Exile – by Gabriel Valjan
Exile was first published in Issue 17 of >kill author.
For my namesake
El desterrado es ese tipo de persona que ha perdido a su amante y busca en cada rostro nuevo el rostro querido y, siempre autoengañándose, piensa que lo ha encontrado.
The exile is the type of person who, having lost the Beloved, keeps searching for the face he loves in every new face and, forever deceiving himself, thinks he has found it.
Antes de que anochezca (Autobiografia)
My mother certainly says I am Odysseus’ son; but for myself I cannot tell. It’s a wise child that knows its own father.
—Telemachus to Athena as the Taphian stranger.
Homer, Odyssey 1.215
Telemachus searched the sea to heal a scar.
We are at that age we can call ourselves friends.
The reflection in the mirror is an object. It possesses the quality of reflecting, but it has no identity. It does not know itself. It has a name because I give it a name. I look and what I see returned to me is your dark hair and your jawbone. You are one half the equation of my existence.
We do what we have to in this world to survive.
Old friend, I place words to the page, call it my searching the sea, and healing the scar.
Memory is the untamed monster.
The ghosts of the Taíno, ghosts of the criollos, ghosts of the peninsulares wander the Plaza de la Revolución betrayed. You recall as a child the madness of recruits, the Patriot Youths, the red armbands, and the boyish impulse in the blood to fight and fuck. It is more absurd than obscene. After all the propaganda an American Coke and Cuban rum in a bar is ironic.
Cries of “Patria…Patria” echo all those years ago in your mind. Three syllables that led to all those deaths, all those ideals of youth that Time and Experience slowly corrupted.
Your beloved Martí died gallant on his white horse. Three bullets pierced him. His wounds are the incomplete stigmata for the Revolución. Death was his last poem charging that hill at Dos Ríos.
Let the martyrs be buried in the graveyard of angels.
You smell the rain. You smell the wet earth. You feel the archaic prayer move in the darkness of the night. Mangroves and the oleander are your witnesses. The unknown legion of insects hums in the darkness.
Under the trees, among the paralyzed flowers, History leaves the rehabilitated and it runs into the Past and returns to the Present with her revisions. We are dizzy with Truth. Sancho Panza held more wisdom in his belly and in his laugh. He was a free man. The rest of us attack the windmills.
You heard the hymns of youth. You recall your days of song and dance. The timba. The guaguancó. You remember the look some girl gave you over her shoulder as she walked away, but you didn’t have the courage to pursue her into the night.
History causes us to look over our shoulders as we continue to move through the night of ignorance.
The fervor of ideas. The word Diaspora is politicized. It belongs to no one. We are all victims and victimizers in these consuming gyres of History.
I listen. The cicadas charge the air with urgency. The humidity moves their song from murmur to sobbing in the near distance. The darkness seems to remind me I cannot hear well, but I listen.
You are the mathematician of my sorrow. We adore the rigor, the rightness of the logic. We remember the chalk on our hands and the pounding heart at the blackboard. Do you remember the difficulty of solving unknown variables? For twenty years you were the unknown variable in the equation of my life. I never called you father. I never called anyone father. A boy can love what he never had. I listen.
After these many years and numerous theorems and derivations I would prefer the simple lesson, those rites, of you teaching me how to shave that first time, tying a tie that first time.
All this talk of heroes and the heroic nauseates me.
The hero is the single mother working two jobs who has a loving smile for her children after the long hours. The hero is the father who attends the after school events. The heroic is the parent who admits they don’t know how to do the homework.
The heroic is the mulatto who sees beyond race and declares himself a citizen of the world. The hero feels the pain and suffering and vows to renounce pain and suffering, find liberation for himself and others.
The heroic is declaring your love even when the Beloved isn’t worthy. The hero and the heroic is the strength of presence for the ill, the confused, and the neglected.
Some say Cadmus was the first hero; others say Prometheus. It is academic. One can look at either and declare them the first poets. Poetry requires the hero and heroic. Prometheus, like all poets, was a thief. O what he stole from the altar of Knowledge! He had his liver torn out daily and us poets our hearts with each line of verse.
Cadmus sowed the dragon’s teeth of civilization. Communism is the end of Civilization. Capitalism is the end of Civilization.
You never knew I was a poet, never read my work. I am neither Hero nor Heroic.
We are the ants in the amber of cause and effect.
The streets of Havana are frozen in the time of your youth. Old cabs and the Studebakers, their mobile ailments defied definitive cures, fixed with an enterprising spirit. Then there are the blackouts. The light bulb filament is chaste of electrons. The rations. The life of privation, although there is no shortage of sugar.
The égalitarian homogeneity of a political vision exists from Santos Suárez to Old Havana, all over the island of palms.
The television, no matter where it sits in this world, mesmerizes. The flickering black and white set reflects American cars as old as the ones on their streets. The newsreel shows black Americans beaten by police, mauled by shepherds, and thrown back by the water cannon. Spectators accept the illusion.
The cinema student from the University agrees that black and white film shows contrasts and depths not available in color. They know today that this was some vague yesterday. They accept the illusion.
Outside are slogans along the Línea.
A word here, a word there, and together in sequence they mean something and nothing.
You know along the Malecón the waves vault spray over the seawall.
The black depth of night can seem endless between the stars, between them and us. Nothing matters but the nocturnal instincts. One hears the drums, one feels the clave rhythm. One moves with the delicious sway of the hips, the foot-to-foot, and small steps to the three-three-two beat of the drums. This is the music that arouses the blood. It instigates the cockfight. It is the music where the man finds the woman.
Imagine the night when slaves felt free before the day’s labors arrived. The pulse and pounding of the cajón punctuates the night. The player straddles the wooden crate that once held fruit and sets the pace. The sweetness of papaya perfumes the air. The guitar plays the melody. Imagine the night. Imagine the slaves in the catholic night. She moves and lets him lead. The scent of papaya, sweat, and tobacco calls back mystery to the rhythm.
He takes her in the music. She smiles. Daylight will come, but not yet.
You tell me what you saw in your last visit. You pass by the hotel. A woman sits next to a European, emotionless. She knows how to create credibility, how to feel and how to think. All persona. This is her business.
In ancient Greece one would recognize these cultivated women, for they stood out for their education and because they dyed their hair blonde. They never had children.
The jintera at the bar barters her body for money that pays for the medicines that will help her sick child. Her husband knows her work in tourism and his pride is wounded by necessity. It is the only way. His work doesn’t allow him to ask or seek for more than his fellow workers. He hears his daughter in the next room.
You tell me, here, if a woman decided to wear the banner declaring herself a Suicide her preferred method is immolation. Before neighbors and God the gossip will circulate, but the heads nod in understanding. The flesh burns one way or another.
The European takes her by the arm and smiles. They leave.
With a jazz score in the background, you tell me of the forbidden Vedado mansions. You tell of the queue for ice cream at Coppelia.
There is a line for everything in paradise. Ice cream is no exception. Today in its own way another struggle emerges there. Who knew that a strawberry and butterfly are the symbols for homosexuality? Fresa y mariposa?
Maybe some knew this when the Plaza was once for the Republic, but now it is for the Revolución.
He is our Homer. Among lilacs and a lifetime of revising one book of poems, Whitman is our great poet of Death.
He would proudly twist the end of his white beard and welcome the appellations maricón or pato. You have your Martí.
Does one send a butterfly to a rehabilitation camp hoping that the butterfly would arrest its own beauty?
The morning sky has some of the redness left over from last night.
The heat will not end. Time drags interminable. Sometimes after great passion, sometimes after profound simpático the great heights of the heart are scaled, promised potentials glimpsed, or sometimes the disappointment comes in the morning to strangle the heart among the cold sheets. You hold your breath. Sometimes before the morning you hear from her that it was all a mistake. You smile and understand politely, but inside you go home humiliated.
Old friend, we both feel intensely. I have heard, listened intently. I have heard those regrets so often that I can walk into the night hiding my heartbreak, finding my way into daylight without looking at the horizon.
This is not fear of yielding. One can hone Renunciation like the machete of the macheteros, but it will do no good if there is no sweetness. It will do no good. Love is difficult for us.
Some eat and drink their emptiness. You smoked and drank like a protracted and determined suicide. Some pursue the flesh. You bedded countless women like a sensual Nihilist. There is a point, and it is not Pride, where all these distractions become degrading. I know of what I write.
Unlike your Martí, I will not die in enemy hands.
You ask me what it is like to not hear well.
I will tell you.
Some things you don’t hear you wish you could feel. It is true. My mother said those words. Te amo…I love you. I didn’t feel them. I never heard those words from you. I don’t feel them. I don’t expect them at this age. It is true. It is likely that I wouldn’t believe them at this age. Words like poetry are emotions.
What I say I wish I heard.
It is odd. Sometimes what is unsaid hurts most. What hurts more is when you think you heard it, thought you felt it, and it is all a misunderstanding. The philosopher will tell you that you fell in love with the idea.
You took in the cigarette and exhale words of smoke.
The obedient man is called Citizen. The disobedient man is called first Stranger, then Alien, and finally Exile.
You obeyed your father’s disobedience and came here. It is said somewhere a son’s duty is to listen. You listened. You came here against your wishes. Somewhere it is said this is the dream. Somehow there are always rules that come down from somewhere, although nobody hears the author or sees the book.
A cigarette is lit. The sulfurous match is waved into extinction. Here or there one can work. You make more here, there you make what you are told. Both places tell you that you are free. Freedom is its own good. Society needs her myths.
After the money is made, the hours compiled, things consumed and obtained, you decide that you do not want more. Is it possible you don’t want more? This is blasphemy. You became the Stranger. You were already in exile and an alien. Assimilate or become disobedient. You became twice outcast.
Free of debt you are free. The restlessness in the blood returns. There is no alternative dream. This is it. There is nothing here except making money and spending it. Oh it is true you are told that nobody will come steal you away in the middle of the night. Or will they?
This is it. Your blood rebels, the ocean moves in your veins, the sounds of the jungle birds disrupt the treetops in your head.
The morning once began with possibility. The afternoon once brought certainty. Now the night unveils finality.
We live in internal Exile.
The sea is memory.
The island is an island because of the sea. Her rhythms are our breathing, eternal through the ages of rhetoric and tyrants. We breathe short as the time between thought and deed. We breathe and we die. When the breath stops, we stop.
Nothing matters now. None of it mattered. Life moves to death. You move defiantly towards yours. This is your way. This is your way of breathing, but it is still the sea moving within.
Sunlight and the night are assured us. This much I know. None of us know the details of death except that Death will come. I look ahead.
I look ahead at the shore and I hear the beach, some music plays and I smile. A man is pursuing a woman who looked at him over her shoulder and he had the courage. For others who dance, some memories are made.
I look ahead at the shore in the quiet place of my mind and wish that when the waves come and remove the traces of the path you walked, that it is done quickly as the time between thought and deed.
The poet touches the alphabet of the tribe. He is always the most dangerous one in the City. He will never be the glorious philosopher-king. He is sent into exile.
I have lived outside the periphery of the city wall since birth. Nothing here speaks to me and I welcome internal exile. I cannot live any other way.
And when the time is right and the need arrives to hear and feel the cool waters the poet speaks, I will speak.
You have your arguments with god and life. It is yours to have and conclude.
Poetry does not appear in the mind by itself, but planted there. We cannot change each other after all these years. You remain yourself.
I would have still become the writer I am. You would have found me writing the words on yucca leaves. You would have found me composing the rhythm to the drums or the melody to the song. You would have emptied my pockets and found the shards of pottery declaring my exile and my images. This is me.
And had you asked after those twenty years I would have done it.
I would have entered the banquet hall, and as Telemachus, slain all the suitors.
I am your son.