Children’s Books and my Father: A Remembrance

Culture and memory share a root, like branches of the same plant. That root is us, human beings, in our most creative and unself-conscious renditions. Once again, after the whirlwind of systemic violence and structural upheaval engineered through the COVID19 pandemic response, the time has come to honour the memory of those we love who have been lost to the novel coronavirus. My father, the late Professor Manabendra Bandyopadhyay (1938-2020), was one such deep loss. 

Although he had been suffering from loss of sight and other health issues in his last few years,  for over half a century, he contributed vastly to the field of Bengali literature and poetry, fiction/poetry in translation, and critical approaches to the early discipline of comparative literature— from the late 1950s until his retirement from teaching at the Department of Comparative Literature at Jadavpur University in Kolkata, India. In his participation in the cultural and socio-political world of Bangla letters, my father often searched out unusual or unique writers— “against the grain”. While in his translations for adults, he often examined and explored different schools of writing from Latin America, Eastern Europe and Africa, it was his love of books for kids that had a big impact on me as a  young reader and thinker. 

For my father, books for children were as eclectic and engaging as those for adults. He presented me with hundreds of books over the years, and it is especially those books of childhood I often turn to, for a break from the grinding neo-liberal world with its anxieties, bleakness, and inhumanity. 

I fondly remember a range of books from Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy-tales to Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series, to Toronto poet’s Dennis Lee’s Wiggle to the Laundromat. Along with these, Andrew Salkey, George Lamming, James Kruss, Rosemary Sutcliffe, Erich Kastner, Rhoda Power, Sherlock Holmes, Jules Verne,  and the inimitable Tove Jansson made paths into the rich and exciting world of books, a world that was both escape and confirmation, at different times. Through the reading of such international cast of characters, historical moments and types of books, my interest in historical periods, and how people live in different times and places, was piqued. 

In particular, I am grateful to my father for sharing his love of Indigenous and Aboriginal cultures from both Turtle Island and Australia. This awareness of the space I inhabited as a brown child of an immigrant parent to Canada, set me apart from other primary and middle school children as did my experience of racism from a very early age at the hands of my peers in the pristine provincial primary schools of Ontario of the 1970s. 

But when reading, the ability to imagine other worlds and ways of being, allowed me to understand and perhaps at a young age, confront the reality of racial inequality which I experienced. Books like Aguhana, Half-Breed, The Island of the Dolphins, A Nice Fire and Some Moon Pennies gave me a glimpse of a world that was made invisible and silent in the Canadian educational system, that of First Nations, Metis,  and Inuit peoples. Stories by Lois Lenski based on interviews with children and families, gave me an idea of how  working class and rural children, especially girls,  lived as recently as the 1930s-50s in the various United States of America, and how important they were to household economies as recently as the ‘50s and ‘60s. Stories about Harriet Tubman and Julius Lester’s To Be a Slave, were a part of my personal canon, as much as Anne Frank and Laura Ingalls Wilder were the staple authors for little girls at the school library. 

In remembrance of the important role that fiction and poetry has played in my own life,  I offer up today’s blog post as a tribute to all those amazing writers who tackled the daunting task of writing gripping and memorable fiction for children, writing that satisfies at any age, books such as Alice in Wonderland, and those of Roald Dahl.  And through acknowledging them, I acknowledge the fount of this fictional diversity, my father. 

Yellow Butterflies, Kaushalya Bannerji, August 2022

This week on the second anniversary of his passing, I have been thinking of him even more. When my partner planted a butterfly bush in his honour, butterflies immediately came to visit. White, orange-patterned, and yellow, they fluttered down to the purple, pink and red flowers. We will always think of our absent loved ones when the butterflies float and dance by us on their invisible currents.

I want to end by sharing a musical piece about the world of Macondo,  from One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. A  Colombian Nobel-winning writer who was popularized in Bangla by my father, and whose work he explored for many years. Here the lyrics are by Mexican accordionist and composer Celso Pina and performed by Leiden (Cuba-Mexico) and Andrea Echeverri (Colombia) formerly of the group Los Aterciepelados (The Velvet Ones). I am sure he would have enjoyed hearing this rendition.

Macondo by Celso Pina (Mexico) (Trans. Kaushalya Bannerji)

The hundred years of Macondo, sound, sound, in the air

And the years of Gabriel trumpeting, trumpeting, his announcement!

Enchained,  Macondo dreams along with José Arcadio

And although life is a whirlwind of memories

Aureliano’s sorrows, are four

The beauties of Remedios, violins

The passions of Amaranta, guitar

And the spell of Melquiades is the oboe

Úrsula, one hundred years, loneliness, Macondo

Úrsula, one hundred years, loneliness, Macondo

You are the epic of a forgotten town

Forged in a hundred years of love and history

You are epic of a forgotten town

Forged in a hundred years of love and history

I imagine and live again

In my memor,  burned by the sun

Yellow Butterflies,  Mauricio Babylonia

Yellow butterflies flying free

Yellow Butterflies,  Mauricio Babylonia

Yellow butterflies flying free

Now That I am a God…

On April 28th, one of Cuba’s outstanding women poets, among many, Fina Garcia Marruz, celebrated her 99th birthday. This writer was part of the cultural and literary circle of the Origenes magazine in the pre-revolutionary period and remained committed to the spirit and ideals of Jose Marti, making her home in Cuba after the 1959 Revolution. Along with producing many volumes of poetry, she was part of the editorial committee working on Marti’s Collected Works.

Life partner of poet and writer Cintio Vitier, she inhabited a rich and cosmopolitan cultural world. Fina Garcia Marruz has received numerous awards including the 1990 National Literature Prize, Cuba, Pablo Neruda Ibero-American Poetry Award in 2007 and the Reina Sofia Prize for Ibero-American Poetry in 2011. Additionally she has received the Federico Garcia Lorca Prize in 2011 and numerous distinctions and honours in her native Cuba.

I attempted a translation of two of her most deceptively simple poems, only to find they were not so! I was first introduced to her name and work in Josefina de Diego’s beautiful book of nostalgia and Cuban childhood, Grandfather’s Kingdom (Tarjama Press, 2012)/El Reino del Abuelo, Collection Sur, 2020.

Josefina Garcia-Marruz Badia, April 28, 1923, Havana

El Joven, Fina Garcia Marruz, Cuba

Ahora que soy un dios, dame la mano.
Vamos juntos. No me importa morir.
Perdamos una tarde, una mañana. Toda la vida.
Dialoguemos sobre cosas fútiles y bellas.
Oh, abrazarlo todo locamente¡ Vamos a ver el mar,
sin detenernos para nada a contemplarlo.
Vamos a ver el mar, con la nuca vuelta de espalda,
ignorándolo como él, cuando nos mira.
Mira como tengo los bolsillos vacíos!
Ahora que soy un dios, dame la mano.

The Young Man, (Trans. Kaushalya Bannerji, 2022)

Now that I am a god, give me your hand.
Let’s go together. I don’t mind dying.
Let’s lose an afternoon, a morning. A lifetime.
Let’s talk about futile and beautiful things.
Oh, hug everything madly! Let’s see the sea,
without stopping at all to contemplate it.
Let’s go see the sea, with the nape of the neck
ignoring the sea like the sea does, when he looks at us.
Look how my pockets are empty!
Now that I am a god, give me your hand.

Fina Garcia-Marruz, Poet, Cuba

Al Despertar, Fina Garcia Marruz , Cuba

Al despertar

Al despertar
uno se vuelve
al que era
al que tiene
el nombre con que nos llaman,
al despertar
uno se vuelve
seguro,
sin pérdida,
al uno mismo
al uno solo
recordando
lo que olvidan
el tigre
la paloma
en su dulce despertar.
Upon Awakening, Trans. Kaushalya Bannerji, 2022
Upon awakening
one returns
to what one was
to what one has
the name by which they call us.
Upon awakening
one becomes 
confident,
without loss
of one's self
only one's self
remembering
what they've forgotten
the tiger
the dove
in their sweet awakening.
April Moon, 2022 Kaushalya Bannerji




To the Land of the Maroons! Commemorating Georgina Herrera

Dear all, it is with a heavy heart that I am letting you know Georgina Herrera has passed on yesterday. She was an inspiring and much beloved poet whose  glittering sparseness was a counterpoint to the Spanish classical flowery formalism of older Cuban writers. Her personal story centers  Afro-Cubanhood as the location, from where, and for whom, she wrote. 

Her experience of the formative years of the Cuban revolution was instrumental in her joining writers’ groups and writing as a profession. Her poems, unlike Nicolas Guillen’s work, do not try to forge a mestizaje or biracial identity as the foundation for Cuban nationhood. Perhaps because she came from a line of more working -class people than the lawyer’s son, Guillen. Herrera herself laboured as a domestic worker through her teens. It is through working for the entitled white cuban middle-class, that she began to have access to a literary and cultural world that drew her into its ambit. Within that circle, she brought a voice of defiance and fierce independence that makes her work still so relevant today.

Viscerally, she describes the reality of being Black in Cuba, where, unlike George Lamming’s work, her writing exists, not “in spite of” as Lamming would put it , but “because of“. It is precisely that centering of her reality that makes Georgina’s work so relevant to other Black women and women of colour. As a scriptwriter, poet and mentor to many others, especially in the Afro-descended community, Georgina Herrera’s legacy will live on the hearts of her readers and friends and family.
 Her motif acknowledges that self-definition is rooted in material lived freedom, a bitter truth harvested from her ancestors’ enslavement  in Cuba. Born, in 1936, to a Cuba where the formerly enslaved were still alive, Georgina Herrera, or Yoya, as she was known to her friends, was a remarkable presence whose poetry explored the experience of black women in a society highly uncomfortable with talking about raced gender and racism in open terms within their own history. 
She herself, rejected the pretences of mestizaje, for maroon-hood, (cimarronje) which she defiantly and repeatedly came back to in her writing and self-definition. In this way, her writing speaks to the universality of Black experience in the Caribbean, North, and South America as a result of brutal worlds built on trading in persons. But she celebrates the rehumanization -as Lamming himself does– of barren colonial landscapes of fear, deprivation, and demonization of Afro-peoples, by any means necessary– even poetry…I leave you with her own words, and join with Cubans and poetry lovers in wishing her a safe journey. Ashe.

Bridge, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2021

Grand Eulogy for Myself- Georgina Herrera/trans. Kaushalya Bannerji

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.

Poetry for the Peeps! Georgina Herrera

I’ve been a bit slow on the translation front. I’ve been working on a selection of poems from Cuba’s Georgina Herrera. This writer really captivated my interest when I was studying in Cuba for my doctoral research. Her slim paperback volumes were on display at UNEAC in the Vedado and my favourite poetry bookstore in La Habana, Fayad Jamis, in old Havana. Here is a latest attempt from me!

Pajaro Amarillo

El pájaro amarillo vuelve a la rama verde

Ha regresado

el pájaro amarillo.

Tendido

más que posado está sobre la rama verde.

Semeja un cajigal que trina y se alza desde

uno a otro sitio.

El pájaro amarillo es una flor insólita,

un sol que se estremece

y cabe entre mis manos.

Deja en mí

no sé por qué, este pájaro,

un gozo inacabable.

Suave, entonces, me llenan unas ganas grandes

de verlo así, posado siempre

sobre la tristeza de todos, como

está ahora,

en mi corazón y

allí en la rama verde.

Yellow Bird (Trans. Kaushalya Bannerji)

The yellow bird returns to the green branch

It has returned

the yellow bird.

Perched more than posed on the green branch

She seems a conquering Cajigal that trills and flits

from one place to another.

The yellow bird is an insolent flower,

a sun that quivers and fits between my hands.

It leaves in me,

I don’t know why, that bird,

unmeasurable joy.

Softly, then I’m filled with great desire

to see it again, posing always

on the sadness of everyone, just as it is now, 

in my heart and 

there on the green branch.

(The name Cajigal refers to a Spaniard who subdued Venezuela among other places in the early 19th century. Wikipedia says, “In 1819 he was appointed captain general of Cuba and oversaw the restoration of the Spanish Constitution of 1812 in 1820. That same year he resigned due to health problems and retired to Guanabacoa, where he died in 1823.” My friend tells me that in her family, her Spanish Cuban grandmother used the word to mean a chaotic place. Further, many speculate it may be a species of tree deriving its name from an Aboriginal, perhaps Taino, language. I have picked the Governor’s name as it seems in keeping with Herrera’s theme.

Poetry for the Peeps! Georgina Herrera, Cuba

This is a continuation of my previous blogs in which I present my translations of the AfroCuban poet Georgina Herrera. I find her an amazing poet whose economy of language and simple words belies the deep and complex essence of her feelings and poetry. She balances a righteous anger with a hope for wholeness, with regard to both self and community. Her early life was one of deprivation and sadness. But her talent for writing defined her adult years. All the translations are done by me, with the original copyright belonging to Georgina Herrera, who has kindly given me permission to translate them. Wikipedia says:

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. …Her first poetry collection, G.H. appeared in 1962, since when she has published several books, characteristically using themes that centre on gender, Afro-Cuban history, and the African legacy: Gentes y cosas (1974), Granos de sol y luna (1974), Grande es el tiempo (1989), Gustadas sensaciones (1996), Gritos (2004), África (2006), and Gatos y liebres or Libro de las conciliaciones (2010). Although best known as a poet, Herrera has also worked as a scriptwriter for radio, television and film. With Daisy Rubiera she has co-authored a memoir entitled Golpeando la memoria: Testimonio de una poeta cubana afrodescendiente (Ediciones Unión, 2005).

PRIMERA VEZ ANTE UN ESPEJO

(Viendo una cabeza terracota de mil años, excavada en Ifé)

¿Dice alguien que no es
mi rostro este que veo?
¿Que no soy yo, ante el espejo
más limpio reconociéndome?
O…. ¿es que vuelvo a nacer?
Esta que miro
soy yo, mil años antes o más,
reclamo ese derecho.
Mi mano va
desde ese rostro al mío
que es uno solo y de las dos,
asciende, palpa
el mentón purísimo,
la espaciosa boca. Sí,
con mucho espacio, así que un solo beso
de ella basta
para pedir la bendición al viento,
la tierra, el fuego y la llovizna.
Ahora toca mi mano la nariz.
De un lado a otro va sobre ese rostro
de las dos. Esa nariz… mi dios; en la pradera
para mí sola, esa que llaman Universo,
en la que ando a mi albedrío,
atrapa olores.
Olor a fuego, a tempestad,
a tierra y agua juntos,
olor de amor, de vida inacabable
entra por ella; es
el total alimento de mi sangre.
Mi mano, al fin, a lo más alto
de ambos rostros llega:
los pómulos, la frente, baja
un poco nada más hasta los ojos
que yo miro y me ven.
Ojos tremendos
en los que apaga y aviva sus fuegos la tristeza.
Soy yo. Espejo o renacida.

de Gatos y liebres o libro de las conciliaciones, Ediciones Unión, La Habana
(1978, 1989, 1996, 2006, 2007)

First Time Before a Mirror

(on seeing a terracotta head, excavated in Ife)

Can anyone say that this 

is not my face I see?

That it is not I before the mirror

more clearly recognizing myself?

Or… is it that I have been born again?

She that I see

Is I, a thousand years before or later,

I reclaim this right.

My hand goes

from that face to mine

which is one, alone and then, to two

it travels up, touches 

the purest forehead,

the spacious mouth. Yes,

with much space, so much that only one kiss

of hers

is enough to ask blessings of the wind,

the earth, the fire, and the drizzle.

Now I touch my hand to my nose.

From one side to another over this face

of the two of us. This nose…my god; on that prairie

 of mine alone, that they call Universe,

where I wander at my whim,

trapping smells.

Scent of fire, of storm

of soil and water together,

scent of love, of endless life

enters my nose; it

is the total nourishment of my blood. 

My hand finally, touches the peaks of 

both faces:

cheeks, forehead, lowers a bit just to the eyes

that I see and that see me.

Tremendous eyes

in which sadness, puts out and revives, fires. 

I am. Mirror or reborn.

Mirror, Mirror, Kaushalya Bannerji 2019

Sobre el poeta, el amor, la poesía

Los poetas
Hacemos democracia con la intimidad.
Quitamos falsos techos,
abrimos las ventanas,
descorremos cerrojos fabulosos…
Surge así el poema,
nuestro modo
de hacer saber hasta qué punto hicimos grandes
a momentos, a seres tan pequeños.

On the poet, love, poetry

The poets
We make democracy with intimacy
We remove false roofs,
open windows
unscrew fabled bolts…
that’s how the poem surges into being,
our way
of knowing to what extent we made great,
for a moment, such small beings.

Sin Titulo

Estas palabras, aparentemente
suaves y tranquilas,
palabras transparentes, sí, pero
tenaces.
Llegan, entran, se quedan para
siempre.
Son mi manera.
Así es que grito,
y sé que me hago oír

de Gatos y liebres o libro de las conciliaciones, Ediciones Unión, La Habana
(1978, 1989, 1996, 2006, 2007)

Dream, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2021

Untitled

These words, apparently
soft and calm
transparent words, yes, but
tenacious
They arrive, they enter, they stay for
ever.
It’s my way.
That’s how I shout
And I know I have made myself heard.

The Great Wave, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2021

Poetry for the Peeps! AfroCuban Poetry in Translation

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

Eruption, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2021

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.

Shooting Star, Kaushalya Bannerji 2021
Ocean Sunset, Kaushalya Bannerji

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.

That Obscene Bird of Night/Insomnia (With Thanks to Jose Donoso), Kaushalya Bannerji, 2021

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.

Autorretrato

Between, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020

Figura solitaria transitando
un camino inacabable
Sobre los hombros lleva
su mundo:
trinos,
sueños,
cocuyos
y tristezas.

Self Portrait

Solitary figure walking
an endless road.
On her shoulders, carries
her world:
trills,
dreams,
glow worms,
and sorrows.

Dome, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2021

Water Finds its Own Level

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.

Afrocubaweb, Georgina Herrera Cardenas

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.”

Wikipedia.
Las Aguas Van Cogiendo Su Nivel

Mis orishas y mis negras viejas
no necesitan
que en un rincon les pongan alimentos
ni agua para la sed.
Lo que les quema la garganta
son ganas de justicia
visto asi,
 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
don’t need
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.
Water Finds its Own Level, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
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
pero
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
toward happiness.
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
for what.
Icarus, Kaushalya Bannerji, September 2020

Poetry for the Peeps!

Just this past week, Cuba had its Saint day, as La Virgen de la Caridad de Cobre, her patron saint, was celebrated in Santiago de Cuba on September 8th. On the 12, Yoruba deity, Oshun, the syncretic counterpart of Cachita (Caridad), daughter and goddess of rivers, love, femaleness, guile, and beauty, is celebrated. One of her symbols is the sunflower, and among other things, she loves honey!

.

Sunflower, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020

Below I’ve translated 2 poems musicalized by 2 of Cuba’s most renowned trovadors. Pablo Milanes’ exquisite rendering of Nicolas Guillen’s poem is part of a series of poems by Guillen that he musicalized.The second piece, by Pedro Luis Ferrer, is part of the soundtrack to “Before Night Falls”, the cinematic tribute to Reinaldo Arenas’ book of the same name. Can’t say I am a big Arenas fan even though I am a fellow queer (and have experienced homophobic and racialized violence in Cuba). But the soundtrack picked by Julian Schnabel is pretty amazing. And this song resonates whenever times are hard, which they seem to be lately!

Key Words, Nicolas Guillen, Cuba (Translated Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020)

Make of your life
a bell that resonates
or a furrow— in which flowers
the luminous tree of the idea.
Raise your voice over the voice without name
of all others, and make visible
the man, along with the poet.

Fill your spirit with flame,
see the peaking of the summit,
and if the knotty support of your walking stick
discovers some obstacle to your will—
spread your daring wings
before the daring-filled obstacle!

Jacob Lawrence, Barbershop, USA

Palabras Fundamentales, Nicolas Guillen ,

Haz que tu vida sea
campana que repique
o surco en que florezca y fructifique
el árbol luminoso de la idea.
Alza tu voz sobre la voz sin nombre
de todos los demás, y haz que se vea
junto al poeta, el hombre.
 
Llena todo tu espíritu de lumbre;
busca el empinamiento de la cumbre,
y si el sostén nudoso de tu báculo
encuentra algún obstáculo a tu intento,
¡sacude el ala del atrevimiento
ante el atrevimiento del obstáculo!

Kaushalya Bannerji copyright 2018

Mariposa, Pedro Luis Ferrer

Mariposa, me retoza
la canción junto a la boca
y tu imagen me provoca
florar en ti, mariposa.
Un lamento me reposa
como un mar de juramento:
en tu figura yo encuentro
la existencia de las flores
porque perfecta en amores
te siento como un lamento.

Mariposa, cual llorosa
canción que en ti se hace calma,
vienes calmándome el alma
con tu volar, mariposa.
La libertad de una rosa
es vivir en la verdad.
Bien sé que hay felicidad
en cada flor que te posas:
me lo dijeron las rosas,
eres tú su libertad.

Tu paz me llena, no hay pena
que pueda acabar contigo:
el amor es un amigo
que trae paz y que te llena.
Por mi aliento, cada vena
que por el cuerpo presiento
es como un sol que no intento
apagarlo con tristeza
porque pierde la belleza
del amor y del aliento.

Soy tu amigo, soy testigo
de cómo sin daño vives:
eres la paz, tú persigues
al que te mata al amigo.
En tu dulzura me abrigo
y entrego mi mente pura:
así la vida me dura
eternamente la vida
y no hay una sola herida
que no te tenga dulzura.

Ay, mariposa,
contigo el mundo se posa
en la verdad del amor:
sé que en el mundo hay dolor,
pero no es dolor el mundo.

The Lovers, D’Angelo Williams, U.SA , 2019

Butterfly, Pedro Luis Ferrer (Translated, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020)

Butterfly, you frolic song
against my mouth.
Your image arouses

my flowering
in you, butterfly.
A lament rests me
like a sea of vows:
in your figure I encounter
the existence of flowers
because perfect in love
I feel you like a lament.

Butterfly, how a tearful song
is calmed by you;
you arrive, calming my soul
with your flight, butterfly.
The freedom of a rose
is to live in truth.
I well know that there is happiness
in each flower on which you alight;
the roses tell me you are their freedom

Your peace fills me, there is no sorrow
that can finish you off.
Love is a friend
that bring peace and fills you.
By my breath, each vein
which I feel in my body
is like a sun that I don’t try
to put out with sadness
because then I would lose
the beauty
of love and breath.

I am your friend, I am witness
of how you live without destruction;
You are peace, you pursue
he who has killed your friend.
I surrender my pure mind
and thus endure life eternally.
There is not one wound
that doesn’t bring you sweetness.

Oh, butterfly
with you the world alights in the truth of love.
I know in the world there is sorrow
but sorrow alone is not the world.

Butterfly Migration, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2019