
and as it rises
the rite of good-bye
slowly disappears
becomes presence

I look around me
my split pupil open
one side seeing itself in the other
skirting the abyss
of memory

The utter loneliness
over night-filled centuries
of watching the repeating

(translated by Steven F. White)

Francisco Morán

En medio del camino de la vida

Un poco más a la derecha . . . no, a la izquierda . . . allí . . . debajo de aquellos anaqueles. En esa bolsa gris, ligeramente pesada, están las cenizas de Dante. Ellas y nosotros en el destierro que siempre suponen las bibliotecas. Como en nichos, los libros más célebres descansan muy cerca del murmullo de los periódicos, y se mezclan con los estertores de las crónicas sensacionalistas, con el sopor de la guillotina y con la siniestra igualdad de las revoluciones. Algún curioso se acercará a interrogarlos, y los dejará luego sobre la mesa hasta que el empleado de turno los devuelva a su lugar. Hallar, pues, cenizas entre los libros, es, cuando menos, una tautología. Las de Dante, recién descubiertas en la Biblioteca Central de Florencia, ¿a qué parte de la anatomía del poeta corresponden? ¿Son acaso las de la mirada, intentando coser los descosidos de la geografía para que los vinos de Rávena tuvieran el sabor de las aguas del Arno? ¿Son las de la voz, defenestrada una y otra vez por la pugna de güelfos y gibelinos? ¿Serán quizá las de los genitales impolutos que nunca rozaron el texto de Beatriz, ni mancharon con una gota de tinta su vestido? ¿O serán las de la eternidad - encontradas, en un precioso simbolismo aleccionador, por unos empleados sin voz - , o las del destierro? Esas son las cenizas del Paraíso. Y contemplo con envidia - y con cierta nostalgia - el limbo de los libros en que hallaron sosiego por tanto tiempo. Sobre todo ahora, cuando un bando acaba de ordenarme que abandone Florencia, y me hallo a mí mismo, perdido en selva oscura.

In the Middle of the Path of Life

A few steps more to the right . . . no, to the left . . . right there . . . below those shelves. In that slightly heavy, gray bag, Dante's ashes remain. They and we in the exile that libraries always imply. Like in niches, the most celebrated books rest very close to the whisper of newspapers, and mix themselves with the death rattles of sensationalistic reports, with the sleepiness of the guillotine and the sinister equality of revolutions. Some curious person will approach to question them, and will then abandon them on a table, until the employee on duty returns them to their place. Therefore, finding ashes among books is, at least, tautological. Those of Dante, recently discovered in the Central Library of Florence, to which parts of Dante's anatomy do they belong? Are they perhaps, those of his gaze trying to mend the unstitched geography, so the wines of Ravena may taste like the waters of the Arno? Are they those of his voice, defenestrated once and again by the struggle of Guelfs and Ghibellines? Would they be those of the untainted genitals that never touched Beatrice's text, or stained her dress with a single drop of ink? Or would they be those of eternity - found by some voiceless employees in a precious exemplary symbolism - or perhaps those of exile? Those are the ashes of Paradise. And I behold with envy - and with nostalgia - the limbo of books where they found peace for so long. Particularly now, when an edict has just ordered me to live Florence and I find myself lost in the dark forest.

Luis Cernuda

The exorcists will come,
not to free me from my demons,
but to fight me over them.


The profound absence
filling the hours, the closed balconies.
No longer to touch the rose,
or to name it.
To surrender its pure marble
To the slaughter of oblivion
        and distance.
To turn it into exile
     and obscurity.
And desire - its reduced ember -
to worms of remorse.

Jorge Guitart

from Free and Opaque to the Public


Grace under pressure confessed
to having betrayed her own name
by being a disgrace.
Her room at night was realistic
but night was mediocre.
I certify to having been morbid
about morbidity.
Fantasy has a lot to do with lips
that have stopped being parched.
So eulogy is an adornment.
I see a cornucopia and I shudder.
Life with death can be repetitious.


1. Have you had the experience of writing your own ticket not knowing what it was for or what were the fundamental postulates of the elementary theory of rows and seats?

2. They say that life is choices. I think it's also invoices. But I am quite basic, meaning alkaline, and I want all alligators to have human shoes.

3. Death is relational so I will not say anything else about it.

4. I remember that the music was pious and people were in transports - in military transports, and I thought that something sidereal might be instructing my memory cells to come back as parts of bile ducts.

5. Reality is trivial if mold surrounds it. Why be a dude if you don't have a ranch?

6. I am not a bete noire, pal, I am a bete beige. I am not the one who said that people broadcast the enigma of their unimportance, but I am the one who thought it. It was because I was not being warmed up by the glow of the frozen steppes.

7. I saw a buoy lying on shore, no longer buoyant, and I was grateful that none of the zombies had touched a universal nerve, only local ones.

8. I saw the world's famous chaotic surface and then went on to do methodical things with a methodist or a facsimile of one.

9. If you are not ready for a shock, don't wear those there electrodes.

10. Breasts changed venues, traveling with bodies to which they belonged.


I was quite able to forget the cry of the peacocks and I need no help with the silence of the red flamingoes. And I say unto you: only salmon will relate to salmon, only locusts will relate to locusts, only the skinny will be thinly disguised, only the obese will be immensely human, only masochists will be fit to be tied.

Pablo Medina

Cinco Misterios


Viernes de lluvia,
mar atormentado.

En el horizonte
un velero casi vuela.

Entre nosotros la noche
y el espacio.


Es como si fuera una palabra
este pensar en ti:

caracol de sombra,
y esa sombra reflejo

(de lluvia o sol) y ese espejo
(colmado) el mar.


Nostalgia de no sé qué,
el día verde como guayaba,

la noche (pez en el mar de tus ojos)
sombra de almendro,

tu vientre húmedo, pozo (caimito),
jardín de mis labios.


Siete veces (esta noche)
te he pensado.

En mi corazón la lluvia cae.
Por fuera crecen las espinas.

La desolación acecha:
escampa, soledad, escampa.


Entre las gotas de la lluvia
hay una intemperie,

entre los palmos de la distancia,
ama de flor y monte (contagiosa)

sonrisa del horizonte,
apareces tú.

Carlota Caulfield

Of Aerodynamic Shapes and Navigators' Mirrors

A good traveler
has neither precise plans
nor any fixed destination.
        - Lao Tsu

    "I dreamt that a vulture came flying towards me."

You don't try to make your ideas come true,
You just try to overcome the air's resistance.
You're busy imitating the birds in flight
and you live in a house that has wrought iron grilles,
and a latch on the door, and a foyer.

Like so many houses in your coastal city,
mine, little by little, is being buried under lava
and ashes of an erupting tyranny.

I read the Compendium of All the World's Islands
by Alonso de Santa Cruz, head cosmographer
to King Charles I of Spain, and I think of solutions
for resolving doubts and unknowns.

        "Yes, and it opened my mouth
        and brushed its feathers across it
        several times."

Daedalus fled from the island of Crete
to escape the death penalty.
The reek of decomposing bodies.
Air that melts any kind of wax.
Metamorphosis of the potter who
from such want lives in fear
and falls into the vacuum of his own nothingness.

You combine your skills as a great painter
with those of builder and mechanic.
Your hundred and sixty scrawled pages
choose sites for the construction of helicopters and parachutes,
to soar into flight, beyond touch.

Pure imagination on the part of his Majesty's Cosmographer
who, because he is Jewish, and the son of conversos in
the Balearic Islands, fears attracting the furies of the Church.

        "Yes, as though wishing to insinuate
        that I'd talk about wings
        throughout my entire life."

Open your mouth again, and if a wing pokes out,
try to fly.

Any fantasy will serve to discover a city
with palaces of noble stone, its churches, its rectangular plazas
filled with leafy trees and flowers, and its streets, alleys and
avenues beaten by sea breezes.

You size up the air resistance, and the aerodynamic
shape convinces you.

        "My little Leonardo is bright and talented.
        Yesterday he built a flying machine
        with goose feathers tied on with cords."

I can see the cords that attach the artificial wings
to the feet that will propel them.
If I set loose the demons onto your body,
they will turn into crumbs of bread.
Icarus seems to want to alert
the daring child to the danger of his enterprise.

        The unpronounceable word: escape
        The coveted word: escape
        The accursed word: escape

The Greek legend tells of etched stones,
of a ball of thread, of an all-controlling passion,
and of a special water of feathers.
Without hand-saw or wheel, the potter bleeds into
a manuscript page filled with drawings
of several griffins tied to Alexander's throne.

And the next morning, the boy tells of reading
a succinct message brought to him by a bird:
"Ignorance of the one who dares to gravitate."

Of all the legends of long gone times,
the one about the daring flight, that celebrates the desired person,
and awards no commemorative medal, is the one which announces
that life continues, that innumerable stories have been told
about men who have risen into the air,
that the ability to fly is an attribute of devils or of heretics.

The boy writes the word curbstone in his notebook,
Then adds the word sphere, then spits on the page and the ink
spreads into a bat beneath fingers
that lack skills, but are filled with insinuations.

The dripping water that destroys our house
has carved out the outline of a sailing ship that encourages aerial navigation.
The etching crosses seas of clouds,
and attempts to amuse us,
thanks to the inventors' utopias.

(translated by Mary Berg in collaboration with the author)

Jesús J. Barquet

Tasting Heaven, siguiendo a Bly

when we see
her at fifteen walking among falling leaves
     - Robert Bly

Sólo unas raras veces
he saboreado el cielo: cuando el espeso joven bulto
de un atrevido rufián de tez oscura y sincopado
andar, se mueve entre las hojas secas de mi otoño
que él vuelve primavera, e invita con su mano
cóncava a comunión muy dentro en la espesura.
            Sólo esas raras veces
- me lo dice el instinto de lo eterno, la lluvia
mensajera acallando cómplice el chasquido
de nuestros pasos en busca del placer -
sabemos que se puede paladear
el cielo en este mundo, pero también sabemos
- porque de nada serviría dudarlo -
que esos manjares saboreados aquí
son sólo sobras,
            migajas caídas por descuido
- o sabe Dios qué azar o qué sabia crueldad -
de un banquete todavía mayor al que esperamos
alguna vez
ser invitados.


donde la lluvia arrecia
y el viento arrasa las fronteras,
donde la sal y el fuego
abrasan y escarpelan.

La luz, solamente la luz,
y la adúltera brisa marina
que a través del desierto nos llega,
me convidan afuera.


where rain hardens
and wind devastates all borders,
where fire and salt
burn and peel.

Light - just light
and the adulterous ocean breeze
that reaches through the desert -
lures me outdoors.

(translated by the author)

Virgil Suárez

Mercado - Madrid, 1972

Deep under the city, pass beggars
and their dirty children, pass the blind
loteria vendor with clouds for eyes -
deeper still, the market: all the fruit,
vegetables, tubers, legumbres, cold
cuts, and shops, all you-can-eat
for pesetas. Carcasses of rabbits
and goats upside down like shirts
dangled to dry on clotheslines,
the lure of mussels and clams, the pink
of shaved pigskin, feet and offal,
rainbow shimmer of light against
the mackerel, sardine, and smelt
scales, scales like confetti speckled
on the wet black floors. Bonbons
made at the chocolate shops,
liqueur filled, the smell of dried cod,
Serrano ham hung from the rafters,
everywhere wine, grapes, shiny olives . . .
Tight, my mother holds my hand
as we walk through and though we
don't have much to spend, every few
shops or so she says, See all that?
That's abundance, freedom. This
is why we left Cuba. A fruit vendor
hands me a shiny apple. I bite into
it, taste its juices, this world
of sweetness for the first time;
who can forget the price of freedom?

Paul Klee Visits Santiago de Cuba
after "The Light and so Much Else"

Beyond the "flying cities," the crosses, stripes,
these crop of dots hidden in the horizon,

you can count them and find your way back
anywhere, if you ask the sidewalk cracks,

they'll show you the way, these little rivers,
or the ramifications on the walls. He came

here because he'd heard about a particular
hue of blue he'd wanted to see with his own

eyes, this light-filled space, a liquid prism
on the mirrored surface of the water, cloudy,

but a blue missing from his palette, luminous,
a tincture of bled indigo, lapis lazuli, bird

wings, a straight line so blue it draws breath
from the on-lookers, call it a sigh of melancholia,

those gathered on the shore to look out beyond
at the distant flickering lights of another country,

a boy's dream blue, the one about a raft taken
by the currents to the open sea, a depth so deep

when you speak, the words mouthed drown
immediately, this constant immersion of light

in water, a man bent against the slopes of a city,
counts his dots, lines, squares, where points

converge, pigment and spectral colors: harmony.

Luna Rubia


Quiero la paz y
hasta quiero que no lata
el corazón
que no haya latidos
en las venas:
que sólo viva el amor.

(La Habana, 1977)


Amanece . . . Justamente: amanece.
Sin retorno,
sin remedio.
El sol ha dado un giro
para alumbrar los caminos
de acá.

De repente tu mano ha
comenzado a abrir mi puerta.
Beso a beso se van
desoxidando las ventanas.
Una brisa joven comienza
a refrescar la habitación.

(La Habana, 76)

Ramón Rubio


Cuando el amor se olvida
es como un perecer,
una caída inmensa,
una canción que nunca fue.

Con la belleza ida
también se fue el camino:
sólo te queda el tiempo y el espacio,
¿dónde encontrarla pues?


entre hojas multiverdes y ocres,
sobre las cuales
la luz plateada del sol
salta como si fuera lluvia.
En ella mis ojos
se deshabitúan, pierden
la pereza del no ver.
Es un agua donde puedo
lavar mis manos,
y que no toco
para que sea este mundo
que ayer no conocí.

(La Habana, 1976)

Iraida Iturralde

A Fragile Heritage

Not alone, at birth
when the upthrust of the sun claimed the eyelids
and I burst, tongue unfolding, from the shade
and then another and another, tufts of fallen vowels
ripe and open
claimed the sea edge - one long gentle earth
and the lips, tanned, half-open
spoke and swallowed and spoke
and swallowed consonants tinged amber
by the sun (perched, like dove or antelope
on the forehead)

Yet you hardly met that child
now straying homeward like a chimney
her cheeks, two wailing shells
sallow from moonlight

Such countenance
was plain

The world below these waters had shed reeds
and behind their trail of silence came a still
and lonelier trail -
a new language (lips cracked-open)
unbraided the strange fabric of snow:
a run of painful, wily syllables
swerving seamless, like marbles, in the cold

Then I turned, my brow dawning
by another river:
your alien smell
nursing old wounds from memory.

Over a Baroque Portal:
The Meow of the Offspring

She sat demurely, chiseled in gold
as if to say, my smile is like a vestige
the memory of a land where palms sway gently
to the ocean's rippling blue.

The other, a sunlit fresco
imposing her marveled gaze upon the planet
as if to say, I bow
to the ultimate splendor.

Our children belie you.

The Man Who Saved the Fish

The flood-tide pours in with a jolting swirl,
the waves leaping easily above his head.
Above this man's head, a clean absence of seaweed.

And above his eyes,
the fish do somersaults in the misty space,
above this man's eyes, with the drowning smell
of a certain death.

Upon his palms, a sensuous flutter
and the man cups them into a potter's urn,
saving, by instinct, his tropical fish.

The children loved him on the sand
for in his splendid chivalry
this thin enamored man
looked so unlike the infidel.

Aimée G. Bolaños


He perdido el centro.
Los mapas interiores están rotos.
Solo en el caos, la escritura
me regresa a la intuición pura.
Allí me espera
la palabra sin forma,
signo del ser deshecho.
Allí voy al encuentro
de la palabra que no existe,
de la palabra muda
suspendida ante el abismo.


La palabra es silencio.
Voz de lo inaudible.
Viaje al interior,
exhibición jubilosa.
Un deseo tenaz de la Forma.
Y del Olvido.
éxtasis inteligente,
ignorancia definitiva.
imperceptibles movimientos.
Medio de lo inacabado,
fin de los espacios infinitos.
Furia que medita.

Olga Karman

Ahoy the Indies

I retrace my steps, the long walks
on the streets of Barcelona
past herbalists' shops
in the dark Gothic Quarter,
past caged canaries
singing from ancient walls.

I am a wanderer pacing the surface
of a madre patria I cannot recognize.
Columbus towers over the harbor.
His index finger points at the Indies,
at my grandmother left behind in Cuba
on her empty porch.

He points at the red hibiscus,
petals on fire,
tells her again:
"This is the most beautiful land
human eyes have ever seen."

She looks at the white garden wall.
She sees my shadow dressed in taffeta,
her great-grandchildren in New York snow
living out the last leg of the Admiral's voyage.

Aller's Farm, Iowa

Longing for the island of Cuba
wears thin
here in Iowa
where cornfields are real and
there's a hickory tree
with a rope swing
you can sit on and fly
over barns and silos
that look like pictures
on a glossy calendar.
Crossing Huck Finn's river
late last night
I was a boy on a raft.
Silver possum crossed Route 64
in a silver possum dream,
and insects
cracked like eggs
against my windshield.

Now I have crossed the Mississippi
how pale the other rivers
I carry in my head
like a snail its home.
Names memorized in a fifth grade class:

        Cabrera, Yariguá
        Chaparra, Mayarí
        Moa, Toa
        Duaba, Miel

rivers blurred like the photographs
of my dead family
holding squirming dogs in their arms,
riding small horses,
smoking, laughing
as if their world would never end.

Here at Aller's farm
just east of Cedar Rapids
I can see radiant asparagus beds
and touch the tips of the green fingers
that point to heaven.
There is music to the names here:

Lone Tree
Coon Rapids
Little Turkey

Second Home

Spring after spring
just a few miles east
of Buffalo, New York,
Canada geese return
to stubbled fields
of wintered corn.
Their sloppy landing
on wet furrows
patched with unmelted snow,
their calls announcing
paradise regained
awaken a longing
for my faded Havana streets.

This April
my friend Mary
saddled the bay
and the dappled mare,
and we rode out
into fields of stubble
and wintered corn,
disturbed a flock of geese
who took flight
over our heads,
and our horses shied.
We broke into gallop and laughter,
yelled our war cries,
full speed the horses,
each stride drumming the word
home perhaps,
perhaps home
at last.

Eliana Rivero

from Five Cubana Trips

3- London Latino

High Street in fashionable Kensington
and there it is:
       tri-colored flag
lone star
       five stripes in white and blue,
a sign that reads
       CUBA CAFÉ.
Menu under glass in the window
       with picadillo,
dancing to salsa until 1 am.

A young man I meet inside
       shakes my hand,
              gives me some match books with the logo.
I marvel at the places I find.

Later in Soho Park
       I hear the Hare Krishnas chanting,
they give me healthy cookies
       as a sample of vegetarian wares.
some gypsies try to pick my pockets,
like in Italy.

       I wish I could tell them the truth:
       I'm one of them,
dark haired and superstitious,
gitana to the core,
Cubana with no moorings.

I roam the world.

4 - More Journeys: Gibraltar

I feel so at home
       in this borderland place:
neither an island
       nor a nation,
six square miles of rocky tunnels,
       remnants of Arab culture
and Allied intelligence for World War II.
Our guide
       is a "janito,"
a native Gibraltarian
       who was born on this cliff.
He's a British colonial
       with Andalusian accents
who tells me his life story.
I listen
       while I look at the white coast of Africa.
       Later we go into a bar
       with loud and very modern music.
There are monkeys everywhere
       on the high boulders,
       shop after shop
of video cameras
       and Moroccan carpets.

I wonder
       if I would be able to fly home
in one of them, like Aladdin,
taking with me
       a piece of this great rock.

5- Finally El Yunque, Puerto Rico

Rain forests,
       mountains covered with orchids:
the ocean was so close
       we heard the surf outside the kitchen.

       Our guests engaged in games, played dominoes
until one could not see
       the white tiles in their eyes.

We went touristing around
and landed in the town of Loíza, where we saw the processions:
       an endless stream of figures,
papier maché was buzzing in their heads
and arms were raised as if to offer light.
Our acquaintance with African rituals was secured.

In the mountains we got drenched in the drizzle,
  the dew from all those bromeliaceas:,
purple and pink and slightly blue
       their blossoms.

    I ate
       the sweetest pineapple by the side of the road.
Sugar cane fields extended in the distance.

For a moment,
I thought I was reborn
             in that other island.

Elías Miguel Muñoz

Poem Against Myself

Exorcising a demon by way of a poem
is the task of a fool.
Like hoping to be pardoned through confession.
Pray twenty Hail Marys and you're safe,
saved from your sin or your crime or your guilt.

I used to tell my friends who were in crisis:
Write about it.
You'll have the writing to show for all the pain.
Why couldn't I see that writing would be
salt in an open wound?

There are demons a poem could never kill.
Nor should it. And there are angels who demand
to be made literary. People you've known
and who've turned into memory,
in spite of the crowds in your mind.

Demons or angels, they're all the same.
Your head can't tell them apart.
Your heart, the quintessential beggar,
cannot be a chooser.
You'll take whatever guise they wear and seek
definitions, words, the perfect turn of phrase
to infuse them with blood. With literature.

And so the poem awakens. Not the conception
that follows pleasurable sex. Conceived in pain,
from the embers of tears and remorse.
Born like a thorn that breaks the skin and multiplies,
roots like a million knives that cut and tear,
a benevolent virus (if such a thing exists),
a quiet parasite that builds a house deep within you.
Patient and persistent, it'll wait a lifetime
for you to listen; for you to acknowledge
its right to have a home.

The two of you are bound together,
linked by a fortuitous experience:
the day you saw a certain face,
when a certain image overwhelmed you,
when you cried or begged for oblivion.
When you hated yourself for being selfish, cruel,
blind to the suffering of a human being.

Writing doesn't kill demons; it only tames them.
So why tell a friend who's hurting
to write about his pain? Listen to him, damn it!
Give him your heart, not an empty promise.

Writing never heals in the present.
It takes years. So why bother, then?
Time is a better cliché, the only one
that lives up to its image, that delivers.
Time is the true god, the only maker of a poem.
Pass the so-called test of time and you're a survivor.
Fail the test and give up access to history,
insight into the myth of who you are,
knowledge of mortality.
Fail the test and you might as well die.

I wish I'd failed the test.
Damn the characters who live, my parasites!
Damn the poem I write against myself.
Hell, for now, is regret.
Regretting what I did or didn't do once upon a time.
The animals I tortured, the people I betrayed,
the friends I forgot,
the words that used my voice as a weapon.
The punishments inflicted. The casualties.

I must face the survivors:
a kid in grade school who wet his pants
when I threatened to beat him up,
an old man I didn't save from a fall,
a frail and dying body - my grandfather's -
that I didn't help to clean.
The street musicians in Veracruz
who had to beg me for recognition
(some money, applause, maybe a smile).
Most of all the crippled old woman, a peddler
who dragged herself in my direction,
and whose eyes I didn't meet.

The carcasses of time, decrepit runners.
So many that I wouldn't know where to begin
to count them. Nor where to end.
Who deserves more than a passing mention?
Which one will stab my heart until I scream?
I'm not a fool. I know I'll never exorcise them.

Uva de Aragón

Carta a mi madre

Madre, si vieras como han crecido las izoras.
El rosal tiene dos rosas.
(A Nicolás le han salido los dientes y ya gatea.)
También tiene luz el sol, anochece, llueve, escampa
        y los autos se detienen - casi siempre -
                en las luces rojas.
Madre, llega correo a tu nombre
y lo coloco en tu escritorio, nítidamente,
como si fueras a regresar de unas vacaciones.
Aún me salta el corazón si suena el teléfono
   de madrugada o si escucho en las calles
   la sirena de una ambulancia.
Me apuro en las tardes para llegar a tiempo a la cena
   y hay tantas cosas que a cada rato
   te quisiera contar...
Madre, la casa está llena de tus pasos y tu voz,
   y hasta el tintineo de aquellas medallas
   que prendías a tu ropón cuando yo era niña,
   hiere el silencio.
La vida sigue y no estarás ya nunca más.
Yo misma cerré tus ojos
   e hice que te vistieran bien elegante
   para el viaje final.
Te vi en tu ataúd, serena y hermosa.
Y llevo flores todos los sábados
   a la tumba donde descansas junto a mi padre
   y que tantas veces visitamos las dos.
Todo es tan confuso, Madre.
Sé que no volverás y todo te espera.
Todo está dispuesto para tu regreso.
Lavo con esmero las cazuelas
para que las encuentres relucientes.
Y riego las malangas y las arecas.
Si vieras, Madre,
como han crecido las izoras.
Y el rosal tiene dos rosas.

Cuando marcho me despido
y le tiro besos a tu foto
cuando llego, al igual que tú hacías
con tus muertos, y yo me reía entonces
tanto como ahora te comprendo.
Todo es tan confuso, Madre.
A veces me siento sola,
perdida, huérfana,
con el cordón umbilical
cortado de tajo, sangrante
y largo, al punto que me enreda;
otras veces recuerdo tu último suspiro
- el largo suspiro de la muerte - .
Me pareció entonces,
y ahora a veces aún me parece,
que me tragabas,
que me devolvías a tu útero
a tu centro.
Madre, la vida sigue.
A Nicolás le han salido dos dientes.
Ya se sabe parar y gatea.
No sé si nos verás, Madre,
parecemos unos náufragos
sin barcos ni velas.
Voy al trabajo, me levanto, me acuesto.
como, bebo, escribo, hablo, rezo.
También lloro, Madre.
Es un llanto tonto y bueno.
Por tantas cosas que quisiera decirte
   y no puedo, como, por ejemplo,
   lo hermosas que están las izoras y las rosas.
Y que ya han cambiado la hora
Y nadie ha encendido las luces
   cuando regreso a la casa
   oscura, y sola.

de octubre de 1997

Néstor Díaz de Villegas



The times were simply red and glowing
with white hot aspirations, insurrections.
You bought the pink hotel on the Riviera.
O, what disgraceful sight, the beach!
Palmeras in the comic-strip afternoon.
O faun, your body disinterred and shipped
from Capri to the Miamian shore.
Who invented drapes to cover pianos?
What flag will cover the coffin or
the sepulcher-like refrigerator?
Immense, picassoesque, the supermodels
strolled Arcadian sands barefooted, prude.
Old gentry, suave madonnas, cover-
girls and insatiable machos.
Was the sun wanting in this diurnal cave
where you had painted with archaic strokes
extreme symbols of permissive Fall?
Or was all Nature just a fashion show?
Undefeated fascist steed forever beautiful
and tanning mares reclining by your pool.
Copper and silver in ashtrays and cockrings.
Bathtubs scribbled with intestine's ink.
A fist, young Sardanapalus,
ever the Cynic on the rope of doom,
invaded your interiors, decorated
with mortal anguish and some guilty haste.
Those were the Times!
One hundred mirrors, like so many sages,
reflected on the fucking afternoon:
they found, of course, devoid of any intelligence
the cycling and recycling of the Ages.
How could they otherwise, how could they not?
There it was, for all to see,
camouflaged in woe and flowing silk.
The servants came and went, and Michelangelo
lent His holy presence. Honey and milk
flowed from the jewels. Those were the Times!
No time to spend in masquerades
where you wouldn't deign to show your face.
Only those brimming with angst!
Only those made for the orange crash!


Any promise you'd wish to tear from me,
you can now tear from me. You can
make me surrender my Empire at your feet!
You, body chiseled in coral,
draped in angora, more of a demi-god
than human sore to the eyes! Unblemished
by profundities, all superficial mirror
of my desire! You come from the underside
of deep fetish dreams. Oh man, oh superman!
To conquer the world you need me.
To dress you for the stage, reversal
of the pure and simple life. No more
walks in the dark! I forbid the driving
of stolen cars! Only luxury becomes a man
guilty of the most hideous crimes!
Let's play with daggers and revolvers,
revolted at the sight of filthy palaces
that wouldn't fit your arms.
Let me dress you in palm shadows,
in tight pants and see you naked
through the lattice of my hands!


The assassin walked the boardwalk with sashay.
Some Brutus! Some Charlotte Corday!
Kiss, kiss. Bang, bang! Was Paradise cinema?
Fifteen or 60 minutes show? Who knows?
Only you could
give an exact account of those amphibian moments
winding and rewinding in the flesh.
The lackeys went for ice to soothe the ayes
and some fag cried hysterically on the steps.
Like a Pompeian hut the Palace crumbled:
in the canopic jar your heart tumbled.
Who's playing salsa in the Latin Quarter?
Is the Kiddush meant for you?
The shinny temples are set ablaze for the last time
while your hand holds yesterday's paper.
These - too meticulous for a crime scene -
steps that lead nowhere from here
refuse to quench even your blood.
Inside the faggots come and go
comparing you with Michelangelo.

Notes on the Contributors

Uva de Aragón was born in Havana, Cuba; and she arrived in the United States in 1959. She currently resides in Miami, Florida.

Jesús J. Barquet was born in Havana, Cuba. He left in 1980 via the port of Mariel and currently resides in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Aimée G. Bolaños was born in Cienfuegos, Cuba. She left the Island in 1997 and currently resides in Rio Grande, Brazil.

Carlota Caulfield was born in Havana, Cuba. She left Cuba in 1981 and has lived in Dublín, Zürich, New York, New Orleans, Oakland, and most recently London.

Lourdes Gil was born in Havana, Cuba and left the Island in 1961. She currently resides in Tenafly, New Jersey.

Jorge Guitart was born in Havana, Cuba. He emigrated to the United States in 1962 and now resides in Buffalo, New York.

Olga Karman was born in Havana, Cuba. She left the Island in 1960 and currently resides in Buffalo, New York.

Andrea O'Reilly Herrera was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania of a Cuban mother and Irish American father. She currently resides in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Iraida Iturralde was born in Havana, Cuba. She left the Island in 1962 and currently resides in West New York, New Jersey.

José Kozer was born in Havana, Cuba. He came to the United States in 1960 and has lived in New York, Spain, and most recently Hallandale, Florida.

Pablo Medina was born in Havana, Cuba. He left the Island in 1960 and now lives in New York City and Glen, New Hampshire.

Francisco Morán was born in Havana, Cuba. He left the Island in 1994 and currently resides in Arlington, Virginia.

Elías Miguel Muñoz was born in Ciego de Avila, Cuba; he came to the United States in 1969. He has lived in Kansas, Washington, D.C., New Mexico, and now resides in California.

Ricardo Pau-Llosa was born in Havana, Cuba and left the Island in 1960. He currently resides in Coral Gables, Florida.

Pedro Portal was born in Havana, Cuba. He arrived in the United States in 1988, and currently resides in West Miami, Florida.

Eliana Rivero was born in Havana, Cuba. She immigrated permanently to the United States in 1961 and now resides in Tucson, Arizona.

Sara Rosell was born in Banes, Cuba. She left the island in May 1980 as part of the Mariel Boatlift and now lives in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

Ramón Rubio was born in Havana, Cuba. He left the Island in 1984 for Saint-Etienne, France and died in July of 2002.

Luna Rubio was born in Havana, Cuba. She left the Island in 1984 and currently resides in Saint-Etienne, France.

Virgil Suárez was born in Havana, Cuba. He left the Island in 1970. He has lived in Madrid and Los Angeles; and currently resides in Tallahassee, Florida.

Néstor Díaz de Villegas was born in Cumanayagua, Cuba. He left the Island in 1979 and currently resides in Los Angeles, California.