Women poets of Cuba: a selection of poems translated by Margaret Randall


Amelia Peláez_Cuban painter (1896-1968)_Fishes (1958)

Amelia Peláez_Cuban painter (1896-1968)_Fishes (1958)


Here we feature a selection of poems from the volume

Breaking The Silences: an Anthology of 20th-century Poetry by Cuban Women.

[ The original edition contained biographical introductions and quotations from each poet, with editing by / translations from the Spanish by, Margaret Randall. It was published in 1982 by Pulp Press Book Publishers, Vancouver, B.C., Canada. ]

. . .

Dulce María Loynaz (born 1902)

The Traveller


I am like the traveller

who arrives at a port where no one waits for her:

I am the shy traveller who moves

among strange embraces and smiles

which are not for her…

Like the lonely traveller

who raises the collar of her coat

on the great cold wharf…

. . .



Someone squeezed the juice

of a black fruit from my soul:

It left me bitter and somber

as mist and reeds.

No one touch my bread,

no one drink my water…

Everyone, leave me alone.

I sense something dark and wide

and desolate come over me

like night above the plains…

. . .

Mirta Aguirre (1912-1980)

All may come


All may come by the roads

we least suspect.

All may come from within, wordless,

or from without, burning

and breaking itself in us, unexpectedly,

or grow, as certain joys grow,

with no one listening.

And everything may open one day in our hands

with wistful surprise

or with bitter surprise, unarmed, undressed,

with the sadness of he who suddenly

comes face to face with a mirror and doesn’t see himself

and looks at his eyes and fingers

and uselessly searches for his laughter.

And that’s the way it is. All may come

in the most incredibly desired way,

so strangely far

and coming, not come

nor leave when left behind and lost.

And, for that encounter, one must gather poppies,

a sweet bit of skin, peaches or child,

clean for the greeting.

. . .



I know, friend,

it is all within me as in

a sonorously mute coffer.

All sleeps within me,

tremulously quiet,

and in active rest,

in a brief palpitation of palpitating entrails,

in such sweet presence as to be barely presence at all…

I know, friend,

my friend, blinder than dead serpents,

my friend, softer than overripe fruit:

It is all within me.


It is all within me silent, subterranean, fused

in pale stratas of light and silence,

nourishing my life,

growing my life…


There are sorrows that wear red in the streets.

There is a pride that screams.

There are joys in colourful dress

and songs that rent the sun.

There are many things, my friend, many things

– my friend, softer than overripe fruit –

at the surface of its skin.

And in me all is



so silent I can even forget it,

as dimmed as a child dying.

All as in a mutely sonorous coffer

trembling in stillness…

. . .

Digdora Alonso (born 1921)

Two Poems for my Granddaughter




You’ll soon know your name is Vanessa

and then

that Vanessa is the name

of a brilliant butterfly.

Then you’ll learn other words


atomic bomb



and we’ll have to tell you

what those words mean as well.




Vanessa asked me what a beggar is

and absentmindedly, thumbing the pages of a book,

I say:

“someone who asks for alms.”|

Then she asks again,

more insistently,

“what is asking for alms?”


I put down my book and look at her

I look at her long

I look at her through my tears

I kiss her and kiss her again

and she doesn’t understand why.


My granddaughter doesn’t know what a beggar is,

my granddaughter doesn’t understand asking for alms.

I want to run through the streets

congratulating everyone I see.

I want to go out into the streets

knocking at all the doors

and kissing everyone.

I want to go out into the streets.

. . .

Fina García Marruz (born 1923)

I too am now among the others


I too am now among the others

who looked at us, and with their air

of such infinite sadness, said “Go on, play”

so as to be alone. And in the lovely dusk

of those park benches, late afternoon,

what did they talk about, please tell,

and who were they?

Grownups, gods, we squirmed.

They seemed so alike, their slow

gaze, their far-off look, like a group

of trees holding an autumn day together.


I too am now among the others,

those we taunted from time to time

standing there like dumbells, so tired.

We, the little ones, we who had nothing

watched them unseeing, stunned

by the way they always agreed among themselves.


And now

that I have come slowly to their benches

forever one of them,

I too am now among the others,

the adults, the melancholy ones,

how strange, is it not?

. . .

This page too


The final wind will tear this page out too,

water will wet its letters til they become

impenetrable as stone, and lily-vane.

Their contours will fade like clouds

– those clouds that can no longer tell us why they move so sadly –

why they lost the key, confused the bond.

. . .

How rudely you speak to me


How rudely you speak to me!

Would that I understood

that lonely girl

struggling in a black sea

until exhausted she sinks,

would that I understood

the child devoured without pity

by the marine beast.

And even conciliate

his terrible cry and helplessness

with the untried flower,

in that passionless humility,

the radiance of an infinite blue sky.

. . .

You too


You said you were


not its master.


You too are alone.

. . .

Carilda Oliver Labra (born 1924)

Verses for Ana


I don’t have your way of staring in a mist

nor your hands like flowers on your lap;

all dead butterflies

and purple family sunsets give me pain…


But you, whose sadness is your crutch,

your blondness beneath the apple tree;

you know, nevertheless,

how to console the poor with the word saturday…


Where do you get that picture of sugar?

that warm arrangement of festive simplicity?


Ah, woman sustained by a musical colour,

how carefully they made your hands, half open…!

. . .

Rafaela Chacón Nardi (born 1926)

*Amelia’s Colour


Her delicate way

came from a blue planet

from indigo tinting

shadows or space… Dawn

open to crystal… Her own

way of taking

the first light’s secret

triumphed… And a thousand

formulas of moon and shadow,

of turquoise and of spring.

. . .

*Amelia Palaez, Cuban painter: 1896-1968

. . .



Immobile, transparent,

with neither blood nor pulsing vein

the grey gaze spent

Zoia is laid out

with the gentle gesture of a wounded dove.


Her tormented skull,

the pupil of her eye asleep in screams.

(When all this has passed

she will return to life

in fruits and grasses.)


Naked, immobile, dead,

budding light and shadows,

with her broad smile

surprising life

in triumph over root and hate and death.


Immobile, transparent,

with the gentle gesture of a wounded woman…

forever with us,

in you, Zoia, burning

on eternal snow:

Life salutes us!

. . .

*Zoia was a Soviet guerrillera, tortured and murdered by the Nazis. A Heroine of the Great People’s War.

. . .

Cleva Solís (born 1926)

The Road


You know the lark

will not abandon me

and so you judge my faith

safe in your lap.


I am at peace

because abandonment does not exist.

Only the road exists, only the road.

. . .

The Traveller


What do we know of the road

where a traveller

tries to avoid approaching the beggarwoman:

love’s perdition?


And so the violin suddenly

shakes off its indolence,

its useless ambiguity,

and takes leave in those

lilies, those roses,

veiled by the wind.

. . .

Teresita Fernández (born 1930)

A Fallen Needle


A fallen needle on the pavement,

a rose dried between the pages of a book,

a lofty selfishness…

Who am I? What is my name today?

Loneliness takes my only mirror.

Mole. Mortuary candle. Black snail.

Something like one hundred reduced to zero,

without shadow moving before

or a light within.

Dryness of an antique table.

Everything is too much in this desert.

I think of seeing you again.

Where did the perfume go?

Why does the bird come back

to peck at me?…

. . .

I escape


I escape from the anguish of beating

the unredeemed

and of ruminating infinite bitterness…

Agate, agate to my moan,

sphynx before my cry! Being so much

the same, I emerge

from a different pit.

. . .

Our Mother America

(To Cintio Vitier)


Grave mother of ours

rankled and sleeping.

Too simple,

my water’s game

cannot sustain your weight

nor comprehend the mystery

of your shore.

Now I think

of your love’s

possible eternity.

America Our Mother

I raise my open song

without the décima so ours

without the softly wailing flute

offering balm to your sorrow.

Newborn queen,

when do they leave you alone

on suicide waters

black with sin.

Upon your clean

mother indian breast,

original and eternal

as a shell,

a firefly,

the husk of an unnamed

brief and perfumed jungle,

place my poem.

. . .

Ugly things (a song)


In an old worn out basin

I planted violets for you

and down by the river

with an empty seashell

I found you a firefly.

In a broken bottle

I kept a seashell for you

and, coiled over that rusty fence,

the coral snake flowered

just for you.

Cockroach wing

carried to the ant hill:

that’s how I want them to take me

to the cemetery when I die.

Garbage dump, garbage dump

where nobody wants to look

but if the moon comes out

your tin cans will shine.

If you put a bit of love

into ugly things

you’ll see that sadness

will begin to change colour.

. . .

Georgina Herrera (born 1936)



And so the stork,

that long-leggéd bird of the grand venture,

as of today

stops working.

My reality has left her unemployed.

In the great room

so fabulously and artificially cold,

cornered by the greatest pain

and the greatest joy to come,

I work the miracle.

The Parisian

packs up her long and useless beak,

maternal bag,

her history and both her wings.

Ah, and her old invented journey.

I prefer birthing.

. . .



Watching my enemy’s corpse passing before my door…


My enemy is at peace.

So much so,

that he can’t tell calamity from joy.

Meanwhile…what to do

in my narrow doorway,

back turned on tenderness, seeing

that he doesn’t even bother

to leave by his own account.

They take him.

At the end of this July, as laughter

fades from my mouth,

my enemy is fresh.

I ask:

to what avail

have I longed for this moment

if he can no longer rival me?

My enemy, sightless,

passing before my door, unknowing.

My enemy should be coming in soon

through a wide door,

he’d have the whole silence

of her who pleads a bit.

What a time of shame he’s had

from misunderstanding reduced to insult

to poor revenge consumed.

Better to have been

the two of us here, like this:

braided, the fingers of both hands,

the two of us alive,

working for the good,


. . .

Lourdes Casal (1936-1981)

Conversation at the Bridgeport train station with an old man who speaks Spanish

(for Salvador Ocasio)


Torn coat

dusty shoes

thin white hair

Strange gentleman’s stance

I think: This old man has a Unamuno head.

Trenches rather than furrows

line his olive face.

He speaks haltingly.

Moves his hands slowly.

Sixteen years, he says,

Bridgeport and sixteen years of his life.

Sixteen years without sun

for these colourless trousers

and this bitter weariness

that give his smile a steel hue.

. . .

Now I know


Now I know

that distance is three-dimensional.

It’s not true that the space between you and me

can be measured in metres and inches,

as if the streets might cross each other freely,

as if it were easy to hold out your hand.


This is a solid, robust distance,

and the absence is total,


in spite of the illusory possibility

of the telephone

it is thick, and long, and wide.

. . .

I live in Cuba


I live in Cuba.

I’ve always lived in Cuba.

Even when I thought I existed

far from the painful crocodile

I have always lived in Cuba.

Not on the easy island

of violent


and superb palms

but on the other,

the one that raised its head

on Hatuey’s indomitable breath,

that grew

in passages and conspiracies;

that staggers and moves forward

in the building of socialism;

the Cuba whose heroic people lived through the sixties

and did not falter;

who has been

darkly, silently

making history

and remaking herself.

. . .

Magaly Sánchez (born 1940)

End of the First Act: Ovation for Théroigne de Mericourt*


The tricolour badge sings audacity on her hat,

pistol and knife at her waist,

her fingers threatening the enemy,

shouting, bread in her throat,

today as it rains water and

Revolution in Paris.

Théroigne de Mericourt

agitates the violent ladies of Liberty

(kitchen wenches, raging mamas,

a few of the concerned bourgeoisie),

and she captains the march of Justice

to the Royal Palace.

Théroigne de Mericourt advances,

the jubilant one, the actress,

Théroigne de Mericourt

in her best rôle of the season.

. . .

* Ana Josefa de Trevagne. An actress known for her talent and beauty. During the French Revolution she took part in the armed struggle, organizing a battalion of women.

. . .

Nancy Morejón (born 1944)

Woman in a Tobacco Factory


A woman in a tobacco factory wrote

a poem to death.

Between the smoke and the twisted leaves on the racks

she said she saw the world in Cuba.

It was 1999…

In her poem

she touched flowers

weaving a magic carpet

that flew over Revolution Square.

In her poem

this woman touched tomorrow’s days.

In her poem

there were no shadows but powerful lamps.

In her poem, friends,

Miami was not there nor split families,

neither was misery

nor ruin

nor violations of the labour law.

There was no interest in the stock exchange,

no usury.

In her poem there was a militant wisdom, languid intelligence.

Discipline and assemblies were there

in her poem,

blood boiling out of the past,

livers and hearts.

Her poem

was a treatise in people’s economy.

In it were all the desires and all the anxiety

of any revolutionary, her contemporaries.

A woman in a tobacco factory

wrote a poem

to the agony of capitalism.

Yes sir.

But neither her comrades nor her neighbours

guessed the essence of her life.

And they never knew about

the poem.

She had hidden it, surely and delicately,

along with some caña santa and cáñamo leaves

between the pages of a leather-bound volume of

José Martí.

José Martí (1853-1895)_Poet, journalist, Revolutionary philosopher_A Cuban national hero

José Martí (1853-1895)_Poet, journalist, Revolutionary philosopher_A Cuban national hero

Minerva Salado (born 1944)

The News


All arguments break down before the news.

The church remains to offer an ave maría,

its brief tower searching the hollow space of loneliness,

who knows: perhaps a gothic paradise

hidden beneath the monks’ skirts.

It seems that deep among the minor bourgeoisie

there’s always some adverse sentiment;

Marx predicted escapism and flight,

but lovers don’t,

those still anxious and hopeful witnesses.

Now where we move at this implacable spot

a collection of intentions will flower,

another word in your vocabulary,

a song repeated by multiple jugglers,

a new place for a poem in peace

– innocence, the sinuous noun,

language’s useless home.

. . .

Special Report for International Women’s Day


A woman is on fire.

She’s twenty and her body goes up in flames.

Her belly pulsates

her white breasts embraced and upright

her hips dance

her thighs simmer.

Anh Dai’s body

is burning.

But it’s not love.

It’s napalm.

. . .

Excilia Saldaña (born 1946)

Autobiography II


If we have to begin I want to tell you everything;

it’s not worth keeping it secret anymore.

I was born one August 7th, in 1946,

a year and a day after Hiroshima

(remember? our neighbour’s great achievement).

I was born because all attempts at abortion failed.

And because I was stubborn, even in that

my father was a playboy

(that’s what they called them in those days,

when the son of the family was a no-good-bastard).

Well, it wasn’t his fault,

like it wasn’t his fault that he smoked marijuana,

gambled and screwed around.

Imagine the context:

my trembling mother,

the proverbial cavity.

The thing is – as I was saying –

my father was a bit of a playboy…

And I was born.

When they saw me everyone knew what I’d be:

my mother, a doctor;

my grandfather, a druggist (the family name);

my grandmother, a teacher.

The dog barked; maybe she wanted me to be a bitch…

I grew chubby and cross-eyed,

abominably silly,

samaritan by vocation,

sister of charity, guardian angel

to birds, cockroaches and beggars.

And one fine day, when my

“high-yalla” future was all but set,

The Revolution came to power

(yes, I know you know all about

Agrarian Reform and Socialism).


I’m not going to talk about that,

but about my small anonymous life

collecting bullets and buttons,

listening to the arguments of the adults.

I want you to know I didn’t understand a thing,

but Fidel’s hoarse voice sent shivers down my spine.

I want to tell you my father slapped my face

the day I shouted “Homeland or Death!”

(Can you understand what that means

when there’s never been an embrace?)

I want to tell you the blue birds are moulting,

there’s unjustified mourning this tedious dawn.

The gods are so angry,

and there’s so very much lost

– and so much

– and even more.

Photograph of a small Cuban lizard...a "caguayo" of the species "anole"

Photograph of a small Cuban lizard…a “caguayo” of the species “anole”

Albis Torres (born 1947)



The long wooden steps

are ripe with pine needles,

an occasional travelling spider,

and the blue-green of the caguayo lizard,

dreaming himself a sphinx among the boards.


Lord and master of the planks,

passageway and railings;

tenacious; holding his poor kingdom

against poles and stones.


No one knows how long he’s lived,

running on the railings,

and when death descends from all his years,

no one sweeps his rotting corpse away,

opening and drying on the wood.



prints his obstinate figure

in the memory of passageways.

. . .

Coffee Field Dorm

(To Amarilys Rodríguez)


Ancient legends

of the coffee fields

conspire against us.

Some lost mule’s bell

sounds in the night.

Who knows

where he balked,

tired and frightened,

before the mocking

rustle or hiss?


But our laughter is stronger

than all the legends.

It’s us, compañeras,

rousing day among the leaves

and coffee beans,

dripping the night’s last yawn.


The cold, the toil,

the coffee jug from mouth to mouth,

rebuilds us as a single body.


Coffee field dorm,

woman’s good arm

against all that silence kills.

. . .

Mirta Yañez (born 1947)




keep in mind

that posterity is for

future students

– frivolous and curious passersby –

to take advantage

of the living flesh

poor poets have left

in their letters,

in their miserable sheets,

their gaze hanging from a tree.

But keep in mind – as well –

that poets dream

with their posterity

for which they build cathedrals

and poems.

. . .

Springtime in Vietnam


Ho Chi Minh,

winter won’t come to your verandah anymore.


Small citizens,

pale army wounded and fighting

beside the fuse,

the green fields in flames;

they return from battle,

in peace they hold the tide,

the roads,

the birds,

the peasant air.


Ho Chi Minh waits for them,

astonished spring.


You’ve fanned the buds

with a single flash

of your legendary hand.

. . .

Yolanda Ulloa (born 1948)

She went, she said, losing herself


If I write this poetry

it’s not just for my delight

but rather to give a fright

to that sinister treachery.

Violeta Parra


For Violeta was the name

of a flower,

an Andean woman,

her guitar.


Violeta, the name of a bird

that sings in the country’s hills,

that sings in Chillán.


Bass guitar,

and song made of wine,

copihue buried

in so much solitude.


Violeta alone, fighting

tears, sweat, the laughter and shouts

in her search for bread,

for a way to say mountains,

to tell the Mapuche

beware of the beast.


Alone once more and always she moves off

with the mist

of the Bío-Bío in her hair,

tall, perennial, strong as the jungle of the Americas,

as its deep oils.


Children danced a cueca about her,

lending joy to her soul,

her captivity.


Cautín River, Lautaro, Villa Alegre,

her body wounded but free

as an uncaged bird on the plain,

or the wind’s breast

rent as it crosses the peaks.


Because she filled memory

with image, bloom and song,

its limits in absence.


She stayed, beneath her poncho,

free from all:

bandore and bass guitar against her death.


Violeta was also the name of a shiver

of trees that grow,

their birth and death

under the fire of the earthquake at Chillán.

Violeta Parra (1917-1967)_Chilean composer, musician, singer and folklorist

Violeta Parra (1917-1967)_Chilean composer, musician, singer and folklorist

Soleída Ríos (born 1950)

Difficult Hour


The smoke traces its figure over the papers.

The smoke dances magically

around exhaustion and coffee cups.


I’m about to write:

“Uvero, December 6th, 1971.

Raúl, I’m reminded of your name –

daybreak and I are with you…”


But I’m awake.

Time wants to win this set from me.


In War Scenes it says

that after the surprise at Alegría

we came down

by the dog’s tooth,

and that once in a while a plane

circled over the sea.

That the worst thing was the thirst…


If I can’t untangle the knot of days that followed,

up to high ground and all that happened then,

I won’t be able to talk to the children

about The Republic of Cuba,

the great human victory at Girón,

nor the relative peace with which right now

I close my eyes again for an instant,

and open them to go on…

watching the smoke dancing its magic figures on the papers,

on this table, in this hut, by the light of this candle.

. . .

I also sing of myself


I celebrate myself, I sing.

Walt Whitman


I sing of myself because by force of love

I stand,

squeezing this curve of time

between my hands.


The morning stretches out over silence,

and my steps call back the high sounds.


I sing of myself and beyond,

I sing of what I will become

when night is rent by sun

and another music fills my footprints as I go.


I sing of myself

for having come from the breath of a summer

among these palms that will watch over me.

I take my place among the living,

I make infinite my thirst,

striking myself,

I sing.

. . .

Other poets not included in our selection here, but who were also featured in the 1982 book, are:

Milagros González, Lina de Feria, Enid Vián, Reina María Rodríguez, Zaida del Río, Marilyn Bobes, and Chelly Lima.

. . .

From the 1982 book’s foreward:

Margaret Randall has been living and working in Cuba for more than a decade. Her other books include: Women Now; Part of the Solution; Doris Tijerino; Inside the Nicaraguan Revolution; and Carlota: Prose and Poems from Havana. Since early in 1981 she has been in Managua, Nicaragua, where she is now working with the Women’s Association.

. . .

Margaret Randall was born in 1936 in New York City, USA.

She is a writer, photographer, activist and academic.

When she was in her 30s and 40s she lived in México, Cuba, and Nicaragua. In a 1987 interview, upon her return to the States, she said of the years she spent in Cuba, that she was wanting “to understand what a socialist revolution could mean for women, what problems it might solve and which leave unsolved.”

. . . . .

Poetry and The Revolution: Cuban poems from the 1960s

Wilfredo Lam (1902- 1982): Untitled (1957)_pastel on heavy paper and canvas

Wilfredo Lam (1902- 1982): Untitled (1957)_pastel on heavy paper and canvas


We have chosen the poems featured below from the anthology Cuban Poetry: 1959 to 1966.

The anthology was published by The Book Institute, Havana, in 1967.

The book’s prologue (Foreward) and biographical sketches were written by Heberto Padilla and Luis Suardíaz.

Editorial supervision for the book was through Claudia Beck and Sylvia Carranza.

. . .

Excerpt from the Foreward:

This is not an anthology of all contemporary Cuban poetry. It takes in only the period from 1959 to 1966; and only the poems of authors of several generations who have had at least one book published in those years.

We have selected the years beginning with the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, because during this period an extraordinary change has taken place in the life and work of our poets. It is easily discernible that the poetry written in these last seven years sharply breaks away from the poetics which to a large extent dominated our literature. A new universe of expression has dawned, a new truth, a new life.

We have been guided in our selection by the Revolution’s impact on our poets, and by the unique characteristics that make them outstanding in our language. It is an impact that delves into everyday reality, analyzing it and reflecting it in all its dimensions. Whenever possible, we have preferred a criterion of historic evaluation rather than an aesthetic one. Each poet is represented by those poems that we have considered to be more characteristic of his works, of his themes; but we have chosen with special care those that express the problems set forth by History. This does not mean that this selection of poetry is solely social or militant; reading it will prove just the opposite. It is simply the poetic testimonial of men of different ages and different literary backgrounds that carry out their work and are participants in one of the most intense and moving periods of our entire history.

. . .

Cuban Poetry: 1959 to 1966 focused on the verse of poets born between 1894 (Manuel Navarro Luna) and 1944 (Nancy Morejón – one of only two female poets – the other being Belkis Cuza Malé – included in the selection).

. . .

Translations from Spanish into English of the poems which follow were done in 1966 and 1967 by:

Claudia Beck, Rogelio Llopis, Sylvia Carranza, Stasia Stolkowska, and R. Frank Hardy.

. . .

Alcides Iznaga

(born 1914, Cienfuegos, Las Villas)



Time stands still in the school patio

amid fenced-in almond and cedar trees,

under a sky fraught with heavy rain,

between old and stately walls,

burning blindly,

non-committal and innocuous,

immutable, independent,

unattached to the trees,

to the fences and walls,

to the sky and the vertical air,

so free from corrosion

and so intense

that it fills to the brim the patio and the sky.

. . .



I remember you as the river we have lost and kept;

because we are impotent.

Now these birds are chirping.

Now the wind escapes.

Now the doves are flying

and I am sitting by the Hudson.


Some passers-by hurry along

and I ask myself whether their rush will get them anywhere.

I feel downcast,

and you have died so hastily and unexpectedly.


I see people dragging along the leash

lap dogs, mean looking and toy-like,

or listening to their toy-like, jabbering transistor radios,

completely unaware of Riverside’s charms at this time of day,

and I am touched by the way the wind seems to spur them on.


I cast a look on Time

and before losing what I lose

and giving what I give,

I know the reverse.

But we are impotent;

we are not the returning wind;

we are doves,

birds that chirp for a while

and are heard no more.

. . .



I see the afternoon take shape before me silently

but I have withdrawn to my airless room.

The afternoon has not diminished its brightness;

it brings out the green in the trees,

the marble-like whiteness in children’s cheeks,

the contrasting colours of nearby buildings;

but all this will last out an instant,

because the trees, the children and buildings

are one with the tremulous afternoon in my heart.


I pass my finger through its hair,

and touch a flower visibly withering

like the flower which yesterday bloomed everlastingly

and has now become minutes of ashes.

. . .



Very few Sundays did we have for us,

very few nights, too.

Behind the table we would seek refuge in ourselves:

joking, roughhousing,

and the pointless strolls on the Prado.

Why did we then waste away

those times so beautiful and ours?


I was somewhat hesitant toward you,

timorous – as I’ve always been –

instead of letting you seduce me.

Now all of me is in you, within you

– attentive to your every throb, even the least perceptible;

to your eyes that always dream;

to your eyes somewhat sad;

to your eyes so deep.

. . .

Day’s Story (A Variation)

(for Isabel Castellanos)


The day throws off its shell,

it rises and starts on its way

distributing winds, surge of waves, tenderness;

distributing songs and tearing down bastions

belonging to the absurd stage of our history;

slowly, it has to make a stop;

it transpires and smiles

and begins shaking hands with its friends;

and all begins to change,

and the taxi’s fare rejects the back seat

and sits in front with the driver;

and they both talk amiably

as though they were old friends;

on all this the day looks on quite pleased.


Some basilisks,

some executioners,

some businessmen,

some generals

try to block the successful day,

but it just slips away from them

like water through disabled fingers;

and only when its mission is fulfilled

does it make its voluntary exit,

colouring our thoughts with its irrevocable accomplishments.

. . .

Eliseo Diego

(born 1920, Havana)

Only This


Poetry is nothing more

Than conversation in the shadows

Cast by an ancient stove

When all have gone,

And beyond the door

Murmur the impenetrable woods.


A poem is only a few words

One has loved,

And whose order time has changed,

So that now

Only a suggestion,

An inexpressible hope,



Poetry is nothing more

Than happiness, a conversation

In the shadows

After everything else has gone

And there is only silence.

. . .

Jesús Orta Ruiz (Indio Naborí)

(born 1923, Guanabacoa)

Exposure and a Way


The new roof was not to have

Fifteen gutters deflecting rain.

The roof had to be only rain.


The moon did not appear;

Hidden were the stars.


But even so,

That night was a clear night.


We saw that men who differ

Go opposing ways,

And we struck out on ours.

A revolutionary soldier caught on camera by chance as he was struck by the bullet that killed him_Tirso Martinez_Cuba, 1958

A revolutionary soldier caught on camera by chance as he was struck by the bullet that killed him_Tirso Martinez_Cuba, 1958

Roberto Branly

(born 1930, Havana)

Reminiscence: January ’61


The Year of Education has hardly begun

and already we are hustling off to the trenches.


It was like the strategy of golf;

the manoeuvre followed by the tin-horn heroes,

by Wall Street’s golf strategy.


Hardly had we time

to whiff at the gunpowder from our rifles

and already the salt spray from the sea

and the gusts of winds announcing rain

were upon us;

we were like sentinels, with our eyes glued to the night.


We rested our mouths on the butts of our rifles

and bit into them during our sleepless wait;

we had a drawn-out taste of military life,

under the light of the stars,

amid the dew-covered, knee-high grass.

. . .

Antón Arrufat

(born 1935, Santiago de Cuba)

Tempo I


I look at your face

Before our fingers begin the work of love.

Love is a futile crime,

Much like death herself,

Because we always die too late.

I must stagger under

The cruelty of that presence

And that punishment

Beneath the sun.

(Snow never comes to console us in the tropics.)

. . .

Domingo Alfonso

(born 1936, Jovellanos, Matanzas)

People like Me


People like me

daily walk the streets,

drink coffee, breathe,

admire the Sputniks.


People like me

with a nose, with eyes,

with marital troubles,

who take a bus,

and one fine day

sleep underground,

unnoticed by all.

. . .

Crossing the River


The oxen and the horses wade through the waters of the river.

A yellowish, foam-capped streak of water rhythmically laps the river banks.

The horsemen goad the herd, make nervous use of their spurs.

The sweaty beasts are water-drenched.

Blood begins to stain the water.

A little girl is heard crying.

We do not know why.

. . .

Señor Julio Osorio


Señor Julio Osorio remembers every day the good old times

when not a year passed without his travelling to New York.

Those were the times my father was out of work,

and my sister Rita was the victim of old Doctor Beato’s offspring,

while my mother sewed pants on a Singer

for private tailors with a meagre clientele.


Now I work, my sister is about to graduate from High School,

and little do we care whether Señor Osorio

makes his yearly trip to New York or not.

. . .

A Love-Affair at Forty


Carlos never had a wife.

Luisa never had a beau.

Carlos longed to marry.

So did Luisa.

Luisa was thirty-five,

Carlos almost fifty.


Carlos and Luisa were united in wedlock.


Luisa was not in love with Carlos;

but had no use for spinsterhood.

Carlos was not in love with Luisa;

but was in need of a wife.

. . .

Poems of the Ordinary Man


I am the ordinary man;

during certain hours, like millions,

I go up and down elevators,

then I have lunch like everyone,

talk with students

(I carry no cross on my shoulders);

day in and day out I meet up with many people,

people who are bored, people who sing;

next to them my insignificant figure passes;

the soldier suffers, the stenographer stoops.

I sing simply of the things felt by

the ordinary man.

. . .

As Hard as Myself


As hard as myself

is that small man,

my constant companion;

inflexible, strong;

he weighs, he analyzes;

he judges every single thing.


But now and again

he lets me down;

he cuts a flower.

Dausell Valdés Piñeiro_born 1967_Cuban painter: "They are dreams still" (Son los sueños todavía)_acrylic on fabric

Dausell Valdés Piñeiro_born 1967_Cuban painter: “They are dreams still” (Son los sueños todavía)_acrylic on fabric

Luis Suardíaz

(born 1936, Camagüey)

When They Invented God


When they invented God,

Words hadn’t gotten very far;

The alphabet was still unborn.

This was at the beginning.


When they turned out the first books,

They stuffed them with metaphysics

(not even very well thought out)

And the bludgeon of the supernatural


It is a thankless task –

Launching forays against the outworn creeds

Of men long dead –

An ineffectual tactic.

Let’s put the angels in their place,

Consigning celestial vapours to oblivion,

And the fine biblical precepts

To the crucible of class struggle.


We materialists feel sorry for

That host of believers graduated from Oxford,

And stockbrokers who invent a hundred swindles

– and meanwhile go about their rituals,

Pressing their suit with heaven.


When they invented God,

Things were different.

Now we have to put our house in order.

In the beginning there was matter.

It was later on there came

All this mix-up about the heavens and the earth.

. . .



How much love

In a cup of coffee shared.


In hands

Fused in a single melody.


In the dusk

Opening and closing before the eyes of lovers.

. . .

The Seed


They told us,

“This is beauty.”

So that we

Might not see her for ourselves

Or create her for ourselves.


So now it is hard to say,

“This is beauty.”

And we refrain,

Since we would make a fatal mistake.

. . .

Armando Alvarez Bravo

(born 1938, Havana)

Concerning a Snapshot


Quite so, it is myself among them

In the snapshot,

And then it comes back again:

A peculiar mania we have:

The zealous hoarding of Time’s faces.


Still, I do not remember

Exactly, I have forgotten

That day, the light

Of that morning,

What we were talking about,

Who we were,

The wherefore of that picture.


Time has passed – thousands of years.

Days linked to one another in a chain.


Past is the time of facile reference.

And I learn suddenly

How terrible, how simple, how beautiful and important

Were the words, the names,

I got from books, from movies,

from the letters of that friend,


Passing hungry days in an ancient European city,

Invited me

To share his pride of exile.


Thousands of years have passed.

I am no longer this double,

Looking out at me, so alive,

Frozen forever on a landscape

Where some, perhaps, move about

Through comfortable force of habit,

Unconscious of erosion’s transformations.


Something has happened between us,

Making us different, separating us.

Our times are incongruent.

Wilfredo Lam (1902- 1982): La Barrière, or: The Barrier or The Obstacle or The Gate_oil on canvas_painted in 1964

Wilfredo Lam (1902- 1982): La Barrière, or: The Barrier or The Obstacle or The Gate_oil on canvas_painted in 1964

A Bit of Metaphysics


There we find ourselves again,

At home, sitting in the livingroom,

As though none of it had ever happened.

Outside, the over-reaching trees

Dig themselves into the night.

The silence – almost perfect.

Suddenly the rain begins,

As when one of us told the first lie.

. . .

David Fernández

(born 1940, Havana)

A Song of Peace


[ Associated Press: Redwood City, California, November 17th:

Only four days after reading a letter from their son in which he told them that his luck was running out, Mr. and Mrs. Silvio Carnevale received a telegram telling them of his death in Vietnam.

“I feel sick; sickened by what I’ve done and by what has happened to my friends,” said the letter. “I feel as if I were a hundred years old…My luck is running out. Please do whatever you can for me…Dad, I don’t want to die. Please get me out of here.” ]




Perhaps some time or other,

under rosy California orange trees,

stolen by your grandfather from our grandfathers,

you dreamed you might become

President of your nation,

or, perhaps, only an honest citizen.

Possibly the simpler dream only

spurred on your great-grandfather,

and when he fled from distant Italy,

and here founded family, homestead and new hopes

in North America, the new and promised land.




(I am only imagining,

only leafing through your possible history,

making up a future

you will never have,

since the promised land

has appointed you a grave

far away, very far

from your orange groves.)




Also, perhaps,

you never even knew

about this corner of the world,

known as Vietnam

where daily you are dying,

daily you feel how lost

your interrupted childhood,

where you lose all sense of logic,

where you wield a rifle,

(I know why but you do not),

no longer now in play.

Here arraigned against you

are the shadows and the trees,

the wind, the roads, the stones,

the very smoke from your campfire,

and the silence of the mountains,

none of them yours – nor to be.

And the drinking water, heat and rain.

And, of course, the bullets ––

the things you took there turned against you.




Perhaps you never thought

it could happen.

This is not a dream;

this is breaking something in you,

blotting out the orange groves

of your grandfather,

which are so far away.

Perhaps you would like to be there now,

sitting in the shade with your friends,

in the shelter of a song of peace,

because you are already fed up with the whole thing.

You never knew why

they cut off that song of peace in the middle.

Yet here you are, following after

others like yourself,

who came to destroy

the homes, the families, the budding hopes of this people

– this people named Vietnam.

You probably never heard of it

until that dark day when they sent you,

together with your buddies,

without a word to tell you why,

over to this land where now,

undone by the very arms you brought along,

you are dying, dying;

daily, hopelessly, endlessly dying.

. . .

Guillermo Rodríguez Rivera

(born 1943, Santiago de Cuba)

Working Hours


And now that things have settled anew

And can move toward their likely destiny

The grieving image will take another form.


That voice

Will not be heard again.

The presumably right way of doing things then

Will not be mentioned again.


One will pick himself up from that handful of dust,

From that terror of darkened stairways,

From the rains that made him shudder in the afternoon;

And will utter the word made flesh just now.

And will find that it suffices.

. . .



You will use words from stories you have read,

You will talk of seafoam, roses,

All in vain.

For you will understand that

This story is different

And cannot be written that way.

. . .

Víctor Casaus (born 1944, Havana)

We Are



We are.


We are

Above the yellow

Words of the cables

In this shining island

Which was built the day before yesterday.


We are,

Even with our eyes red from the dew,

With the fist and the shortcoming

And the mistake and the man who doesn’t know –

And the man who knows but has made a mistake.


We are underneath the weak

Smiles of the bland and defeated

Butterflies. We are forever in

This small zone we live in.


(To be,

simply to be,

is – in this place and in this latitude –

a by-no-means trifling victory.)

Cover of a "notebook" (cuaderno) of poems by Nancy Morejón_published in 1964

Cover of a “notebook” (cuaderno) of poems by Nancy Morejón_published in 1964

Nancy Morejón (born 1944, Havana)

A Disillusionment for Rubén Darío


“A white peacock passes by.” / “Un pavo real blanco pasa.” : R.D.


If a peacock should pass by me

I would imagine your watching over

its figure, its legs, its noisy tread,

its presumed oppressed walk,

its long neck.


But there is another peacock that doesn’t pass by now.

A very modern peacock that amazes

the straight-haired poet in his suit weatherbeaten by the saltspray of the ocean.


But there is yet another peacock

not yours,

which I destroy in the yard of my imaginary house,

whose neck I wring – almost with sorrow,


whom I believe to be as blue as the bluest heavens.

. . .

Miguel Barnet (born 1940, Havana)



Ché, you know everything,

Each nook and cranny of the Sierra,

Asthma over the cold grass,

The speaker’s rostrum,

Night tides,

And even how

Fruit grows, how oxen are yoked.


I would not give you

Pen in place of pistol,

But it is you who are the poet.

. . .



You and I are separated by

A heap of contradictions

Which come together,

Galvanizing all my being.

Sweat starts from my brow,

Now I am building you.

. . .

Barnet’s poems in the original Spanish:

. . .



Che, tú lo sabes todo,

los recovecos de la Sierra

el asma sobre la yerba fría

la tribuna

el oleaje en la noche

ya hasta de qué se hacen

los frutos y las yuntas.


No es que yo quiera darte

pluma por pistola

pero el poeta eres tú.

. . .



Entre tú y yo

hay un montón de contradicciones

que se juntan

para hacer de mí el sobresaltado

que se humedece la frente

y te edifica.


. . . . .

Poemas para el Ciclo de Vida: Anne Spencer: “Otro abril”

La poetisa Anne Spencer con su marido Edward y dos nietas_Lynchburg, Virginia, EE.UU._hacia 1930 / Poet Anne Spencer and her husband Edward in their Lynchburg, Virginia garden with two of their grandchildren_circa 1930

La poetisa Anne Spencer con su marido Edward y dos nietas_Lynchburg, Virginia, EE.UU._hacia 1930 / Poet Anne Spencer and her husband Edward in their Lynchburg, Virginia garden with two of their grandchildren_circa 1930

. . .

Anne Spencer (Annie Bethel Bannister, 1882-1975)

Otro abril


Ella está demasiado débil para cuidar a su jardín este año,

y no pudo hacerlo el año pasado; es una mujer mayor.

Las plantas lo entienden

entonces se agrupan pues crecen sin reservas.

La glicinia, púrpura y blanca,

salta del árbol a la caja-casa de golondrinas,

está arrastrado hacia abajo por globos de pétalos fragantes

que apuntalan y robustecen la vid, pues

desciende y toca la Tierra…y

se dispara otra vez

serpenteando, colgante – y

repiquetea: “¡Abril, de nuevo, aquí está abril!

Y la ventana de donde la vieja contempla

necesita un lavado ––

. . .



Oh, yo que había deseado tanto ser dueña de algún suelo

ahora mejor estoy consumida por la tierra.

La sangre al río, el hueso al terreno

la tumba restaura lo que encuentra un lecho.


Oh, yo que bebía del barro oloroso de la Primavera

devuelvo su vino para otra gente.

El aliento al aire, el corazón a las hierbas

mi corazón estando despojado,

entonces yo descanse.

. . .

Tierra, te agradezco


Tierra, te agradezco

por el placer de tu idioma.

Has experimentado unos momentos difíciles

trayéndolo a mí – del suelo –

gruñir a través del sustantivo

todo el camino hacia



forma de ver

sentido de olfato


–– dicho de otro modo:

el conocimiento que

¡yo soy! / ¡sigo aquí!

. . .

Poemas del florilegio Black Nature: Four Centuries of African-American Nature Poetry (Naturaleza Negra: Cuatro Siglos de Poesía Afroamericana sobre la Naturaleza) © 2009, Camille T. Dungy (editor)

. . .

Anne Spencer (Annie Bethel Bannister, 1882-1975)

Another April


She is too weak to tend

her garden last year, this

year – and old.

The plants know, and

cluster, running free.

The wisteria, purple and white,

leaps from tree to martin-

box dragged down by globes

of the fragrant wet petals

to shore up, strengthen the vine, then

drops to touch Earth, to shoot

up again looping, hanging,

pealing out “April again!”


April is here!…

And the window from

which she stares needs washing ––

. . .



Oh, I who so wanted to own some earth,

Am consumed by the earth instead:

Blood into river

Bone into land

The grave restores what finds its bed.


Oh, I who did drink of Spring’s fragrant clay,

Give back its wine for other men:

Breath into air

Heart into grass

My heart bereft – I might rest then.

. . .

[Earth, I Thank You]


Earth, I thank you

for the pleasure of your language.

You’ve had a hard time

bringing it to me

from the ground

to grunt thru the noun

To all the way

feeling      seeing     smelling     touching


I am here!

. . . . .

Cinco poetas irlandeses: Cannon, Sheehan, Níc Aodha, Ní Chonchúir, Bergin

Orange Tulip_a painting in progress by Eva K.

Moya Cannon (nac. 1956, Dunfanaghy, Condado de Donegal)
Olvidar los tulipanes
Hoy en la terraza
él está señalando con el bastón,
está preguntando:
¿Cuál es el nombre de esas flores?
Vacacionando en Dublín en los sesenta
ha comprado los cinco bulbos originales por una libra.
Los ha plantado, los ha fertilizado durante treinta y cinco años.
Los dividió, los almacenaba en el cobertizo sobre alambrada,
listos para plantar en hileras rectas
con sus corolas intensas de rojo y amarillo.
Tesoros transportados en galeones, tres siglos antes,
desde Turquía hasta Amsterdam.
Ahora es abril y ellos se balancean con el viento del condado Donegal,
encima de las hojas esbeltas de los claveles que todavía duermen.
Fue un hombre que cavaba surcos correctos y que recogió grosellas negras;
que enseñó a hileras de niños las partes de la oración, tiempos y declinaciones
debajo de un mapamundi de tela agrietada.
Y le encantaba enseñar el cuento de Marco Polo y de sus tíos que,
zarrapastrosos después de diez años de viaje,
volvían a casa pues rajaron el forro de sus chamarras
y se desparramaron los rubies de Catay.
Ahora, perdiendo primero los nombres,
él está de pie junto a su lecho de flores, preguntando:
¿Tú, cómo llamas a esas flores?

. . .
Moya Cannon (born 1956, Dunfanaghy, Co. Donegal)
Forgetting Tulips
Today, on the terrace, he points with his walking-stick and asks:
What do you call those flowers?
On holiday in Dublin in the sixties
he bought the original five bulbs for one pound.
He planted and manured them for thirty-five years.
He lifted them, divided them,
stored them on chicken wire in the shed,
ready for planting in a straight row,
high red and yellow cups–
treasure transported in galleons
from Turkey to Amsterdam, three centuries earlier.
In April they sway now, in a Donegal wind,
above the slim leaves of sleeping carnations.
A man who dug straight drills and picked blackcurrants;
who taught rows of children parts of speech,
tenses and declensions
under a cracked canvas map of the world–
who loved to teach the story
of Marco Polo and his uncles arriving home,
bedraggled after ten years journeying,
then slashing the linings of their coats
to spill out rubies from Cathay–
today, losing the nouns first,
he stands by his flower bed and asks:
What do you call those flowers?

. . .

Eileen Sheehan (nac. 1963, Scartaglin, Condado de Kerry)
Donde tú estás
Tú te tumbas en cualquiera cama,
te tumbas en el fondo, y el cojín acepta
el peso de tu cabeza,
el colchón recibiendo tu cuerpo como el invitado anhelado.
Te mueves durante el reposo
y las sábanas responden a tu giro;
las cobijas se adaptan y se amoldan a tu contorno.
El aire de la habitación toma el tiempo con tu respiración,
aceptando un desplazamiento mientras
yo rodeo las paredes de la ciudad que estás ‘soñando’.
Mis papeles
– están raídos y deshilachados al borde;
esa pintura que tengo de yo mismo – está nublándose,
manchada por la lluvia: mi cara está disolviendo enfrente de mí.
La noche te agarra en el sueño y estás aplacado por sus comodidades,
como las telas absorbiendo el sudor que despides.
Mis llantos van ignorados mientras estoy de pie por la verja,
implorando un acceso.
No hay nadie pedir ayuda mientras
te mudas una capa como te extiendes allí – roque;
mi solo testigo fiable.

. . .

Eileen Sheehan (born 1963, Scartaglin, Co. Kerry)
Where you are
You lie down in whatever bed
you lie down in, the pillow accepting
the weight of your head, the mattress
receiving your body like a longed-for guest.
You move in your sleep and the sheets
react to your turnings, the blankets adjust,
shaping themselves to your outline.
The air
in the room keeps time with your breathing,
accepts being displaced while I circle the walls
of the city you dream.
My papers
are worn, frayed at the edges;  that picture
I have of myself, clouding-over and spotted
with rain: my face is dissolving before me.  The night
holds you in sleep, you are stilled by its comforts;
by the fabrics absorbing the sweat you expel.

My cries go unheeded as I stand at the gate,
pleading admittance. There is no one to turn to
as you shed a layer of your skin while you lie there,
dead to the world;  my one reliable witness.

. . .
© 2009, Eileen Sheehan

. . .
Colette Níc Aodha (nac. 1967, Shrule, Condado de Mayo)
Buscando en los annales
por los acontecimientos que sucedieron
durante una época diferente;
recreando el Tiempo en las ruinas antiguas,
tocando la música de los ancianos,
pasos de baile de los ascendientes.
Anoche yo visité al lugar de mi padre
pero encontré la derrota de
una casa confeccionada de piel
mientras una otra ha estado dado forma
de abajo por sus huesos.
. . .

Colette Níc Aodha (born 1967, Shrule, Co. Mayo)
Searching the annals
for events which took place
in a different era
Recreating time in old ruins
Playing ancient music
Dancing steps of our ancestors
Last night I visited my father’s place
but found a ruin of a house
crafted from skin
as another was shaped
below from his bone.
. . .
Nuala Ní Chonchúir (nac. 1970, Dublin)
La luna está magullada esta noche.
Moreteada y hinchada está – pero
fanfarronea sobre nosotros
y jala júbilo a la rasca.
Luna de sebo, luna electrizante,
ella carga el cielo, y
es un foco descarado por encima de los árboles sazonados de escarcha.
Y aquí abajo, donde añoran nuestros ojos,
nos arrastramos a la iglesia en la plaza, y
hacemos las paces uno al otro – en el canto.

. . .

Nuala Ní Chonchúir (born 1970, Dublin)
The moon is battered tonight, bruised and swollen,
but she swanks above us, bringing joy to the chill.
Tallow-moon, electric-moon, she shoulders the sky,
a brazen spotlight over trees salted with frost.
And down here, eyes aching, we creep to the church
on the square, make peace with each other in song.
. . .
from: The Juno Charm (2011)
. . .
Tara Bergin (nac. 1975, Dublin)
Bandera roja
Una vez uno de ellos me mostró cómo:
Giras esta mano (la derecha) para agarrar la culata.
Giras esta mano (la izquierda) para agarrar el cañon.
Tocó mi rodilla,
y oculté mi sorpresa;
pero ahora ha cambiado su canción.
Tengo fiebre, golondrina, estoy enferma.
Su bandera ondula roja,
la puedo oír desde mi ventana,
la escucho raída como un trapo rojo rasgado.
Ve por él, pajarito,
ve y diles ¡peligro! ¡peligro!
Lo llevaré como Vestido Dominical.
Lo llevaré cruzando el páramo
donde practican con sus pistolas.
Qué avergonzados estarán
de lastimar a una muchacha
joven y bonita como yo.
. . .
Tara Bergin (born 1975, Dublin)
Red Flag
Once one of them showed me how to:
You turn this (the right) hand to grasp the stock.
You turn this (the left) hand to grasp the barrel.
He touched my knee,
and I hid my surprise –
but now he’s changed his tune.
I’ve a fever, little sparrow, I am sick.
Their flag is flying red,
I can hear it from my window,
I hear it tattered like a torn red rag.
Go and get it, little bird,
go and tell them danger! danger!
I will wear it as my Sunday Dress.
I’ll wear it walking on the moor
where they practise with their guns.
How ashamed they’ll be
to hurt a young and pretty
girl like me.
. . .

Versiones en español del inglés por Alexander Best, excepto Bandera Rojo de Tara Bergin: traducido por Juana Adcock (nac. 1982, Monterrey, Mx.)

. . . . .

“A la Vida” / “Here’s to Life”: canción distintiva de Shirley Horn

Loving elderly Black couple

A la Vida (letras: Phyllis Molinary / música: Artie Butler)
[canción distintiva de Shirley Horn (1934-2005)]
No tengo quejas ni arrepentimientos.
Aún creo en perseguir los sueños y hacer las apuestas.
Pero yo he aprendido ésto:
lo que tú das es todo que recibirás
– entonces dála una mejor vuelta en esta vida.
He tenido mi porción y he bebido más que bastante.
Y aunque estoy satisfecha, aún así tengo hambre de
ver lo que hay más adelante, más allá de la cresta de la colina
y hacerlo todo – de nuevo.
Pues, ¡a la Vida! y a todo el júbilo que nos jala.
Pues, ¡a la Vida! –– por los visionarios y sus sueños.
Raro es como vuela el Tiempo,
como el amor cambiará de hola acogedora hacia adiós triste;
como el amor te deja con los recuerdos que ya has memorizado
– para mantenerte caliente durante esos inviernos.
Mira, no hay “sí” en “ayer”,
¿Y quién comprende lo que lleve la mañana
– o lo que la mañana requise?
Pero siempre y cuando yo sea parte del juego pues quiero jugarlo
– por las risas, por la vida, y por el amor.
Entonces…¡a la Vida! y a todo el gozo que nos jala.
Sí, ¡a la Vida! –– por los soñadores y sus visiones.
Que soportares las tormentas, y
que mejorare todo lo que ya es bueno.
A la Vida… al Amor…
y…¡a ti!

. . .
Here’s to Life (lyrics by Phyllis Molinary / music by Artie Butler)
[as sung by Shirley Horn (1934-2005)]
No complaints and no regrets,
I still believe in chasing dreams and placing bets.
But I have learned that all you give is all you get;
So give it all you got.
I had my share, I drank my fill; and even though
I’m satisfied––I’m hungry still
To see what’s down another road, beyond the hill––
And do it all again.
So here’s to Life and all the joy it brings.
Here’s to Life––for dreamers and their dreams.
Funny how the time just flies,
How love can go from warm hellos to sad goodbyes,
And leave you with the memories you’ve memorized
To keep your winters warm.
For there’s no ‘yes’ in yesterday; and who knows what tomorrow brings or takes away? As long as I’m still in the game I want to play
For laughs, for life, for love.
So here’s to Life and every joy it brings.
Here’s to Life––for dreamers and their dreams.
May all your storms be weathered,
And may all that’s good get better.
Here’s to life, here’s to love, here’s to you.
May all your storms be weathered,
And may all that’s good get better.
Here’s to life, here’s to love, here’s to you!
. . .

Interpretación por Shirley Horn:


. . . . .

Brazilian Women Poets (Cadernos Negros / “Black Notebooks”, 1997): new translations from the Portuguese: Rufino, da Silva, Evaristo, Ribeiro, Vieira, Alves, Fátima, Tadeu

Steadfast and Strong_collage by Brazilian artist Ananda Nahu

Steadfast and Strong_collage by Brazilian artist Ananda Nahu

Alzira Rufino (born 1949, Santos, São Paulo state)
The black woman is not stopped
by this brutish thing
by this lukewarm discrimination
your strength is a secret
show your speech through your pores
your scream will echo in the city
they weed your dignity
as poisonous weeds
they hurt you with arrows commended
they experiment on you
your négritude – Blackness –
your whirlpool of forces drowns all around it
they don’t want your presence
they cross your name with absence
come, black woman,
be, black woman,
see, black woman –
after the storm

. . .
Mulher negra não para
por essa coisa bruta
por essa discriminação morna
tua força ainda é segredo
mostra tua fala nos poros
o grito ecoará na cidade
capinam como mato venenoso
a tua dignidade
ferem-te com flechas encomendadas
te fazem alvo de experiências
tua negritude
teu redemoinho de forças afoga
não querem a tua presença
riscam teu nome com ausência
mulher negra, chega,
mulher negra, seja,
mulher negra, veja,
depois do temporal
. . .
Ana Célia da Silva (born in Salvador da Bahia)
(To my father)
Down the street
there goes Joe,
sad and tired
Joe’s the people
Joe is Joe
An urn-less fakir
A stage-less actor
A nameless acrobat
There goes Joe
No present
No future
And any past he gets
he tries to forget
At times he cries
He rarely laughs
He always thinks
he’ll leave
as a sad inheritance
for the future
the tightrope
the shack
the empty casserole
and a bread-less family
. . .

(Para meu pai)
Descendo a rua
lá vai o Zé,
triste e cansado
ele é o povo
ele é o Zé.
Faquir sem urna,
ator sem palco,
acrobata anônimo,
lá vai o Zé.
Não tem presente,
Não tem futuro,
se tem passado
tenta esquecer.
Às vezes chora,
bem pouco ri,
vive pensando
que vai deixar
de triste herança
para o futuro,
a corda bamba,
o barracão
marmita vazia
e família sem pão.
. . .
Conceição Evaristo (born 1946, Belo Horizonte)
In writing hunger
With empty-palmed hands
when the hole-stomach
expels famished desires
there is, in this demented movement
the dream-hoping
for any leftovers.
In writing cold
with the tip of my bones
caring in my body the tremor
of pain and shelterless-ness
there is, in this tense movement
the warmth-hoping
for any miserable little vest.
In writing pain,
searching for the resonance
of another in me
there is in this constant movement
the illusion-hoping
for our doubled consonance.
In writing life
fading and swimming
on departure’s test tube
there is, in this useless movement
the treacherous-hoping
for catching Time
and caressing eternity.
. . .
Ao escrever a fome
com as palmas das mão vazias
quando o buraco-estômago
expele famélicos desejos
há neste demente movimento
o sonho-esperança
de alguma migalha alimento.
Ao escrever o frio
com a ponta de meus ossos
e tendo no corpo o tremor
da dor e do desabrigo,
há neste tenso movimento
o calor-esperança
de alguma mísera veste.
Ao escrever a dor,
buscando a ressonância
de outro em mim
há neste constante movimento
a ilusão-esperaça
da dupla sonância nossa.
Ao escrever a vida
no tubo de ensaio da partida
esmaecida nadando,
há neste inútil movimento
a enganosa-esperança
de laçar o tempo
e afagar o eterno.
. . .
Esmeralda Ribeiro (born 1958, São Paulo)
There is an island
There is ivory
There is an archipelago in me
I’m the same actress rehearsing
every day
the same love case
lived by a whisker.
Inside me
solitude dressed as a Harlequin
I’m that one that although full of bruises
makes her body like cinnamon
perfumed grass
for her negro to sleep
Inside me
Illusions drawn with Indian ink
I am that woman
trying to wake up sleeping beauties
but, inside, I am a princess
in profound lethargy.
Inside me
a warrior’s strength dressed in satin.
I am that one who at night
hides as a chameleon
eye’s pearly drops
in warm passion.
Inside me
lives at last the enigma of love.
I am that one which no verb translates
before the loneliness and the pain,
that one with insane behaviours
That’s me – the eternal
Mary Joanne.
. . .
Há uma ilha
há marfim
há tristes arquipélagos em mim.
Sou a mesma atriz que ensaia
todos os dias
o mesmo caso de amor
vivido por um triz.
Dentro de mim
solidão vestida de Arlequim.
Sou aquela cheia de hematomas,
mas que faz do corpo relva
com aroma de canela
pro seu negro dormir.
Dentro de mim
ilusões traçadas à nanquim.
Sou aquela mulher
tentando despertar belas adormecidas
mas, no íntimo, sou a princesa
em profunda letargia.
Dentro de mim
força guerreira vestida de cetim.

Sou aquela que à noite
esconde como camaleão
gotas de pérolas d’olho
na cálida paixão.
Dentro de mim
enfim mora o enigma do amor.
Sou aquela que nenhum verbo traduz
diante da solidão e da dor
aquela que tem atitudes insanas
Esta sou eu, a eterna
Maria Joana.

Ananda Nahu_Queen

Ananda Nahu_Queen

Lia Vieira (born 1958, Rio de Janeiro)
In the memory blinks
images of remote times
and recent things
The air is heavy
always has been
There’s hunger in the world outside
There’s no eating.
There’s tiredness in the world here inside
There is big fear
something frightful
As if nothing might
ever sprout again.
There’s something deformed here inside
Madness that explodes
about to crash / soul made of glass
Maybe is the answer I’m waiting for
Maybe is my ego
egocentric, egotistic, which
– throbbing –
is eager for love.
. . .
Pisca a memória
imagens de tempos remotos
e também de coisas recentes.
O ar está pesado
tem estado
No mundo lá for a há fome.
Não se come.
No mundo cá dentro há cansaço.
Há um medo grande
uma coisa de susto.
Como se fosse acontecer
não brotar nunca mais.
Há algo disforme cá dentro.
Loucura que explode
prestes a estilhaçar / alma de vidro.
Talvez seja a resposta que espero…
Talvez seja apenas meu ego,
egocêntrico, egoísta, que,
latejante …
deseja amor.
. . .
Miriam Alves (born 1952, São Paulo)
The night breeds chords
the joyful star turns into a moon
a dream’s sonata rolls along the asphalt
A sleeping sky confuses itself
the sun shines over it with
a middle-of-the-night smile
dew splashes on the roofs
The sky’s face muddles
half nights, half days
a dawn rises
a playful child is born
wrapped in dawn’s early hours
Wake up, day!
There’s eagerness for hope!
. . .
A madrugada respira acordes
estrela brincalhona enluará
sonata dum sonho rola asfalto
O céu todo em sono confunde-se
o sol ilumina-o com
um sorriso madrugada
respinga orvalho nos telhados
A face do céu confunde-se
meio em noites, meio em dias
desponta uma autora
nasce uma criança brincalhona
toda envolta em madrugada.
Acorda dia!
há fome de esperança!
. . .
Sônia Fátima (born 1951, Araraquara, São Paulo state)
The night brought me it:
I don’t know if I call it
I don’t know if I contradict it
or if I just don’t care about
the Benedict
. . .
A noite trouxe-me isto:
não sei se ligo para o dito
não sei se desdigo o dito
ou simplesmente não ligo
para o Benê-dito
. . .
Teresinha Tadeu (born in São Paulo)
The dirty water grabs you
quietly, falsely, and you don’t even scream
You mix your innocence
with crab feces and mud
And you sleep precociously
holding your toy.
Gliding over the water
under the stilts.
The sun comes and goes
and doesn’t dry you out
in its foamy sheets
You’re one less to share the bread!
. . .
A água insalubre te recolhe
quieta, falsa, e tu nem gritas.
Misturas tua alvura
com fezes caranguejo e lama.
E dormes precocemente
segurando teu brinquedo.
Deslizando sob as águas
debaixo das palafitas.
O sol se vem e se vai
e não te enxuga
no lençol de espumas.
És menos um, na partilha do pão!
. . .

Other Black Brazilian poets featured in Cadernos Negros


. . . . .

“The Road Before Us”: Gay Black Poets from a generation ago

Scotch Bonnet Peppers on Ice_B_February 2016

Preface to The Road Before Us: 100 Gay Black Poets (1991)
The Road Before Us could have taken a far different path. As its editor and co-publisher, what I wanted foremost was a collection that would provide one more stepping-stone on the road to gay black poetical empowerment. Too often this has been the road not taken.
Each poet in this volume is represented by one poem…..
I relish this mixture of styles, which are as wide-ranging as our concerns. The myths, metaphors, and mundaneness of our gay black community, like those of any other community, broaden and deepen everyone’s knowledge of what it is to be human.
Most of the poets in this anthology have never appeared in a book before…..
It is my dream that all these fine young writers will keep penning poetry, polishing their craft, and juicing up a literally dying art.
The title The Road Before Us is borrowed from a line in the poem “Hejira” that the late Redvers JeanMarie wrote about our friendship. He dedicated it to me. I cherish it. It is anthologized here. The choice of “gay black poets” rather than “black gay poets” was a personal one. I originally used the working subtitle Gay African-American Poets – to which some contributors strongly objected because they were not born in the United States and, moreover, have not chosen to naturalize as American citizens (as I have).
Afrocentrists in our community have chosen the term “black gay” to identify themselves. As they insist, black comes first. Interracialists in our community have chosen the term “gay black” to identify themselves. As they insist, gay comes first. Both groups’ self-descriptions are ironically erroneous. It’s not which word comes first that matters, but rather the grammatical context in which those words are used – either as an adjective or as a noun. An adjective is a modifier of a noun. The former is dependent upon the latter.
I have never labeled myself either Afrocentrist or interracialist. From reading or seeing my theatre pieces, many might characterize me as an Afrocentrist; but others might immediately characterize me as an interracialist because I have loved and lived with a white man for the past eleven years.
Although I make no excuses or apologies for the racially bold statements in my writings, I also owe no one any justification of my “till-death-do-us-part” interracialist relationship. While the black gay vs. gay black debate rages on, in much-needed constructive dialogue, we’d best ponder, as L. Lloyd Jordan did at the conclusion of his essay “Black Gay vs. Gay Black”(BLK, June 1990): “Who are gay blacks and black gays? Halves of a whole. Brothers.”
Furthermore, I consider my sexuality a preference. Most of us have an inclination to bisexuality that we don’t acknowledge or act upon. I am very proud of my gayness – which is not to be confused with homosexuality.
In the preface to his book Gay Spirit, Mark Thompson explains this distinction clearly: “Gay implies a social identity and consciousness actively chosen, while homosexual refers to a specific form of sexuality. A person may be homosexual, but that does not necessarily imply that he or she would be gay.”
I declare that a person may be gay – but not necessarily homosexual.
Colour – and it is much more than skin pigmentation – is not a preference. The same has not to this day been scientifically demonstrated regarding our gayness, which is so much more than sexual orientation. It’s hard to imagine that any writer in this anthology would ever want to change either his colour or his gayness, given a choice.
I realize that these views add fuel to the “fire and brimstone” pronouncements of those in far-right politics who argue that we lesbians and gays could change to “normal” if we wanted to.
While I agree with our lesbian and gay community’s tenet that some of us can’t change, I would stand up anytime to Jesse Helms and his ilk, and declare loudly that, whatever the case may be, I refuse to change. Far too many of us continuously let church and state dictate our fate, by submitting to their painful spiritual and political butt-fuck.
What does all this politics have to do with poetry?
As Judy Grahn said in a keynote address at OutWrite ’90: “Poetry predicts us, tells us where we are going next.”
Shouldn’t we, the poets in this anthology, dispatch to Helms our gay black poems each time he gets up in front of the Senate and spews forth yet another homophobic or racist harangue without fairness of debate and real challenge? Couldn’t fifty of us (one representing each state of siege that he wants to turn our USA into) also fax him full-size etchings of our dicks to be inserted in The Congressional Record. Then ours would not be the dicks of death – as popularly characterized – but truly the dicks of everlasting political life.
. . .
Some months ago I urged all the contributors who are HIV-positive or have AIDS to come out. I felt than, and I still feel, that there is nothing that those of us in this predicament could reveal in our bios that is more urgent and deserving of mention than our sero-positivity or diagnosis.
A number of contributors agreed. I applaud their trust and thrust. Others who have previously come out publicly chose not to do so in this instance. A few who I know to be in the last stages of HIV illness cited confidentiality and their right of privacy.
While sympathetic to the right of privacy issue, I also find it part of the overall problem. It fosters anonymity rather than visibility. And when we don’t show en masse the lives, the faces, and the hearts of AIDS – ours included – we are accepting all the connotations of shame, all the mystification of sin and repentance that those who are plainly simple-minded place on a virus.
AIDS is a Pandora’s Box.
There is real jeopardy in revealing sero-positivity, publicly or privately. In gay black poetry the issue has been primarily dealt with from a third-person narrative rather than a first-person focus.
Meanwhile, in highly disproportionate numbers compared to our percentage in the American population, and adding to the lowering of our expected paltry sixty-year-or-so lifespan as black men, there are many gay disappearing acts among us, too often played solo, or for a small – and not so captive – audience. As the late Joseph Beam, editor of In The Life, anticipated and stated: “These days the nights are cold-blooded and the silence echoes with complicity.”
Back in April 1988 Joe [Joseph Beam] stayed overnight at my apartment, as he always did when he visited New York City. I detected the [AIDS] syndrome beneath the moodiness, innuendoes, and fungus of the fingers. I did not disclose to him my own sero-positivity, although – thinking of it now – I believe that he detected more than just a holocaust obsession in the poems I shared with him.
What kind of “deadly guessing game” were Joe and I – two of the better-known gay black writers – supposedly leaders – and most importantly, friends – playing with each other? What kind of label do I attach to my name, after leaving unreturned messages on his answering maching, for not marching down to Philadelphia and knocking on / down his door?
Yes, I am sick of the destructive threats that HIV constantly poses to my life-partner, my lovers, my friends, my communities, and me. On my desk, pictures of Redvers [JeanMarie], David [Frechette], and Ortez [Alderson] – to whose memory this anthology is dedicated – are framed like icons.
Each time I write I hear their voices, backed by a chorus of others I loved (“One AIDS death every eight minutes; it ain’t enough to write, you gotta demonstrate!”) pound in my head, like those sanctifying drums, especially tambou assôto, I used to hear in my childhood in Haiti in the hours of darkness.
. . .
May the rhythm of our gay black hearts be as uplifting in our daily lives as it is in our essays, anthologies, films, rallies, one-night-stands – and poems.
May the rhetoric never rage like the grandstand of many pedantics in the gay white community, which we so often hasten to castigate for claiming to speak on behalf of our “rainbow” community.
And most of all, may we come to believe in each other – heroes, first, to ourselves – unafraid to “strike a pose” and take a stand.
Ours is a country where omens abound out of control. Ours is a country tempted by fascism. Ours is a country in a demythologized age, perhaps void of salvation. Yet I don’t believe in the destruction of America, but in a reconstitution that recognizes our fully participating gay black voices.
Silence = Death.
Writing = Life.
Publishing = Survival.
With sixty T-cells left, I live on borrowed time. However, self-pity and sympathy are not part of my survival kit – another factor why making this book a reality became a first priority.
But when I do die, killed like hundreds of thousands in this AIDS war, may it transpire that every Memorial Day – until the circus of media, clown masks of stigma, and jeers of hysteria stop in our country; and certainly until a cure is found, or at least until a do-or-die governmental, scientific, and societal commitment to discover one finally gets underway – my life-partner, mother, lovers, friends, fellow poets, somebody, anybody…burn the Stars and Stripes then toss the ashes over my grave.
And please don’t sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” – but, furiously, read back every poem in the following pages.
Assotto Saint, nom de guerre
Summer 1991, New York City

Scotch Bonnet Peppers on Ice_A_February 2016

Poems from The Road Before Us: 100 Gay Black Poets, edited by Assotto Saint, published 1991
. . .
Love Song
you move me to poetry
to song
you’re often in my thoughts
are my thoughts
moving me to poetry
to song
then to poetry
even your silence
tells me things
your heart can’t
and when you are near
you can no more
maintain than i
in a dream
i loved you long
and deep
you let go
i let go
without a touch
i awoke wet
you move me to poetry
to song
you’re in my fantasies
are my fantasies
you are moving me to poetry
to song
then to poetry

. . .
Eric Stephen Booth
An Exercise in Misogyny
So I lied and told her that I loved her
Starved, she took me seriously
My heart couldn’t make a U-turn
Out of pity I married her
I hit her when I was wrong, then gave her
Roses with thorns to reconfirm our vows
Out of fear of being exposed
Growing up just like dad
Through journeys of weekend violence
It dawned on me after our fourth child
That my heart wasn’t steering
And my brain was on automatic drive
She damned me to hell
My mother couldn’t believe her ears
After a lifetime of masculine strife
I came face to face with my fears
. . .’

Rory Buchanan
I was taught
men marry women
have two point five kids
ranch homes in suburbs
with impossibly green lawns
surrounded by
pristine white picket fences
shop at pathmark and k-mart
buy tools from sears
go to church every sunday
pray for salvation
find mistresses when bored
I was told
it was wrong to
love another man
touch the way I do
mingle spirits and fluids
feel okay about who I am
listen to my heart
expose the real me
admit to being gay
I was warned
that if I followed my
unconventional desires
slept with a man
satisfied wants
fulfilled needs
I would burn in hell
fry forever
I tell them
“Start the barbecue”.
. . .
John E. Bush
Remember Me
Remember me for the love I gave
and tried to give
for the companionship we shared
held dear
– remember me.
Although I would have liked
our time together to have been longer
so much I wanted to do
so much you expected of me
it was not to be
– still remember me.
Think about those good times
when we laughed and dined
at the table of fellowship
good times now gone
yet preserved forever in your memory
– remember me.
Know that my love for you
was not one that was duty-bound
but it emerged sincerely
from some unknown place
a love once mine
now left to you to hold
and pass on to others
when it is your turn to leave
– so remember me.
Not in a sorrow of despair
but triumphantly
remember me.
. . .
Rickey Butler
After the Fuck
when the sheets are up
the curtains drawn
and your eyes get all fuzzy
because of the sun,
don’t disappear
. . .
Don Charles
Pony Boy
White man
Wealthy man
Bed is cold
Body old
Black man
Healthy man
Firm and young
Heavy hung
Silver man
Pays to score
Horny guy
Out to buy
Mocha man
Plays the whore
Life is hell
Got to sell
Business man
Hotel suite
So discreet
Hustler man
Hired lover
Money’s right
Spends the night
Respected man
Life of leisure
Owns the town
Sneaks around
Survivor man
Selling pleasure
Rich man’s toy
Pony boy
. . .
J. Coleman
When I write to Godmother
I’m careful with
Slang takes a holiday
careful not to twist
my tongue
She must not hear the
loose metaphor nights
nor smell the necks I’ve licked –
I don’t smack my lips
She must not see
the boys I’ve kissed
nor hear the whispers –
She must not examine my prose
for nuance
nor read between
too many lines –
But if asked
I won’t deny perdition –
What price
a letter!
I feel pen pricks
in my soul.
With a clean sheet of paper in hand
and newly brushed teeth
I ask
“How are you?”
. . .
Carl Cook
Love Letter #25
September has
the clearest air
the coolest nights
the brightest moons lie still
like autumn leaves
I am renewed
by thoughts of you
my love
I may need to wear a raincoat
galoshes made of manufactured latex
an umbrella wide enough
to keep us dry
in a sudden storm
But I am
of the faith
that storms will pass
the rains will dry
and love as cool and clear
as September air
will still be ours
. . .

Rodney G. Dildy
The heroes have died
Died twisting to blind
leadened boogies
Died broken blue midst indigo
moods, sworded bone
unsheathed ivory
blood-burned biceps
Died cold-dredged
thru mute catfish alleys
My heroes
they have all died
over or underqualified
neglected or exposed
from genius and gross
Died dirty-nailed
Died gem-cysted
Scotch Bonnet Peppers on Snow_A_February 2016
Sean Drakes
Love Lesson #1
(To Richard Cousar, whose death to AIDS encourages safer-sex behaviour, drives knowledge-sharing, stimulates my artistic responses to the epidemic, and has taught me what love feels like.)
A summer Sunday on Christopher Street
brought us together:
Two black gay men
yearning for love.
Quicker than instantly,
we shared secrets, passion,
weekends and underwear.
Suddenly, my six months exhausted,
I had to package
then file
this ideal come true.
I was twenty-one,
he, forty-three,
and rekindling
a thirteen-year romance
as I coped with foreign feelings.
The bright winter moon
guided me –
a messenger of good will
and faith
in a plastic pouch –
to and from his hospital
Day by day,
and offerings failed
to salvage my friend,
till after I hung up the phone,
a restless night
. . .
Roy Gonsalves
Black Summer
I know what it’s like to pick peppermint
from my garden
to make tea to calm my shattered nerves
wishing for magic to render sanity.
I’ve torn memories in my photos
ripped decorations by ex-lovers
snipped petunias for fun
burned hate letters in the fire of the grill.
I know what it’s like to recite
eighteen psalms in one night
to pray not to become one of Satan’s disciples
and cast a deadly spell.
I’ve heard whispers from my lover’s lips
telling me he’s sleeping with my so-called friend
I’ve lived harlequin romances
and watched them turn into bloody nightmares
where I became the murderer.
I know what it’s like to plot murder
to shoot a friend in the face
and watch his smile fall blank
to beat bloody my belovéd
with a hammer
and leave him in the cellar.
I know what it’s like to choke on hatred
despise the image in the mirror
and every living thing that moves.
I know the terror of being alone
for fear I might kill myself.
I’ve seen impatiens in my garden
shrivel up and die before my eyes.
I know what it’s like to be dead.
I’ve been to a funeral
in my own home
heard the ancestors scream:
“It’s not your time…”
I’ve watched summer turn black.
I know what it’s like to have your heart
turn into hot ice
waiting to burn.
. . .
L.D. Hartfield-Coe
You have been wasting a life /
with struggle and strife /
still you wonder /
late at night /
will the dawn ever come /
the rain stop /
so you can /
reach out for the light /
and make amends /
raining again /
will the sun ever shine /
a rainbow will be his sign /

. . .
F. Spencer Irvin
Black Culture in the Park
There’s a lot of culture in the park.
From the handsomest B-boys
To the sassiest Divas;
The Black Bourgeosie
To Homeless America.
There’s a lot of culture in the park.
A large wooded area:
A place with fountains and ponds,
Hills and rocks, grass and trees
Where “boys” walk, look, searing,
And men grope, seek, searching
For orgasms.
Do you practise “safe sex”?
Neither did they.
There’s a lot of culture in the park.
A youngman of twenty-eight or so:
A beautiful man, but a man of the streets –
Survivor – he asked me to pay him
Three bucks, and he’d take care of me.
There’s a lot of Black culture in the park.
. . .

G. Winston James
To Be Brave
Can you hear my footsteps as I approach the waiting grave?
Can you see my despair as I descend into death’s cave?
Do you recall the day when I imbibed that savage blood?
Do you know of shattered dreams, crushing of frozen rosebud?
How can I look ’round at my prints buried in the deep snow?
How can I bear that as it melts all trace of me will go?
Can you hear my footsteps as I approach the waiting grave?
If so, will you be there with me to help me to be brave?
. . .
Redvers JeanMarie
(for Yves Lubin)*
There were no colours
A night without azure
And a cloud-covered moon misted
Our skins
Such yearning could not be pinned
A rustle of trees gave no answers
Nor the ambient air
A sense of plenitude
The road before us with no symbols
A restrictive sense of nothingness
Wrapped us firm
I’ve a natural strength
And can follow with you
I heard myself
Questions long forgotten
What we’ve become
Has no name
. . .
* Yves Lubin = Assotto Saint
. . .
Sidney Curtis Johnson
Sunday, November 6, 1987
He came
the day
its reason.


I stared
a child
at the circus
dim hope
his call.

. . .
Anthony B. Knight-Dewey
Loneliness is an abandoned house.
It creaks with stillness and rests
on the blackness of its foundation.
It sits alone in the backyard of our minds,
yet stands out and demands recognition.
It hides elusively behind the rubbish of life,
yet shines a light most radian from its highest loft.
It is weather-beaten from years of torment and anguish,
but still retains its shape and strength.
Loneliness gives no clues or suggestions.
Secrets are hidden and locked away in the attic of darkness.
Groans and cries race through the pitted corridor
down the infested stairwell
to the moldy basement.
Loneliness gathers dust in the dungeon of time.
The windows of hope and aspiration are boarded up
with the greyness of despair.
Yet, only in loneliness does one experience
all those dimensions that are one,
those distant faraway lands of beingness –
the spirit supreme,
the temple eternal.
. . .
Steve Langley
My name Butch
I work at the hardware store
I got this l’il gal I be messin wif
Fine as shit
She wanna move in wif me
But I don’t need no bitch up under me
Wantin this and that
I be hangin out at this punk club
Somethin to do
I may get a drink, get high
But I don’t talk to nobody
If I do hook wif somebody
I go to they place
I may let em suck my dick
I may fuck em
But I don’t be kissin em
And they bet not try to kiss me
I’ll beat the shit out of em
I don’t give em my name or my number
Not my real one
Once I git off
I’m gone
. . .
Harvey J. Lucas
Too Late to Say I Love You
(for David)
Often he was parental,
But the rebellious pride masked
His contentment with concern.
Often he was great,
Generic in dress – forceful passion –
And a dynamic friend.
Often he was risqué,
Public kisses – arrogant smirks –
Not afraid to say anything.
Now, I often remember him:
Consumed by that inscrutable entity
Of eternal silence.
. . .
Jerome Mack
i wish i could
rid myself
of this skin
that covers me
subdue carnality
pick fights
with truth
pull husk
over conscience
i would…
there’s just no
hiding place

Scotch Bonnet Peppers on Snow_February 2016
Scott Mackey
I Couldn’t Speak His Language
(for Romuald Du Clos de Saint André)
when i first me him
he was only a boy,
but not really.
he allowed me to believe
i was in control – the man,
old, wise and mature.
reality obscured the dream
i couldn’t speak his language.
he knew
but needed to hear
what i couldn’t say.
a part of me burns
as i become
desperately aware of my mortality.
i didn’t realize
how important
words could be.
. . .
Vernon Maulsby
Gender Bender
(To Richard)
Is it safe for me
to let my hair down
and speak freely with you?
Will this woman’s heart
speaking through a deep throat
make you dismiss me
as just another gender bender,
incomplete in your eyes?
Can I share the men I’ve loved,
the women I’ve liked, the fears
of death that sired my children?
Would you understand,
or should I just sit here,
and make lewd jokes, as we
talk of sports I never watch?
. . .
Rodney McCoy, Jr.
I used to dream
of a ghost in
Dreaming of
tightening around
my finger
like a blessing
or was it a noose
These dreams
were my mother’s smile
handed down
to my sister
and me
thinking it was
our birthright
our duty
our gift to her
But the day I kissed
your mustached lips
to me
Those dreams
and my mother’s smile
popped loud
absent forever
. . .
Jim Murrell
Infinite carapace of day ingathers hard, riding noon fire
On molten hillocks beyond the coral.
Sun-drovered come
Sarabands of iodine, nomad across the sea grape.
Pupils burn to pinpoint smoke: rolling glitter of
Water’s desert.
Our boat burns in rise and slap
And indigo swells from the east:
My father, the friends of his youth, myself.
And I am thirteen, struggling to man manliness.
Head, heart, stomach…vortex.
Resolve eddies on fuming wash of clubbed fish blood.
Betrayal of inner ear for which gravity is not enough.
And the rum talk: pompous, monotonous.
Men and ritual braiding the deep world into submission –
Pattern of a weaving,
A harnessing I cannot learn.
. . .
L. Phillip Richardson
The Book of Lists
so fickle ink on first acquaintance
i penciled them in
the urban gods
the fleeting sparkles
the would-be stars
were the heavens kinder those days
by name i now browse the list
the ABCs of ruthless order
unordered by homeless strays
the innumerable nicknames
attached to numbers
on unattached slips of paper
at home in my book
like family
i remember the first call
in my ear the first word
high on “hi”
the voice vibrating man vibes
then the jittery jive
of jigsaw sympathies
the flirts
the dirts
the jerks
the hurts
still hurting
suddenly i see
the old book older
its frayed memories losing the fray
as some fall free
come loose without restraint
no spine
no rubber binds them
holds them close
i chill
with each name i can’t erase
how graceless and cheap faint recall
leaving dead men in leaded glory
in the book of lists
i keep
. . .
Bryan Scott
Roller Coaster
You’ve called but haven’t spoken.
You’ve expressed but haven’t clearly stated.
You’ve suggested but haven’t taken action.
You’ve reached out but haven’t connected.
You’ve touched but haven’t felt.
You’ve been here yet you seemed elsewhere.
You’ve mentioned “love” but implied “like”.
Before I get on this emotional rollercoaster
I’d better listen to the silence…
. . .
Jamez L. Smith
Dreaded Visitation
(for my Grandmother)
The knock on the door
on the lazy Saturday afternoon
like the toll of Donne’s bell.
Someone runs
and turns the television off.
The air becomes as still
as a dead fish.
Slowly, carefully,
Grandmama tips toward the window.
Another knock breaks
the silence,
and Grandmama freezes
like a doe suddenly aware
of the hunters stalking her.
Grandmama reaches the window
and, recognizing the form outside,
breathes a sigh of relief.
She opens the door.
“What took you so long?”
the visitor asks.
Grandmama replies:
“We thought you was a Jehovah’s Witness.”
. . .
Marvin K. White
Last Rights
When I learned of Gregory’s death
I cried silently
But at the funeral
Giiiiirl I’m telling you
I rocked Miss Church
Hell I fell to my knees twice
before I reached my seat
Three people had to carry me
To my pew
I swayed and swooned
Blew my nose
On any and every available sleeve
The snot was flying everywhere
Then when I finally saw his body
My body jerked itself
Right inside that casket
And when I placed my lips on his
Honey the place was shaking
I returned to my seat
But not before passing by his mother
Who I’m sure at this point
Was through with me
I threw myself on her knees
Shouting “Help me
Help me Jesus”
When someone in the choir
Sang out “Work it girl
Wooooork it”
All hell broke loose
I was carried out
Kicking and screaming
Ushered into the waiting limo
Which sped me to his family’s house
Where I feasted
On fried chicken
Hot water corn bread
Macaroni and cheese
Johnny Walker Black
Finally in my rightful place
. . .

Andre De Shields
His (Blues) Story
Verse I
Before there was Desdemona,
Iago would warm Othello’s bed.
Before there was Desdemona,
Iago would warm Othello’s bed.
He would sharpen his sword,
Fill his lamp with oil,
And rub his woolly head.
Verse II
Before Caesar knew Cleopatra,
He would hold Mark Antony to his chest.
Before Caesar knew Cleopatra,
He would hold Mark Antony to his chest.
And that’s why the Queen of the Nile
Invited a serpent to make a home in her breast.
Stop Time
Now Achilles destroyed the Trojans
Because of a boy in his tent.
And if it hadn’t been for Jimmy Baldwin,
Young Giovanni would’ve had no rent.
When Alexander marched out of Egypt,
He was fierce; he was festive; he was grand.
And when Jesus chose his disciples,
He made everyone a man.
Verse III
when you study your history,
You’d better learn it like you should.
‘Cause after God created the Heavens and the Earth,
And separated the light from the darkness,
And divided the water from the waters,
And gathered the dry land from the seas,
And produced vegetation according to its kind,
And hung the moon, and sun, and stars in the sky,
And threw birds in the air and fish in the ocean,
And placed wild creatures in the forest,
God said:
“I’m lonely. I think I’ll make Me a man in My image.”
And, so, He did.
Then, God looked around at all He had done and shouted:
“This is good.”

. . .

Assotto Saint (born Yves François Lubin) was a Haitian-American poet, performance artist, musician and editor. He increased the visibility of black queer authors and themes during the 1980s and early 1990s. In addition, Saint was both one of the first black activists to disclose his HIV-positive status and one of the first poets to respond to the AIDS crisis in his work.

Assotto Saint photographed by Robert Giard in 1987

Assotto Saint photographed by Robert Giard in 1987

. . . . .

Audre Lorde: poemas traducidos (1962-1973)

Retrato de Audre Lorde por Bruce Patrick Jones_grafito y acuarela_2016 / Portrait of Audre Lorde by Bruce Patrick Jones_graphite and watercolour_2016

Retrato de Audre Lorde por Bruce Patrick Jones_grafito y acuarela_2016 / Portrait of Audre Lorde by Bruce Patrick Jones_graphite and watercolour_2016

Audre Lorde (18 de febrero de 1934 – 17 de noviembre de 1992)

Carbón (“Coal”, 1962)
“Yo” es
el negro completo,
algo hablado del interior de la Tierra.
Hay muchas clases de “abierto” –
como un diamante se vuelve en nudo de llama,
como un sonido se vuelve a una palabra,
coloreado por quien-paga-cuál para hablar.
Algunas palabras son abiertas
como un diamante sobre ventanas de cristal,
cantando en alto dentro del choque pasajero del sol.
También hay palabras como
apuestas grapadas en un libro perforado
(cómpralo, fírmalo, y despedázalo)
y pase-lo-que-pase anhela todas las oportunidades;
queda el boleto, y un diente extraído (incorrectamente)
con un borde desigual.
Unas palabras viven en mi garganta,
engendrandas como culebras.
Otros conocen el sol,
buscando como gitanos sobre mi lengua
para explotar a través de mis labios
– como gorriones jóvenes que brotan de su cáscara.
Hay ciertas palabras
que me importunan.
“Amor” es una palabra – y una otra clase de “abierto”.
Así como un diamante se vuelve en nudo de llama,
yo soy “Negro” – porque me origino del interior de la tierra.
Ahora: agarra mi palabra – como una joya – en la luz abierta.
. . .
Libro de cuentos en la mesa de la cocina
(“Story books on a kitchen table”, 1970)
La matriz dolorosa de mi madre escupió algo: yo.
Escupió “yo”
en su arnés incómodo de desesperanza,
en sus engaños,
donde la ira me concibió (una segunda vez),
perforando mis ojos, como flechas
señaladas por su pesadilla de la “ella” que yo no me volvía.
Y ella, yendo, dejó en su lugar
unas doncellas de hierro que me protegieran;
y mi comida fuera
la leche arrugada de leyenda
donde yo, envuelta de pesadillas,
vagabundeaba a través de las habitaciones aisladas de la tarde.
Las pesadillas llegaron de los
Libros de las Hadas
en colores de
Naranja y Rojo y Amarillo,
Púrpura y Azul y Verde.
En esos libros
las brujas blancas gobernaron
la mesa vacía de la cocina;
y ellas ni lloraron ni ofrecieron de oro a nadie
– nunca –
y ningún encantamiento cálido por
la madre desaparecida de una niña negra.
. . .
Generación II (“Generation II”, 1971)
Una chica negra
– que iba en / crecía en
la deseada mujer para quién
su madre había rezado –
está caminando sola
y tiene miedo de
sus iras – ambas iras.
. . .
La revolución es una forma de cambio social
(“Revolution is one form of social change”, 1968)
Cuando el Jefe está ocupado
haciendo “niggers”,
pues no importa
cual es tu tono.
Si se agota un color específico,
siempre el Jefe puede cambiar a tamaño;
y cuando ha eliminado los grandes
pues cambiará hacia el sexo
que es
– seamos realistas –
donde comenzó Todo.
. . .
Una planta de alcantarilla crece en Harlem
Yo mismo, soy una extranjera aquí –
¿Cuándo parte el próximo cisne?
(“A sewerplant grows in Harlem
I’m a stranger here myself –
When does the next swan leave?”, 1969)
¿Cómo está hecho la palabra hecho carne hecho acero hecho mierda
por embutirla dentro Sin Salida
como una bomba casera
hasta que explota
y se unta
y está hecho real
– contra nuestras ventanas ya sucias –
o por purgarla en una fuente verbal?
Mientras tanto, los “Ellos” editoriales
– que no son menos potentes –
se preparan para asfixiar a los “Nosotros” reales
con un flujo manufacturado de todo nuestra mierda no verbal.
¿Te has levantado durante la noche,
estallando de comprensión,
y el mundo se disuelve hacia un oído escuchando
(y puedes verter en ese oído todo lo que sabías
antes de despertarte)
pero descubriste que todos los oídos estuvieron dormidos
o quizás anestesiados por un sueño de palabras;
porque, como estás gritando en esos oídos
– una y otra vez –
nada se mueve
y la mente que has alcanzar no es una mente que funciona?
Por favor, que cuelgues pues marques de nuevo el número de malasuerte…
Cuelga, (por favor), pues muere.
La mente que has contactado no es una mente operativa.
Por favor, que cuelgues pues mueras – de nuevo.
Hablar con alguna gente es como hablar a un váter.
. . .
Rock Amor-Duro #II (“Hard Rock Love #II”, 1971)
Escúchame, Hermano,
te amo, t’amo-t’amo-t’amo,
entiéndeme / cávame
una tumba de un otro color.
Estamos ambos echado / mintiendo
uno al lado de otro en el mismo lugar
donde tú me pusiste;
y más hondo todavía.
una soledad no resuelto por llorar;
ciudades saqueadas no reconstruidas
por consignas,
por punzadas retóricas
que fuerza una cerradura
que siempre ha sido abierta.
“Ser Negra
No Es Bella”, baby.
Bel amor, chico bello
– hazlo otra vez.
es es
no estar exprimida / chingada
al mismo tiempo
de arriba y del lado.
. . .
Poema de Amor (“Love poem”, 1971)
Habla, Tierra,
y bendígame con lo que es más rico;
haga el cielo desacelerar la miel de mis caderas:
rígidas como las montañas,
extendido sobre un valle,
forjado por la boca de la lluvia.
Y lo entendí cuando entré en ella
que fui el viento alto en sus bosques,
dedos huecos susurrando sonido.
Una miel fluía
de la copa rajada;
Estuve empalada en una lanza de lenguas,
en las puntas de sus mamas,
en su ombligo.
Y mi aliento
aullaba dentro de sus entradas
vía pulmones de dolor.
Avara / ávida como gaviotas argénteas
o como un chamaco,
me balanceo por lo alto / sobre la Tierra
sin parar.
. . .
Ruptura (“Separation”, 1972)
Menguan las estrellas;
no me premiarán,
aun en mi triunfo.
Es posible
en autodefensa
darle un balazo a un hombre
pues todavía notar que
su sangre roja
adorna la nieve.
. . .
Ahora (“Now”, 1973)
Fuerza / Poder de Mujer
Fuerza / Poder de Negro
Fuerza / Poder del Ser Humano
siempre sentir.
Late mi corazón
mientras se abiertan mis ojos,
mientras se mueven mis manos,
mientras cuenta mi boca.
Yo soy
¿eres tú?

. . .

Memorial III: de una cabina telefónica en la avenida Broadway
(“Memorial III: from a phone booth on Broadway”, 1973)
Alguna vez
un rato pone al revés
y el día entero se derrumba a
una búsqueda urgente
por una cabina telefónica que funciona.
debo telefonearte
– tú que no has hablado dentro de mi cabeza
hace más de un año.
Si este teléfono timbraría bastante largo,
empujado sobre mi oreja,
florecerás en sonido;
debes contestar;
contéstame-contéstame-contéstame, maldición.
por favor,
Es la última vez
que yo te llamaré.
Nunca jamás.

. . .

Versiones españoles del inglés:  Alexander Best

. . .
Audre Geraldine Lorde (18/02/1934 – 17/11/1992) fue una poeta-ensayista-activista afroamericana. Ella se identificaba como “una poeta-guerrera-madre lesbiana negra”; pugnaba por no reducirse a una de aquellas identidades, sino reafirmarlas como fuente de fuerza. Planteó, entre otras ideas, que el racismo, el clasismo, el sexismo y la homofobia son cuatro tipos de ceguera nacidos de la misma raíz: la imposibilidad de reconocer el concepto de diferencia en cuanto fuerza humana dinámica.

. . . . .

Du Cake-Walk au Patinage artistique sur la glace: une Énergie qui danse!

Henri de Toulouse Lautrec_dessin de 1896_Le clown negre Chocolat“Chocolat”, le clown nègre: son vrai nom était Rafael Padilla, esclave né à Cuba vers 1868, devenu célèbre au Cirque de Paris à partir de 1886. Il forma un duo avec Footit, le clown blanc, qui les propulsa jusqu’à la scène des Folies-Bergère. Padilla a été peint par Toulouse-Lautrec en 1896 qui le montre dansant dans un cabaret de Montmartre.

La Goulue avec le clown Chocolat nom de Rafael PadillaChocolat avec La Goulue…

Notice in The Tatler_May 1903_for the play In Dahomey_featuring husband and wife vaudevillians Aida and George WalkerLe vrai Cake-Walk dansés par les vrais Ratons Laveurs (un terme raciste de la fin du siècle): les acteurs de vaudeville Aida Overton Walker et son épouse George Walker

Aida Overton Walker in 'In Dahomey' photgraphed in 1903 by Cavendish MortonGeorge Walker in 'In Dahomey' photographed by Cavendish Morton in 1903Les Walker photographiés dans la comédie musicale “In Dahomey”_Londres, 1903

Le Cake Walk_Danse au Nouveau Cirque Les NegresDeux hommes font Le Cake Walk, et l’un “joue” à la femme.

This image is courtesy Historical Ziegfeld_Rudy and Fredy Walker_Les Enfants Nègres de 1903_Le Cake Walk dansé au Nouveau Cirque de ParisRudy and Fredy Walker_Les Enfants Nègres de 1903_Le Cake Walk dansé au Nouveau Cirque de Paris

This image is courtesy Historical Ziegfeld_Rudy and Fredy Walker in 1903…..

Josephine Baker in 1927Josephine Baker était l’Américaine exotique qui se transforma à la première star noire – à cause de ses danses fraises et originales.

Josephine Baker_Berlin_1925_photo par Wolf von Gudenberg La danseuse la plus libre et ingénieuse des années 20: Josephine Baker_photo par Wolf von Gudenberg (Berlin, 1925)

Josephine Baker_du livre Le Tumulte Noir_illustration par Paul Colin_1927Josephine Baker: du livre Le Tumulte Noir (1927)_illustration par Paul Colin

Black vaudeville dancers_1930_Washington D.C.Danseuses de vaudeville_Washington, D.C., 1930

Swing era dancers and their athletic moves...Les années du Swing à Harlem

Swing era dancers wow the crowd...Frankie Manning the inventor of the Lindy Hop_and partner_1940sFrankie Manning, l’inventeur de la danse “Lindy Hop”, et sa partenaire

Fayard and Howard_The Nicholas Brothers_seen in a still from the motion picture Stormy Weather 1943Les Frères Nicholas: Danseurs de claquettes des années 30 et 40: Hommes audaces, athléthiques et élégants! (photographie du film “Stormy Weather”, 1943)

The Nicholas Brothers_pictured here in the 1940s_Audacious athletic elegant tapdancersLes Frères Nicholas: Fayard (né 1914) et Harold (né 1921)

Alvin Ailey photographed in 1955Alvin Ailey (1931-1989), fondateur et choréographe du Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater_photographie de 1955 (Carl Van Vechten)

The young Alvin AileyLe jeune Alvin Ailey

Danielle Gee and Leonard Meek of the Alvin Ailey Dance Company_1995Danielle Gee et Leonard Meek de la troupe Alvin Ailey_1995

James Brown busts a move_early 1970sJames Brown “fait le zouave” avec un de ses mouvements / pas de danse caractéristiques

James Brown_Get on the Good Foot_album cover from 1972Couverture de l’album Avance avec ton Bon Pied (1972)

A happy quartet from the late 1970s when Roller Boogie or Disco was at its peak popularityLe patin à roulettes au roller-discothèque — la fureur heureuse de l’ère de la musique disco et funk

1970s era Roller Skates for rollerboogieing…..

Coca Cola advertisement from 1977_featuring Black couples at the Disco Roller RinkPublicité pour Coca-Cola dans un magazine américain de 1977

Photgraphie par Jim McCrary de Michael JacksonMichael Jackson (1958-2009), un danseur inventif et excentrique, célébré pour sa “Moon Walk” (photographie © 1983, Jim McCrary/Redferns)

Young breakdancer during the 1980s_photograph by Martha CooperYoung Bboyz in New York City_early 1980s_photograph by Martha CooperDes jeunes B-boyz ou “breakdanseurs” New-Yorkais des années 80_photographies © Martha Cooper

Surya Bonaly_La patineuse artistique_ASurya Bonaly_La patineuse artistique_BSurya Varuna Claudine Bonaly (née 1973), la patineuse artistique française-américaine

Yannick Bonheur et Vanessa James_15.02.2010_Les Olympiques d'Hiver_Vancouver CanadaYannick Bonheur et Vanessa James_Patineurs partenaires_Les Olympiques d'Hiver_Vancouver Canada_Fevrier de 2010Yannick Bonheur (né 1982) et Vanessa James (née 1987)_le premier couple noir de l’histoire des jeux olympiques en patinage artistique_Vancouver, Canada_février de 2010_ (photo par Ivan Sekretarev)

Savion Glover__danseur de claquettes de la nouvelle génération_photo © Lois Greenfield, 2012Savion Glover_danseur de claquettes de la nouvelle génération_photo © Lois Greenfield, 2012

Salvador da Bahia_Carnaval_2012Salvador da Bahia Brasil_Carnaval_2012Le Carnaval au Brésil_Salvador da Bahia, 2012_Des racines africaines les gens cultivèrent une fête de la Danse et Musique – pour Tout le Monde!

Claude McKay: “Songs of Jamaica” (poems)

Jamaican market woman_circa 1920
Claude McKay (1889-1948)
Poems from Songs of Jamaica (published in 1912)
. . .
Quashie to Buccra
You tas’e petater an’ you say it sweet,
But you no know how hard we wuk fe it;
You want a basketful fe quattiewut,
‘Cause you no know how ‘tiff de bush fe cut.
De cowitch under which we hab fe ‘toop,
De shamar lyin’ t’ick like pumpkin soup,
Is killin’ somet’ing for a naygur man;
Much less de cutlass workin’ in we han’.
De sun hot like when fire ketch a town;
Shade-tree look temptin’, yet we caan’ lie down,
Aldough we wouldn’ eben ef we could,
Causen we job must finish soon an’ good.
De bush cut done, de bank dem we deh dig,
But dem caan’ ‘tan’ sake o’ we naybor pig;
For so we moul’ it up he root it do’n,
An’ we caan’ ‘peak sake o’ we naybor tongue.
Aldough de vine is little, it can bear;
It wantin’ not’in but a little care:
You see petater tear up groun’, you run,
You laughin’, sir, you must be t’ink a fun.
De fiel’ pretty? It couldn’t less ‘an dat,
We wuk de bes’, an’ den de lan’ is fat;
We dig de row dem eben in a line,
An’ keep it clean – den so it mus’ look fine.
You tas’e petater an’ you say it sweet,
But you no know how hard we wuk fe it:
Yet still de hardship always melt away
Wheneber it come roun’ to reapin’ day.

. . .
Buccra = white man
petater = sweet potato
quattiewut = quattieworth: quattie is a quarter of sixpence.
cowitch = the Macuna pruriens climbing bean
shamar = Shamebush, a prickly sensitive plant (Mimosa pudica)
. . .

Me Bannabees
Run ober mango trees,
‘Pread chock to kitchen doo’,
Watch de blue bannabees,
Look how it ben’ down low!
De blossom draw de bees
Same how de soup draw man;
Some call it “broke-pot” peas,
It caan’ bruk we bu’n-pan.
Wha’ sweet so when it t’ick?
Though some calll it goat-tud,
Me all me finger lick,
An’ yet no chew me cud.
A mumma plant de root
One day jes’ out o’ fun;
But now look ‘pon de fruit,
See wha’ de “mek fun” done.
I jam de ‘tick dem ‘traight
Soon as it ‘tart fe ‘pread,
An begin count de date
Fe when de pod fe shed.
Me watch de vine dem grow,
S’er t’row dung a de root:
Crop time look fe me slow,
De bud tek long fe shoot.
But so de day did come,
I ‘crub de bu’n-pan bright,
An’ tu’n down ‘pon it from
De marnin’ till de night.
An’ Lard!me belly swell,
No ’cause de peas no good,
But me be’n tek a ‘pell
Mo’ dan a giant would.
Yet eben after dat
Me nyam it wid a will,
‘Causen it mek me fat;
So I wi’ lub it still.
Caan’ talk about gungu,
Fe me it is no peas;
Cockstone might do fe you,
Me want me bannabees.
. . .
Bannabees = Bonavist, a climbing bean or pea
Me nyam = I ate
gungu = Congo peas
Cockstone = red peas, the beans of America
. . .

King Banana
Green mancha mek fe naygur man;
Wha’ sweet so when it roas’?
Some boil it in a big black pan,
It sweeter in a toas’.
A buccra fancy when it ripe,
Dem use it ebery day;
It scarcely give dem belly-gripe,
Dem eat it diffran’ way.
Out yonder see somoke a rise,
An’ see de fire wicket;
Deh go’p to heaben wid de nize
Of hundred t’ousan cricket.
De black moul’ lie do’n quite prepare’
Fe feel de hoe an’ rake;
De fire bu’n, and it tek care
Fe mek de wo’m dem wake.
Wha’ lef” fe buccra teach again
Dis time about plantation?
Dere’s not’in dat can beat de plain
Good ole-time cultibation.
Banana dem fat all de same
From bunches big an’ ‘trong;
Pure nine-han’ bunch a car’ de fame, –
Ole met’od all along.
De cuttin’ done same ole-time way,
We wrap dem in a trash,
An’ pack dem neatly in a dray
So tight dat dem can’t mash.
We re’ch: banana finish sell;
Den we ‘tart back fe home:
Some hab money in t’read-bag well,
Some spen’ all in a rum.
Green mancha mek fe naygur man,
It mek fe him all way;
Our islan’ is banana lan’,
Banana car’ de sway.
. . .
mancha = “Martinique”, the best variety of banana in Jamaica

. . .
The Biter Bit
[“Ole woman a swea’ fe eat calalu: calalu a swea’ fe wuk him gut.” Jamaican proverb]
Corn an’ peas growin’ t’ick an’ fas’
Wid nice blade peepin’ t’rough de grass;
An’ ratta from dem hole a peep,
T’ink all de corn dem gwin’ go reap.
Ole woman sit by kitchen doo’
Is watchin’ calalu a grow,
An’ all de time a t’inking dat
She gwin’ go nyam dem when dem fat.
But calalu, grow’n’ by de hut,
Is swearin’ too fe wuk him gut;
While she, like some, t’ink all is right
When dey are in some corner tight.
Peas time come roun’ – de corn is lef”;
An’ ratta now deh train himse’f
Upon de cornstalk dem a’ night
Fe when it fit to get him bite.
De corn-piece lie do’n all in blue,
An’ all de beard dem floatin’ too
Amongst de yellow grain so gay,
Dat you would watch dem a whole day.
An’ ratta look at ebery one,
Swea’in’ dat dem not gwin’ lef’ none;
But Quaco know a t’ing or two,
An’ swear say dat dem won’t go so.
So him go get a little meal
An’ somet’ing good fe those dat steal,
An’ mix dem up an’ ‘pread dem out
For people possess fas’ fas’ mout’.
Now ratta, comin’ from dem nes’,
See it an’ say “Dis food is bes’;”
Dem nyam an’ stop, an’ nyam again,
An’ soon lie do’n, rollin’ in pain.

. . .
calalu = “spinach” (could be Amaranthus viridis or Xanthosoma or dasheen leaves)
blue = the blueish leaf of the maize
. . .

Taken Aback
Let me go, Joe, for I want go home:
Can’t stan’ wid you,
For Pa might go come;
An’ if him only hab him rum,
I don’t know whateber I’ll do.
I must go now, for it’s gettin’ night
I am afraid,
An’ ’tis not moonlight:
Give me de last hug, an’ do it tight;
Me Pa gwin’ go knock off me head.
No, Joe, don’t come! – you will keep me late,
An’ Pa might be
In him sober state;
Him might get vex’ an’ lock up de gate,
Den what will becomin’ of me?
Go wid you, Joe? – you don’t lub me den!
I shame o’ you –
Gals caan’ trust you men!
An’ I b’en tekin’ you fe me frien’;
Good-night, Joe, you’ve proven untrue.
. . .
Say if you lub me, do tell me truly,
Ione, Ione;
For, O me dearie, not’in’ can part we,
Ione, Ione.
Under de bamboo, where de fox-tail grew,
Ione, Ione,
While de cool breeze blew – sweet, I did pledge you,
Ione, Ione.
Where calalu grows, an’ yonder brook flows,
Ione, Ione,
I held a dog-rose under your li’l nose,
Ione, Ione.
There where de lee stream plays wid de sunbeam,
Ione, Ione,
True be’n de love-gleam as a sweet day-dream,
Ione, Ione.
Watchin’ de bucktoe under de shadow,
Ione, Ione,
Of a pear-tree low dat in de stream grow,
Ione, Ione,
Mek me t’ink how when we were lee children,
Ione, Ione,
We used to fishen in old Carew Pen,
Ione, Ione.
Like tiny meshes, curl your black tresses,
Ione, Ione,
An’ my caresses tek widout blushes,
Ione, Ione.
Kiss me, my airy winsome lee fairy,
Ione, Ione;
Are you now weary, little canary,
Ione, Ione?
Then we will go, pet, as it is sunset,
Ione, Ione;
Tek dis sweet vi’let, we will be one yet,
Ione, Ione.
. . .
bucktoe = a small crawfish
Pen = the Jamaican equivalent for ranche

. . .
My Pretty Dan
I have a póliceman down at de Bay,
An’ he is true to me though far away.
I love my pólice, and he loves me too,
An’ he has promised he’ll be ever true.
My little bobby is a darlin’ one,
An’ he’s de prettiest you could set eyes ‘pon.
When he be’n station’ up de countryside,
Fus’ time I shun him sake o’ foolish pride.
But as I watched him patrolling his beat,
I got to find out he was nice an’ neat.
More still I foun’ out he was extra kin’,
An’ dat his precious heart was wholly mine.
Den I became his own true sweetheart,
An’ while life last we’re hopin’ not fe part.
He wears a truncheon an’ a handcuff case,
An’ pretty cap to match his pretty face.
Dear lilly p’liceman stationed down de sout’,
I feel your kisses rainin’ on my mout’.
I could not give against a póliceman;
For if I do, how could I lub my Dan?
Prettiest of naygur is my dear police,
We’ll lub foreber, an’ our lub won’t cease.
I have a póliceman down at de Bay,
An’ he is true to me though far away.
. . .

A Midnight Woman to the Bobby
No palm me up, you dutty brute,
You’ jam mout’ mash like ripe bread-fruit;
You fas’n now, but wait lee ya,
I’ll see you grunt under de law.
You t’ink you wise, but we wi’ see;
You not de fus’ one fas’ wid me;
I’ll lib fe see dem tu’n you out,
As sure as you got dat mash’ mout’.
I born right do’n beneat’ de clack
(You ugly brute, you tu’n you’ back?)
Don’t t’ink dat I’m a come-aroun’,
I born right ‘way in ‘panish Town.
Care how you try, you caan’ do mo’
Dan many dat was hyah befo’;
Yet whe’ dey all o’ dem te-day?
De buccra dem no kick dem ‘way?
Ko ‘pon you’ jam samplatta nose:
‘Cos you wear Mis’r Koshaw clo’es
You t’ink say you’s de only man,
Yet fus’ time ko how you be’n ‘tan’.
You big an’ ugly ole tu’n-foot
Be’n neber know fe wear a boot;
An’ chigger nyam you’ tumpa toe,
Till nit full i’ like herrin’ roe.
You come from mountain naked-‘kin,
An’ Lard a mussy! you be’n thin,
For all de bread-fruit dem be’n done,
Bein’ ‘poil’ up by de tearin’ sun:
De coco couldn’ bear at all,
For, Lard! de groun’ was pure white-marl;
An’ t’rough de rain part o’ de year
De mango tree dem couldn’ bear.
An’ when de pinch o’ time you feel
A ‘pur you a you’ chigger heel,
You lef’ you’ district, big an’ coarse,
An’ come join buccra Pólice Force.
An’ now you don’t wait fe you’ glass,
But trouble me wid you’ jam fas’;
But wait, me frien’, you’ day wi’ come,
I’ll see you go same lak a some.
Say wha’? – ‘res’ me? – you go to hell!
You t’ink Judge don’t know unno well?
You t’ink him gwin’ go sentance me
Widout a soul fe witness i’?
. . .
beneat’ de clack = the clock on the public buildings at Spanish Town
come-aroun’ = day-labourer, man or woman, in Kingston streets and wharves, famous for the heavy weight he or she can carry
samplatta = a piece of leather cut somewhat larger than the size of the foot, and tied sandal-wise to it: said of anything that is flat and broad.
Mis’r Koshaw clo’es = Mister Kershaw’s clothes i.e. police uniform. Col. Kershaw was Inspector-General of Police in 1911, (when this poem was written.)
An’ chigger nyam you’ tumpa toe, etc. = And chigoes (burrowing fleas) had eaten your maimed toe, and nits (young chigoes) had filled it.
Lard a mussy! = Lord have mercy!
unno (or onnoo) = an African word meaning “you” collectively

Jamaica_vintage photograph_early 20th centuryJamaican primary schoolhouse with children and their teacher_early 20th century photograph
Mother Dear
“HUSBAN’, I am goin’ –
Though de brooklet is a-flowin’,
An’ de coolin’ breeze is blowin’
Softly by;
Hark, how strange de cow is mooin’,
An’ our Jennie’s pigeons cooin’,
While I feel de water growin’,
Climbing high.
“Akee trees are laden,
But de yellow leaves are fadin’
Like a young an’ bloomin’ maiden
Fallen low;
In de pond de ducks are wakin’
While my body longs for Eden,
An’ my weary breat’ is gledin’
‘Way from you.
“See dem John-crows flyin’!
‘Tis a sign dat I am dyin’;
Oh, I’m wishful to be lyin’
All alone:
Fait’ful husban’, don’t go cryin’,
Life is one long self-denyin’
All-surrenderin’ an’ sighin’
Livin’ moan.”
. . .

“WIFE, de parson’s prayin’,
Won’t you listen what he’s sayin’,
Spend de endin’ of your day in
Christ our Lord?”

. . .
But de sound of horses neighin’,
Baain’ goats an’ donkeys brayin’,
Twitt’rin’ birds an’ children playin’
Was all she heard.
Things she had been rearin’,
Only those could claim her hearin’,
When de end we had been fearin’
Now had come:
Now her last pain she is bearin’,
Now de final scene is nearin’,
An’ her vacant eyes are starin’
On her home.
Oh! it was heart-rendin’
As we watched de loved life endin’,
Dat sweet sainted spirit bendin’
To de death:
Gone all further hope of mendin’,
With de angel Death attendin’,
An’ his slayin’ spirit blendin’
With her breath.
. . .
Akee = Cupania sapida, bearing beautiful red fruits
John-crows = Turkey-buzzards

. . .
Dat Dirty Rum
If you must drink it, do not come
An’ chat up in my face;
I hate to see de dirty rum,
Much more to know de tas’e.
What you find dere to care about
I never understan’;
It only dutty up you mout’,
An’ mek you less a man.
I see it throw you ‘pon de grass
An ‘met you want no food,
While people scorn you as dey pass
An’ see you vomit blood.
De fust beginnin’ of it all,
You stood up calm an’ cool,
An’ put you’ back agains’ de wall
An’ cuss our teacher fool.
You cuss me too de se’fsame day
Because a say you wrong,
An’ pawn you’ books an’ went away
Widout anedder song.
Your parents’ hearts within dem sink,
When to your yout’ful lip
Dey watch you raise de glass to drink,
An’ shameless tek each sip.
I see you in de dancing-booth,
But all your joy is vain,
For on your fresh an’ glowin’ youth
Is stamped dat ugly stain.
Dat ugly stain of drink, my frien’,
Has cost you your best girl,
An’ med you fool ‘mongst better me
When your brain’s in a whirl.
You may smoke just a bit indeed,
I like de “white seal” well;
Aldough I do not use de weed,
I’m fond o’ de nice smell.
But wait until you’re growin’ old
An’ gettin’ weak an’ bent,
An’ feel your blood a-gettin’ cold
‘Fo you tek stimulent.
Then it may mek you stronger feel
While on your livin’ groun’;
But ole Time, creepin’ on your heel,
Soon, soon will pull you down:
Soon, soon will pull you down, my frien’,
De rum will help her too;
An’ you’ll give way to better men,
De best day you can do.
. . .

“white seal” = the name of a brand of cigarettes

. . .

Killin’ Nanny
Two little pickny is watchin’,
While a goat is led to deat’;
Dey are little ones of two years,
An’ know naught of badness yet.
De goat is bawlin’ fe mussy,
An’ de children watch de sight
As de butcher re’ch his sharp knife,
An’ ‘tab wid all his might.
Dey see de red blood flowin’;
An’ one chil’ trimble an’ hide
His face in de mudder’s bosom,
While t’udder look on wide-eyed.
De tears is fallin’ down hotly
From him on de mudder’s knee;
De udder wid joy is starin’,
An’ clappin’ his han’s wid glee.
When dey had forgotten Nanny,
Grown men I see dem again;
An’ de forehead of de laugher
Was brand wid de mark of Cain.

Peasants with their mules_Jamaica_early 20th century photograph

Strokes of the Tamarind Switch
I dared not look at him,
My eyes with tears were dim,
My spirit filled with hate
Of man’s depravity,
I hurried through the gate.
I went but I returned,
While in my bosom burned
The monstrous wrong that we
Oft bring upon ourselves,
And yet we cannot see.
Poor little erring wretch!
The cutting tamarind switch
Had left its bloody mark,
And on his legs were streaks
That looked like boiling bark.
I spoke to him the while:
At first he tried to smile,
But the long pent-up tears
Came gushing in a flood;
He was but of tender years.
With eyes bloodshot and red,
He told me of a father dead
And lads like himself rude,
Who goaded him to wrong:
He for the future promised to be good.
The mother yesterday
Said she was sending him away,
Away across the seas:
She told of futile prayers
Said on her wearied knees.
I wished the lad good-bye,
And left him with a sigh:
Again I heard him talk –
His limbs, he said, were sore,
He could not walk.
I ‘member when a smaller boy,
A mother’s pride, a mother’s joy,
I too was very rude:
They beat me too, though not the same,
And has it done me good?
. . .
Rise and Fall
[Thoughts of Burns – with apologies to his immortal spirit for making him speak in Jamaica dialect.]
Dey read ’em again an’ again,
An’ laugh an’ cry at ’em in turn;
I felt I was gettin’ quite vain,
But dere was a lesson fe learn.
My poverty quickly took wing,
Of life no experience had I;
I couldn’t then want anyt’ing
Dat kindness or money could buy.
Dey tek me away from me lan’,
De gay o’ de wul’ to behold,
An’ roam me t’rough palaces gran’,
An’ show’red on me honour untold.
I went to de ballroom at night,
An’ danced wid de belles of de hour;
Half dazed by de glitterin’ light,
I lounged in de palm-covered bower.
I flirted wid beautiful girls,
An’ drank o’ de wine flowin’ red;
I felt my brain movin’ in whirls,
An’ knew I was losin’ my head.
But soon I was tired of it all,
My spirit was weary to roam;
De life grew as bitter as gall,
I hungered again for my home.
Te-day I am back in me lan’,
Forgotten by all de gay throng,
A poorer but far wiser man,
An’ knowin’ de right from de wrong.
. . .
To Bennie
[ In Answer to a Letter ]
You say, dearest comrade, my love has grown cold,
But you are mistaken, it burns as of old;
And no power below, dearest lad, nor above,
Can ever lessen, frien’ Bennie, my love.
Could you but look in my eyes, you would see
That ’tis a wrong thought you have about me;
Could you but feel my hand laid on your head,
Never again would you say what you’ve said.
Naught, O my Bennie, our friendship can sever,
Dearly I love you, shall love you for ever;
Moment by moment my thoughts are of you,
Trust me, oh, trust me, for aye to be true.
. . .

. . . . .