One day I discovered that my wife accused me of attempted murder. She based her accusation on a poem she had found among my unpublished scribbles, where I addressed the dream of a just death that could follow a liberating shot. Carrying forward the tragic event, with the right that attends every potential victim, she published a disturbing poem in the magazine La Gaceta de Cuba — as it had received a mention in the Cuban Writers and Artists Union “Julian del Casal” award — “Having Read Francis’s work ‘pedaleo.'”
Her first verse, in her own self-defense, could not be clearer and more forceful: “i have discovered that my husband kills me in a verse.”
Her writing came through like that, in small letters, as if belonging to a crushed soul, even before I was able to print my own ‘pedaleo’ poem, the cause of the problem, which only some time later would appear in my book Caja negra (Black Box) (Ed. Unión, Havanna, 2006.) One needs not to be too perceptive to understand that her feminine denunciation would cause some impact, which added to the flutter already stirred among the critics due to its piercing expressive sign—a generational, even genealogical, trait, shared with this virtual criminal?—or perhaps because the most hidden and hurt vein of her anguish had been exposed.
These days she is traveling to Havana, to the Book Fair; she is there right now—which I’m clearly using to my advantage—presenting her latest poetry book, escribir la noche (writing the night) (Ed. Letras Cubanas, Havana, 2010,) where the accusatory poem is featured. As it can be seen, for the title of the book she insists in taking out words from the oven which seem to grow in contact with the air, over which someone has rolled with a rolling-pin. I will not defend myself. I would never subject to any doubt that the dough of our love exudes all the pains and traumas that sincerely unite words. We are flesh of the same flesh. To kill and kill ourselves are edges of the same dream. Always a third shadow walks behind us.
My text was also lacking—before hers —those caps, while my desire for an “impossible shot” pointed, finally, at opening the door of the suicide, a tunnel “behind my head.” Sometimes what unites us most are precisely the abusive fears that attempt to destroy and scatter the place of a human gaze over the earth. My boredom with lived circumstances has acquired the hyperbolic shape of my own death, an intimate break-up with myself, and the terror of those tanks sent down the street in some remote China, because we had always felt them advancing. Doubtlessly, the veil of our innocence was always torn.
Bear in mind that, to her, in her verses, the savage bestiality enters and passes over us almost without warning, with the siege of daily life, with “the weariness of the province,” that colorless and odorless repression which has also fused us like broken bones. I will now limit myself to publishing, for the first time, both poems, together, in the order they were written. I give myself to this with full consciousness of my uselessness as an individual, but, at the same time, with that temerity of species that brushes its perfection in the shudder of love—for justice, for liberty, and for her, Amanda,—just as that man could have felt, he who briefly stopped a caravan of tanks that advanced—was his name ever known? Will he be remembered?—over Tienanmen Square.
(Ciego de Ávila, Cuba, February 16, 2011.)
i pedal up the street with a certain pride after stowing the moldy cries of my wife and give pause momentarily to the idea of shooting myself. if i am free it is because I have come to substitute air, i believe, and to hate her, and to measure from a distance the city that rots and decomposes. through the hole left by the idea of a bullet the smaller jokes can be seen. in between Napoleon and i, for example, only circumstances fit.
my childhood wrapped in a pavilion of perfumes is selling its body to injured soldiers of death. but this placidity comes with a punishment for the furrow left by the dream, no less eternal than the virgin’s corset or the hump of Miguel Angel sleeping on the scaffold.
it could happen–hearing this crippled mirror: one day they will judge me for my actions. i will not be an expatriate. i will not be mouth open on the cement like a bird with broken ears.
although it never bore fruit even my fatal destiny must be fulfilled like that of a flower.
what small difference is there between my two aimless legs that sour the emptiness of the city and those of the Chinaman — kicking on the gallows — when he held back the armored avalanche in the momentarily symbolic Tienanmen Square?
i coordinate movements, i drown heaven below and i watch the livid look of God, the chariot of fire or his two great empty windows through the tunnel that goes — i blow, sometimes sink my fingers, etc. — this impossible shot behind my head.
Francis Sanchez, from Caja Negra (Black Box) Ed. Union, Havana, 2006)
after the reading of Francis’s pedaleo
i’ve discovered in a verse that my husband kills me, in another he avoids killing me by pedaling his bicycle with no direction through the moldy city to the foundations. the air — he says — saved me from the shot, it also saved him from the same bullet ricocheting in his neck. he doesn’t know i read these poems with pride not because the same verse where he exorcizes silence, momentarily extracting the edge from the idea, of killing me and killing himself, but because it lets me visualize with minimum sound, truths that soothe me, stammered “between the largest and the smallest men only fitting the circumstances.” he knows that we are conquering forgetting and this is huge advantage: in this life no one will judge us by our acts.
i can survive his momentary hatred, uncertain, while i hide in the smell of my ears the gunshot wound that he didn’t give me, flowing, unstoppable, i can survive the fact that napoleon, miguel angel, the heroes without name sustained in the everyday scaffolding and not appearing i, on another scaffolding still weaker, giving foundations as strings.
i can survive the pain that only loads on their backs rusty sacks of my screams and my body intact as a white flag over his body in flames. and not my hands stopping the onslaught of tanks that threatens us the tedium of the province, the dust from their walls rotting under the inclemency of the neighbor, of the hunger and nakedness of the province and its bitter trains, always on time. and not my flaxen children born from me, from before me, giving us the true useless significance.
i can not survive the deck of oblivion, the absence of the white deer against the horizon, meandering dreams under the same purity. i can not survive the signs that abandon a spring with adolescent fear. how heavy a park broken in memory, the oaths spilling by saffron scent of the flame tree. the touch of your hands on my astonishment, on the roundness of distress. there is much to suffer to return to that perfume and find it intact in memory.
i have discovered that my husband kills me in one of his insipid pedalings around the city for not receiving in his neck the ricochet of the shot that he didn’t give me, my husband who tries one day to sit down at his side, at last alone, and to talk, and yet, when I read in his veins, the tunnels discover other forbidden worlds.
(Ileana Álvarez, in escribir la noche, Ed. Letras Cubanas, La Habana, 2010.)
Translated by Karen, t, and Sydney
February 23 2011