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.”

. . . . .