The following three poems are by the contemporary Afro-Cuban poet and scriptwriter, Georgina Herrera, who has graciously given permission to share and translate her work . Author of numerous collections of poetry and radio and television scripts. I have done the English translations you see below. I’ve included a biography from Wikipedia, to give you some idea of the achievements of this great poet, who reminds me faintly of Langston Hughes.
“Georgina Herrera was born in Jovellanos, the capital of Matanzas Province, Cuba. She began writing when she was nine years old, and when she was 16 her first poems were published, in such Havana periodicals as El País and Diario de la Tarde. As Miriam DeCosta-Willis has noted, “Many of her later poems capture the pain and loneliness of her growing-up years”, during which she endured poverty, an absent father and the death of her mother when she was 14.
Aged 20, Herrera moved to Havana in 1956, and worked as a domestic; it was in the homes of her wealthy employers that she met writers, who encouraged her to publish. Early in the Cuban Revolution she became involved with the “Novación Literaria” movement, and began working as a scriptwriter at the Cuban Institute for Radio and Television.”
Wikipedia, Georgina Herrera
Esa Manera de Morir
Amor le llaman los que a su sombra grande se tendieron. Yo le diría: piedra marina, donde mi corazón de peces fue golpeado, tierra tremendamente dura que le negó humedad a mis raíces. Creo que despidió mi estrella y la hizo errante.
This Manner of Dying
Love they call it, those who shelter in its great shade. I would call it: sea stone, where my heart of fish was battered, earth tremendously hard that denied water to my roots. I think it bade farewell to my star and made her a wanderer.
Elogio Grande Para Mi Misma
Yo soy la fugitiva soy la que abrió las puertas de la casa-vivienda y “cogió el monte”. No hay trampas en las que caiga Tiro piedras, rompo cabezas. Oigo quejidos y maldiciones. Río furiosamente Y en las noches bebo el agua de los curujeyes, porque en ellos puso la luna, para mí sola, toda la gloria de su luz.
Grand Eulogy for Myself
I am the fugitive I am she who opened doors Of the dwelling quarters and “headed for the hills”. There are no traps into which I fall. I throw stones, break heads. I hear complaints and curses. I laugh furiously And in the nights I drink the water of the mangroves, because in them, The moon shines, for me alone, All the glory of her light.
Figura solitaria transitando un camino inacabable Sobre los hombros lleva su mundo: trinos, sueños, cocuyos y tristezas.
Solitary figure walking an endless road. On her shoulders, carries her world: trills, dreams, glow worms, and sorrows.
Today, I’ve chosen a child’s memory of Christmases past, not in Wales, but in Cuba. Daughter of poet Eliseo Diego, Josefina de Diego’s prose poem, El Reino del Abuelo/Grandfather’s Kingdom, is a gentle and melancholic look back at Christmas time in a house full of inquisitive children, and adults immersed in the literary and musical worlds of Cuba in the 1950s, just before the Revolution.I’ve excerpted three sections from the book which has forty five pieces.
All the people in the book are real, and so fondly described by Josefina Diego, that they are instantly recognizable. And more than anything, it is the spirit of wonder and observation that make these reminiscences glitter shyly. Set in a tropical island, a time long before pandemics made it impossible to for so many to be together. So. in this Christmas of yearning, I wish you season’s greetings and the best of New Years to come!
A little cold, a drizzle. Sweaters and jackets of brilliant colours displaced the scant clothing of summer. The blankets with our names on them, so they would not get mixed up; mine was red, those of my brothers, green. The pajamas of yellow flannel with drawings of clowns and candy canes. Christmas Eve and Christmas were coming and everything had to be done with plenty of time so everything would turn out well: choosing the best tree, the ornaments, the garlands, the star. The ornaments would break on us—some without meaning to, others we dropped after a rapid interchange of glances—they would shatter into a dust so fine it would scatter on the snow of cotton. The Christmas tree had to be tall, with lots of branches, but only mama knew its exact dimensions and in what little corner of the house it would go.
The preparation for the Nativity was more solemn. The figures, from an Italian set, could not be broken. We held our breath each time we took one of the figures from its boxes and put it, with much care on the table. The Nativity was big, bigger than the one owned by cousins Sergio and Jose Maria.
Every year, always the same—perhaps his voice more hesitant each year—papa told us how it had been, how everything had happened: The visitation of Mary, the flight to Egypt, the Shepherd’s’ tidings, the long road of the Three Kings, the manger with the Child. Each piece had its history, each moment, its mystery. The shepherds, surrounded by sheep, next to a bonfire, near a lake: an angel appears in the middle of the night and they retreat, frightened. The Three Kings bending over the Child, and Mary, smiling at them, grateful. Papa’s voice, tired, breathless, across time.
Papa’s study was set apart from the house, on top of the garage beside the henhouse. One went up by a staircase made of cement, on the side. In front there were two balconies with wooden bars and behind the study was the ravine where the train ran.
The garage was wide, with room for two cars, but half of it was filled with broken furniture, bits of games, a carpentry table that belonged to uncle Rosendo, boxes filled with the figures, the Nativity, and the Christmas tree decorations. It had its own characteristic odor and was one of the places where we preferred to play and hide.
Papa worked in his study until very late. The sound of his little typewriter could be heard at all hours, mixed up with the song of the crickets and the owls; it was yet another night sound. But he didn’t always write. One of his favorite amusements was to draw, with a fine pencil, the uniforms of the little lead soldiers that he had in his unique collection. The English armies of World War One, soldiers of the Prussian armies and of the Russian tsars He created battlefields based on real maps and completed them with mountains, rivers, bridges and tunnels, made from cardboard, wires, broken glass, paper. He also reproduced all the various moments of the Nativity in a masterpiece of ingenuity. He created different levels, with the help of books covered in special paper in multiple colours. With a spotlight illuminating all the scenes, he had the precision of a professional metalworker.
Many years later I found this perfection and fineness in his poems. And I understood why his big boy’s hands constructed the Nativity and the battlefields with so much care, so much respect. “It’s necessary to do things right”, he would say to us.
Finally it arrived, Christmas eve. On this day, grandmother Bertha asked me very early in the morning to put on a record of villancicos. Sitting in the doorway, while we could hear mama tidying the house, we would hum all the carols: Silent Night, Jingle Bells, Maria, coming and going, cooked the supper. Roast pork, rice, black beans, lettuce, tomato and radish salad, chatinos, nougat, walnuts, hazelnuts, wine and cider. The dining table was opened up in the middle and sturdy planks of wood inserted. It became a huge table, oval in shape. In the afternoon the family began to arrive: grandmother Chiffon, our cousins, uncles and aunts, friends. We were especially dressed up for the occasion, very elegantly and, we were permitted, on this night, to stay up very late, like the “grown-ups”. Upon finishing the delicious supper, we went to the living room and sat around the piano, by the Nativity and the Christmas tree. Grandmother Chiffon began to play, villancicos, zarzuelas, Cuban songs and dances. Uncle Sergio, the doctor, accompanied her in his beautiful tenor. On Christmas Eve, grandmother Chiffon and our cousins, Cuchi and Chelita slept over. Grandmother slept with us so we wouldn’t make any noise and frighten away Santa Claus. And when we awakened, there was the tree, — dreamt of and desired all year long— surrounded by toys, the games of the adults, our happiness. There was no morning more beautiful than Christmas. And there still isn’t. Isn’t that right, grandmas?
The above extracts are from a dual language edition translated by me and authored by Josefina de Diego, Havana, Cuba. El Reino del Abuelo/Grandfather’s Kingdom, Tarjama Books, Kolkata , India, 2012.
Today marks the shortest daylight in our hemisphere, and the arrival of winter’s official season. But as of tomorrow, the days will lengthen again imperceptibly, and for those of us who need the light, like morning glories or sunflowers, hope will gradually be born anew. Indigenous and pagan peoples celebrated and celebrate the energies and magic of this day when the darkness must be propitiated for the sun to rise again. I share a poem by Wendell Barry and some drawings I’ve been doing. I’ve added a musical interlude, Victor Jara’s haunting instrumental La Partida / The Departure. A gentle honouring of this moment in our earth’s revolution!
TO KNOW THE DARK BY WENDELL BERRY
To go in the dark with a light is to know the light. To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight, and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
Once again, I joined in https://ronovanwrites.com , Ronovanwrites’ Haiku challenge based on the two words, “grace” and “slip”. I enjoy the exercise for my rusty brain. And for me, so much more enjoyable than writing essays! The Haiku form has been around for centuries. It’s very sparseness makes it alluring. It’s like the very distilled form of story telling. 90 proof! Salud!
Wind Speaks Winter
From grace we slipped to precarity, alert, as foxes who scent fear
Slip-sliding down life’s branches, a squirrel’s grace is visible through glass
Love is a grace we slip from like loosening of hands. Wind speaks winter.
Autumn is a time when spiders look for warm places to spin their webs and lay their egg sacs. I’ve always been terrified of large and hairy spiders but outside among the plants they design the most beautiful webs which catch the dew or frost of colder times. While, I’m not a fan of spider infestations, one or two small ones don’t terrify me. In fact Charlotte’s Web was a fantastic book from my childhood which probably had an indirect benefit of saving some spiders’ lives, if not the lives of pigs!
Fall is a time for hunkering down and gathering resources for the spring, like plants and animals. After all, we are animals too. But what if you have nowhere to call your own, like so many “migrant” and refugee populations? Brushed off like spiders, refugees are existing in dreadful conditions in camps and detention centers in countless countries. This piece below by Fady Joudah puts it simply.
I recently found a blog on haiku which also offers up writing challenges, by assigning words to construct a piece around. I hadn’t engaged in that sort of thing since high school. But I decided to try my hand at it. I learned that a) it’s harder than it seems and b) that it is fun to do once in a while. I hope you enjoy them!
A view from here shows life, before this pandemic, was only illusion.
2. Life gives us views we never chose.The scene from six feet apart. Heart break.
3. Viewed from on high this world of ours, small and tender, turns without reason.
Many people living with chronic illness, worry, and pain, experience insomnia. In fact, even children can experience it. It is a very insidious problem, and with the current state of affairs, I suspect that more people are staying awake than before. Paradoxically, even those with chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia, may be unable to sleep, although they feel exhausted. Sometimes, after exertion, whether cleaning or shopping or laundry or even walks for pleasure, pain and fatigue hit like a ton of bricks. But at night, sleep can be elusive. Since I was a reader long before the internet, I often enjoyed reading at night. I still do. There is something magical about immersions in other worlds, while the world outside of oneself is sleeping and relaxed.
In Mexico and Cuba, the nights would be punctuated by rogue roosters, all of who seemed to suffer from insomnia, and never waited for dawn to start their proclamations! In fact, I began to wonder if the rooster- crowing- at- dawn trope was actually a myth. Or was it that ages ago, cities and countrysides were not as lit up throughout the nights, encouraging roosters to sleep?
Reading however is a great escape, if one can concentrate enough to enjoy it! I continue reading at night especially when I can’t sleep. With the closure of bookstores and my aversion to online shopping, the high-price of new novels, I have found online resources at the public library to be a great resource. I first realized that online reading was helpful in travelling, as so much weight was taken up by my books. But with the pandemic, I have resorted to online mysteries, biographies and children’s literature. Sadly, the last category is the weakest and a lot of stuff online for kids is really repetitive and badly written. Illustrated books for younger kids show a total reliance on cartoon culture and a lack of visual imagination.
The other night, while waiting for sleep, I went back to the haiku, a favourite form of poetry. After reading a few contemporary ones, I decided to try my hand at some after a long time. Here, they are.
I seek answers in the sky. Astronomy. The stars hang like freshly washed clothes. Around me cities writhe. Pandemics and empty promises written in neon. When will they preen again?
Can you imagine our lives now? Astronomy. Replicating the stars Malcom lived by, Billie sang by. Harriet led by. Stars made of the dust of a thousand footsteps.
Astronomy. Replicating the stars that John Carlos held in his fist. That Sandinistas, or Zapatistas, or all who steer by the stars, used, to guide their guerilla flights.
I search the riddle above. Its colours promise answers. Night darkens, astronomy. Replicating the stars. Those first sailors across the bering strait, dolphins who dance to feel their skin free.
Now refugees who pile endlessly onto boats, repeating and repeating and repeating to anyone who will listen. “I had to leave, and now there is no land that will take me.” Still flowing as humans have, bones haunted and ashes in the mouth.
Long ago I was a girl and saw fireflies. Astronomy of the fields and trees. Stars we held, shared breath, and let go. Astronomy. Long ago.
My eyes paint the urban sky visions and histories. Astronomy. All of us, those who have left, those who are here,those to come. We are born of stars and to them we shall return.
Astronomy of the soil, the dust, the water, the fire, the flesh. The great unknowing.
So, I was recently challenged to rethink the ideas I put forward in my blog about the 2020 U.S. elections. In fact, the very idea that “the battle is over, but the war goes on”, is rooted in the validity of the present capitalist system, a system that has proven time and time again to be morally and materially bankrupt when it comes to the common people—i.e., you and I.
Under the circumstances of bourgeois democracy, it seems to me , a good moment to remember the adage ascribed to Malcom X, that our liberation, comes about “by any means necessary”. That is why my discomfort with the reigning social system and my belief in a better, more just and equitable future— is both a contradiction, and— a strategy, that doesn’t simply see the debate as being between reform and revolution.
Under this lens, I feel we should work on numerous fronts and through numerous ways to change society to be more inclusive, just and equitable. As we know, institutions will not accomodate progressive demands (the unsurvivable minimum wage is maintained, costs are going up, hydro has raised its rates in this winter country, evictions have resumed, tiny pandemic wage increases are long gone, public sanitation and hygiene appear haphazard and determined by market force)s. The poor and working sectors are crammed onto unaffordable petrie dishes with haphazard service, ie, public transportation. Where is the pressure on municipal, provincial and federal governments? Why were we locked down in March for 2 months, with 1/3rd of the current covid19 cases, but now are laissez-faire, willing to make Darwin’s theory a eugenicist accelerationist’s wet dream?
This is the state of affairs to which we will return under the business as usual model touted by Wall street and Biden/ Harris. How ironic that Trump’s initial run was characterized by a wall, but it is the wall of money that was behind Obama and is now deployed by his Democratic successor Biden, that may be the end of Trump.
Of course, fascism is another thing altogether. The freeing of socially temporarily unacceptable ideas regarding race, gender, sexuality, eugenics, and social engineering– guns, pandemics, starvation, trigger happy racist policing, the expansion of self-defence laws in states such as Florida, the immense wealth of private prisons and the exponential growth of Amazon, Walmart, Facebook, What’sApp, Instagram, etc. is a cash and data grab of immense proportions. The looters of this virus are not the poor, nor the small business sector, but the mega-rich. These ultra-affluent bastards have set the tone and the stage for the rest of us.
The amount of sheer misery that haunts and weighs down our planet these days is a collective mourning for our little daily freedoms, and our big ones, like international travel. A grief for our departed too. Of course, lockdowns and restrictions unaccompanied with food and shelter support, are fundamentally class genocide, and exercises in social obedience. That’s because while things are being strangely locked down, dedicated COVID 19 facilities have not been made, shelter has not been put in place for the homeless during the winter season, affordable housing remains as elusive as ever for those struggling with poverty and food banks are begging those a little better off to help those less fortunate with cheap processed food—often laden with chemicals and toxins that we already know so much about.
During a winter where people are being forbidden to socialize indoors, municipalities are stopping snow removal services, leaving hundreds of thousands of “inner city” dwellers with minimal ways to get around during this upcoming pandemic winter. We can point our self-righteous fingers south of the border, or also , take a moment to look down the street and see our own worlds floundering.
It’s hard for me to end this piece on a positive note. I hope, in my lifetime we will see the world played, not as an endgame, but as the beginning of a glorious festival of labour, shared humanity, a culture of non-violence and social support and a celebration of spirit. “From each according to [their] abilities, to each according to [their] needs”. May we, trees, and slivers alike, see ourselves rooted in this grieving and resilient earth, and not wielded, by sinisterly banal elites.
For an excellent follow-up piece with lots of information:
Today marks a very special day for me. It is the occasion of my hundredth blog post. I started this project as a labour of love and as a way to contribute to a culture of resistance, love, and hope for a more just and equitable world about a year and a half ago. I had no idea when I started, that Covid19 would make life so unrecognizable for so many. There is virtually no territory that has not been affected by this bizarre scourge and the even more crazy-making ways in which it has (not) been dealt with by the powers that be.
As a result my participation on the blog has been uneven, my attention veering between the initial shock of the pandemic, to racial /casteist/ islamophobic and economic violence all over the world to days of personal ill-health and grief, as I continue to mourn the passing of my father and my partner’s father during this difficult time and to worry about the bleak economic times we are in. Even bankers are speaking of recession.
I thank those of you who’ve joined me both from the humble beginnings for sticking with me, to those of you checking out this blog for the first time today! While the coronavirus swirls around us, equally harsh and invisible ideas are making themselves manifest. Many of those ideas are amplified through the Internet. Ideological manipulation through social media networks, internet surveillance and tailored advertising… All that is intrusive and prying, is marketed as convenience. This is truly a time of commodities, not people.
Some say the darkest hour is before the dawn. That is why your human accompaniment of this blog and the sharing of it, is such an important part of this creative and rich journey. So eartotheground is an antidote to those forces of death, disrespect and despair. These three forces make up the holy trinity of psychological fascism that accompanies corporate monopolization and centralization of power in militarist and vigilante backed dictatorships.
While the world awaits the results of the election in the United States, we all seem immersed in a depression that “experts” call ‘pandemic fatigue’. I characterize it as ‘cruelty fatigue’, for surely this coronavirus has exposed the the meanness and pettiness of class and caste inequality, the banal brutality of racial oppression experienced by so many Black, Indigenous, South and East Asians, the virulent misogyny of courts and citizens; the core of rottenness that is at the center of our social organization and structure. And the hunger for redistribution of material resources that is the very real hunger, of millions, for food.
To celebrate this hundredth post, I share some poems today that remind me, and hopefully you as well, that in spite of a time when any judge anywhere can be called “pro-life” while being “pro-gun”— we are being shown a world where language— and thus the lives we lead— have been turned upside down. These miserable ironies must not delimit our world.
Personal autonomy over birth control including abortion is a woman’s individual and private right. It cannot be alienated from her without re-premising the law on slavery, that is, ascribing the ownership of her body to another— the only legal system by which humans were de-autonomized and dehumanized for profit.
The following poems hail from different times and places. But the one thing these writers all share is a belief in justice, truth, witness, and hope— the cornerstones of a culture of love and solidarity. Humour, rage, love, and humanity are intertwined in the following verses below.
Suicide note from a Cockroach in a low income Housing Project, Pedro Pietri (Borinken/US)
I hate the world I am depress I am deprive I am deprave I am ready to propose to the grave Life is too complicated to proceed Fate is the only medicine I need to feel good Seriously speaking I’m seriously seeking The exit to leave this eerie existence My resistance is low and will not grow Rent Control My Ghost Will Haunt You
I hate the world I am dejected I am rejected I am neglected and disrespected Ever since these damn liberals got elected And corrected nothing really important I am starving I am no good at robbing I have no ambitions These damn housing projects Are responsible for my nervous condition
I hate you credit cards Because of you there is a pain in my brain Because of you all the minority groups Own a television set and will not let me sleep At night watching the late late show at full blast I hate the world I hate the world I hate the world I am disgusted I totally busted
The welfare department Will not handle my case I am homesick for the past When radios used to be a luxury For the minority groups And there were no such things As the late late show
Oh how I hate those damn Anti poverty programs I am hungry My folks are hungry My friends are hungry Every member of our generation Is a victim of starvation We are down and out without a future To look forward to WE ARE THROUGH
I attend over ten funerals everyday I don’t have time to send my black Melancholy suit to the cleaners anymore That is how bad the situation is And all because all of a sudden Everybody wants to be somebody This is ridiculous this is absurd Why should our race be erased to make America a beautiful place
for everyone but us We are the real American We was here before columbus We was here before general electric We was here before the ed sullivan show We are older than adam and eve Noah also took Cockroaches into his ark Why should we be denied co existence???
I use to come From a very large family And now I am down To my last second cousin-in law I have been married seven times I have never been divorced All my wives and husbands Are now resting in peace None of them died from natural cause They have all been fatal casualties Of the games the great society plays
This so called civilisation nation Has made a lonely cockroach out of me My insurance company Has informed me that they will not Insure another wife or husband I take They think I am trying to make A living out of this - THEY ARE DEAD WRONG I come from a good Non catholic Non protestant Non Jewish Home
I have never read the holy bible I will never read the holy bible Cockroaches in their right minds Will never go near the holy bible Bible reading is a dangerous mission Is like committing suicide to get to heaven
I once had this uncle Who was very religious He read the good book all the time One day he fell asleep reading The twenty third psalm and woke up In the hereafter the following morning
The owner of the bible close the book on him If those are the kind of people That go to heaven - You can send me to hell lord
My first wife Lived a very short life Tragedy came Separated our name The first year We started our atmosphere She was ambushed By this retarded boy Who destroyed her pride And swallow her body After she died
My second wife Lived a shorter life When tragedy came And separated our name She was still a virgin We married in the afternoon And somebody stept on her On our way to the honeymoon
My third wife Was taking a short cut home Thru the kitchen sink A homicidal maniac saw her While taking a drink And turned on the hot water
My first husband Lost his sacred life In a DDT strike Coming home from the A&P for insects only I was in tears for one whole year after he disappear from the atmosphere because the day before his destiny came near his insurance policy lapsed I mailed a payment a week before he died but somebody stepped on the mailman and the payment never arrived
My second husband was suffocated by this complicated mentally constipated fire engine impersonator who got his kicks kidnapping cockroaches molesting them sexually and throwing them into empty coca cola bottles and putting the cap back on and keeping them without air until their life was gone
My third husband Lived a miserable life He had lung cancer Ten wooden legs One glass eye Fifty fifty vision On his good eye A weak heart A broken back Respiratory ailment Undernourished Mentally discourage Unemployed eardrums Condem features And bad breath galore from a bottle of Weight reducing pills He shoplifted At the drugstore
I gave him a divorce Not because his health Was hazardous To my health I gave him a divorce Because he wanted Me to sell my body to science And give him the money For plastic surgery
One week before Celebrating his last Unhappy birthday At the funeral parlor He hit the numbers For one thousand dollars Went to the hospital And paid cash for A heart transplant An eyes transplant A face transplant A legs transplant A lung transplant A rear end transplant A breath transplant And he was all set to live and let live
For one hundred years But on his way home From the hospital Somebody stepped on him And that was the end Of his breathing career
So you see You cannot really blame me For wanting to seduce my destiny I have nothing else to live for In this corrupted world anymore The employment situation is bad The starvation situation is worst
It hurts to continue living like this Cockroaches are starving to death Ever since incinerators came Into the life of the minority groups In the old buildings the people Were very close to everything they had Food was never thrown away But today everything is going Into those incinerators The last family that lived here Took the incinerator To get to the first floor They do not live here anymore
Damn those low income housing projects Years ago suicide was never spoken But today suicide is a luxury For a heartbroken cockroach Trying to make a decent living In a low income housing project Goodbye cruel world I’m through being screwed By your crossward puzzles When the bomb comes down I will not be around
Forward my mail to your conscience when you get one The last request the cockroach made was to be cremated So I lit it up and smoked it
Frame, Adrienne Rich (U.S.)
Winter twilight. She comes out of the lab-
oratory, last class of the day
a pile of notebooks slung in her knapsack, coat
zipped high against the already swirling
evening sleet. The wind is wicked and the
busses slower than usual. On her mind
is organic chemistry and the issue
of next month’s rent and will it be possible to
bypass the professor with the coldest eyes
to get a reference for graduate school,
and whether any of them, even those who smile
can see, looking at her, a biochemist
or marine biologist, which of the faces
can she trust to see her at all, either today
or in any future. The busses are worm-slow in the
quickly gathering dark. I don’t know her. I am
standing though somewhere just outside the frame
of all of this, trying to see. At her back
the newly finished building suddenly looks
like shelter, it has glass doors, lighted halls
presumably heat. The wind is wicked. She throws a
glance down the street, sees no bus coming and runs
up the newly constructed steps into the newly
constructed hallway. I am standing all this time
just beyond the frame, trying to see. She runs
her hand through the crystals of sleet about to melt
on her hair. She shifts the weight of the books
on her back. It isn’t warm here exactly but it’s
out of that wind. Through the glass
door panels she can watch for the bus through the thickening
weather. Watching so, she is not
watching the white man who watches the building
who has been watching her. This is Boston 1979.
I am standing somewhere at the edge of the frame
watching the man, we are both white, who watches the building
telling her to move on, get out of the hallway.
I can hear nothing because I am not supposed to be
present but I can see her gesturing
out toward the street at the wind-raked curb
I see her drawing her small body up
against the implied charges. The man
goes away. Her body is different now.
It is holding together with more than a hint of fury
and more than a hint of fear. She is smaller, thinner
more fragile-looking than I am. But I am not supposed to be
there. I am just outside the frame
of this action when the anonymous white man
returns with a white police officer. Then she starts
to leave into the windraked night but already
the policeman is going to work, the handcuffs are on her
wrists he is throwing her down his knee has gone into
her breast he is dragging her down the stairs I am unable
to hear a sound of all of this all that I know is what
I can see from this position there is no soundtrack
to go with this and I understand at once
it is meant to be in silence that this happens
in silence that he pushes her into the car
banging her head in silence that she cries out
in silence that she tries to explain she was only
waiting for a bus
in silence that he twists the flesh of her thigh
with his nails in silence that her tears begin to flow
that she pleads with the other policeman as if
he could be trusted to see her at all
in silence that in the precinct she refuses to give her name
in silence that they throw her into the cell
in silence that she stares him
straight in the face in silence that he sprays her
in her eyes with Mace in silence that she sinks her teeth
into his hand in silence that she is charged
with trespass assault and battery in
silence that at the sleet-swept corner her bus
passes without stopping and goes on
in silence. What I am telling you
is told by a white woman who they will say
was never there. I say I am there.
Home, Warsan Shire (Somalia/England)
no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark.
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city
running as well.
your neighbours running faster
than you, the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind
the old tin factory is
holding a gun bigger than his body,
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.
no one would leave home unless home
chased you, fire under feet,
hot blood in your belly.
it’s not something you ever thought about
doing, and so when you did –
you carried the anthem under your breath,
waiting until the airport toilet
to tear up the passport and swallow,
each mouthful of paper making it clear that
you would not be going back.
you have to understand,
no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land.
who would choose to spend days
and nights in the stomach of a truck
unless the miles travelled
meant something more than journey.
no one would choose to crawl under fences,
be beaten until your shadow leaves you,
raped, then drowned, forced to the bottom of
the boat because you are darker, be sold,
starved, shot at the border like a sick animal,
be pitied, lose your name, lose your family,
make a refugee camp a home for a year or two or ten,
stripped and searched, find prison everywhere
and if you survive and you are greeted on the other side
with go home blacks, refugees
dirty immigrants, asylum seekers
sucking our country dry of milk,
dark, with their hands out
smell strange, savage –
look what they’ve done to their own countries,
what will they do to ours?
the dirty looks in the street
softer than a limb torn off,
the indignity of everyday life
more tender than fourteen men who
look like your father, between
your legs, insults easier to swallow
than rubble, than your child’s body
in pieces – for now, forget about pride
your survival is more important.
i want to go home, but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home tells you to
leave what you could not behind,
even if it was human.
no one leaves home until home
is a damp voice in your ear saying
leave, run now, i don’t know what
A Comrade is as Precious as a Rice Seedling, Mila Aguilar (Philippines)
A comrade is as precious
as a rice seedling
One of many, it is true,
but nurtured by them
whose faces grow dark,
and taut, and lined
for the sake of their rice seedlings.
A comrade is as precious
as a rice seedling
for whom the peasant’s hands
grow thick and calloused
for whom his fingers
scrape the hardened mud.
A comrade is he
for whom the peasant’s toes
get muscled and big
because, like a rice seedling,
he will grow, one of precious many,
to fill the hunger
of him who cared enough
to nurture little seedlings.
A comrade is as precious
as a rice seedling
fed and nurtured
guarded from pestilence and floods
And yes, beloved of the peasant
because a rice seedling
grows, not only to fill his hunger,
but to give birth
to other seedlings
who will give birth
to many more
who will fill the hunger
of generations of peasants
for food, and land,
And because poetry is not only read but spoken and sung, I have included the following links to some marvelous crafters of poems and songs.
I’ve decided to focus on 2 poems today, They are short and remind me in some ways of the poems of Langston Hughes. Their author is woman who I had the pleasure of hearing once, a member of UNEAC(National Union of Artists and Writers, Cuba), and an inspiration herself, to a younger generation of Afro-Cuban women poets. Below, Wikipedia gives a succinct account of her career as a writer:
Georgina Herrera was born in Jovellanos, the capital of Matanzas Province, Cuba. She began writing when she was nine years old, and when she was 16 her first poems were published, in such Havana periodicals as El País and Diario de la Tarde. As Miriam DeCosta-Willis has noted, “Many of her later poems capture the pain and loneliness of her growing-up years”, during which she endured poverty, an absent father and the death of her mother when she was 14.
Aged 20, Herrera moved to Havana in 1956, and worked as a domestic; it was in the homes of her wealthy employers that she met writers, who encouraged her to publish. Early in the Cuban Revolution she became involved with the “Novación Literaria” movement, and began working as a scriptwriter at the Cuban Institute for Radio and Television.
Wikipedia, Georgina Herrera
I’ve only read a couple of short poetry books by Georgina Herrera both in Spanish, and thought I would share 2 verses that I especially like. Her fame beyond Cuba has been limited until this century, when interest in Cuban Black culture and history has burgeoned in terms of literature, arts, and social sciences. If you are interested in more of her work you might check out the following bilingual collection below. In these current pieces, the English translations are my own.
A bi-lingual Spanish/English collection of Herrera’s work, entitled Always Rebellious/Cimarroneando: Selected Poems (published by Cubanabooks, a US-based non-profit company specialising in Cuban women’s literature), won the 2016 International Latino Book Award for Best Bilingual Poetry Book. Herrera has said of the collection, whose title references maroons, Africans who escaped from enslavement in the Americas: “The inspiration for the book was my life experiences, it is a definition of me.”
Las Aguas Van Cogiendo Su Nivel
Mis orishas y mis negras viejas
que en un rincon les pongan alimentos
ni agua para la sed.
Lo que les quema la garganta
son ganas de justicia
los he puesto a viajar
no en estos barcuchos, atenazados por traficantes.
El viaje ahora es al reves.
Puse alas a mis palabras
y en las palabras estan ellos.
Water Finds its Own Level (Trans. Kaushalya Bannerji)
My orishas and my old black women
a nook where they are given food
and water for thirst.
What burns their throats
are desires for justice.
Seeing them like this,
I set them travelling
No, not on those big boats, in the grips of traffickers.
The journey now, is the reverse.
I have put wings on my words
And in my words, they are.
GRANDE ES EL TIEMPO
Grande es el tiempo a transitar
como un camino
si de las penas partes, yendo
hacia la dicha.
Y llegas y te instalas, pero
no permaneces, vuelves, irremediable,
al primer sitio, cual si fuera
el de tu origen, donde
algo perdiste y buscas incansable
no sabes qué.
Georgina Herrera, de Grande es el tiempo, La Habana, UNEAC, 1989
Great is the Time (Trans. Kaushalya Bannerji)
Great is the time
We walk as though on a road
of sorrowing parts, going
And you arrive and you stay, but
you don’t belong, you return, incurable,
to the first site, as if it were
that place of your origin,
where you lost something and you look tirelessly
but don’t know