Poems by Ángel Escobar

About Ángel Escobar

In 1957 Ángel Escobar was born in Cuba’s eastern agricultural province of Guantánamo.  Trained in the theater, he first became visible on the poetry scene in 1997 after winning a national prize for emerging writers with the collection Viejas palabras de uso.  Escobar went on to write numerous other books of poetry, some published posthumously: Epílogo famoso (1985), La vía pública (1987), Malos pasos (1991), Todavía (1991), Abuso de confianza (1992), Cuando salí de La Habana (1997), El examen no ha terminado (1997), and La sombra del decir (1997).

Escobar took his life in early 1997 in Havana.  Recognizing his growing influence on the island, as well as interest from readers in other countries, Ediciones UNIÓN published his collected poetry in 2006 as Ángel Escobar:  Poesía completa.

The two poems featured here display typical features of his poetry. Escobar read widely in international literatures and frequently referenced lines by other writers within his own poems.  “Resguardo del orden” (“Protection of the order”) lays down three firm lines from a poem by the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, skips across a series of other international touchpoints, and concludes with the flourish of a line from a popular Cuban song.

Though spirited and often humorous, Escobar’s writing also deals with trauma, referencing early violence within his family, his wife’s experience of torture and imprisonment in Chile, and the desperation that many Cubans experienced with the onset of the “Special Period” in the 1990s (a profound economic crisis spurred by the loss of partnerships with the Soviet Union and aggravated by the ongoing US embargo; the crisis prompted large numbers of Cubans to try their luck at crossing the Florida Straits in homemade rafts).  His book Abuso de confianza (Breach of Trust), which explores diverse forms of trauma, is seen by fellow poets and island critics to mark an important moment of synthesis in his poetic development.  It is represented here by “Siempre escasea un relámpago en la mesa” (“Always a shortage of lightning on the table”).

“The Great Leap Outward,” a short essay about Ángel Escobar by his fellow poet Pedro Marqués, is featured in English translation in Jacket Magazine 38 (Late 2009).  Other poems translated by Kristin Dykstra appear in the same issue.  More of her translations of Escobar’s poetry have been published in Lana Turner, The Brooklyn Rail (InTranslation), and Mandorla.

Kristin Dykstra’s translations and Ángel Escobar’s original poems appear with the permission of his widow, Ana María Jiménez.  Kristin Dykstra thanks the Banff Center (Alberta, Canada) for supporting her work on Escobar’s poetry. Kristin Dykstra

Protection of the order

If one adds a detail to reality
one transforms the world.  Méliès did it—
and ended up selling toys in a fair.
I’m not Basquiat (1960-1988) but I will raise my voice –
you can tell me to go to hell,
I’ll tell you like he did:  “This examination is over.”
I don’t have what it takes, according to Hölderlin, for
the golden mediocrity of life.  I think I think, with him,
that what endures is made by poets – and so like Franz
I have a curious animal, half kitty,
half lamb – an inheritance from the father.  Franz
comes to be the poet, and I dig another tunnel of the Twenty.
I am an old corrupt mole; I go back to the ark—
while Voltaire tends his own garden.  And I say:
I’d like to execute an act liberating me as it unfolds – but
the thing internal to what is called an act, is this fact that one
does not know oneself, says Jacques Lacan my psychoanalyst to me.
The desire to live in more than one world doesn’t lead to my salvation—
I don’t know Blumenberg, I’m not lost in the forest
like a maiden.  Or yes:  I am lost, and alone, an animal
quartered before so many roads:  they break it open, knock it over.
Then he tells me about Sunday’s reading
which says mean-ing is the re-nun-ci-a-tion of a mean-ing.  I’m scared,
but tomorrow I’m off to Sibanicú, tomorrow.

Resguardo del orden

Si se le agrega un detalle a la realidad
se transforma al mundo.  Méliès lo hizo—
y terminó vendiendo juguetes en una feria.
Yo no soy Basquiat (1960-1988), pero alzaré la voz—
ustedes podrían igual decirme que vaya al diablo,
yo les diré como él:  “El examen ha terminado”.
No tengo lo que se requiere para, según Holderlin,
la dorada mediocridad de la vida.  Creo creer, con él,
que lo que queda lo fundan los poetas –así tengo,
como Franz, un animal curioso, mitad gatito,
mitad cordero –es una herencia del padre.  Franz
viene a ser el poeta, y yo cavo otro túnel del Veinte.
Yo soy un viejo topo corrupto; vuelvo al arca—
mientras Voltaire cultiva su jardín propio.  Y digo:
Quisiera hacer un acto que me libere andando –pero
lo interno a lo que se llama acto, es que se desconoce
a sí mismo, me dice Jacques Lacan, mi sicoanalista.
No me salva el querer que vivamos en más de un mundo—
no conozco a Blumenberg, ni estoy perdido en el bosque
como una doncella.  O sí:  estoy perdido, y solo, res
destazada ante tantos caminos:  la desjarretan, la tumban.
Luego me dice rintintín de la lectura de domingo
que el sentido es la renuncia a un sentido.  Tengo miedo,
pero mañana me voy p’a Sibanicú, mañana.

Spanish originally published in Cuando salí de la Habana (1996)

Always a shortage of lightning on the table

Rain falls.  When it’s over even the sky seems sticky.
And here you live as at the center of a day
with its edges nibbled off by the birds.
Someone laughs.  Others undress in a hotel room
by the squalid sea that rolled in
this Sunday with more bones from the drowned.
She washes decomposing feet.  Or is in the house
alone, alone,
alone and naked as a gunshot too.
Looking down at her feet.
By contrast you and I don’t know each other yet.
And here you sleep as if on the last bench of any unspecified
station,
from which the very first train and the last both left
a while ago.  “If you look through the curtains
of the window out there
you’ll see rails twisted up like a widow’s chignon.”
Afterwards nothing happens.  Rain falls.
And the sister-in-law of the husband of the other woman
cleans her nails, yawns.  “Rainfall”—
says someone not far off.  In spite of all this
we still don’t recognize ourselves.  It’s someone else there on the phone—
“I’m telling you I can’t explain the scenario.”
The air enters and slides through the hallways,
bangs against the forms crouched there
and gropes at our faces as if sightless.  Now here we go.

Siempre escasea un relámpago en la mesa

Llueve.  Al fin y al cabo hasta el cielo empalaga.
Y aquí se vive como al centro de un día
Con los bordes comidos por los pájaros.
Alguien ríe.  Alguienes se desnudan en un cuarto de hotel,
junto al mar cascarriento que ha venido
con más huesos de ahogado este domingo.
Ella se lava los pies echados a perder.  O está en la casa
sola, sola,
sola y desnuda también como un pistoletazo.
Mirándose los pies.
En cambio tú y yo no nos conocemos todavía.
Y aquí se duerme como en el último banco de una estación
cualquiera,
desde la que han salido el primer tren y el último
hace un rato.  “Si usted mira por los visillos
de la ventana afuera
verá los raíles torcidos como moño de viuda”.
Después no pasa nada.  Llueve.
Y la cuñada del esposo de la otra
se limpia pues las uñas bostezando.  “Llueve”—
dice quien no está lejos–.  Con todo y eso
aún no nos reconocemos.  Es otro quien allá telefonea—
“Te digo que no puedo contarte el argumento”–.
El aire entra a escurrirse en los zaguanes,
choca contra los bultos que hay agazapados
y nos palpa la cara como un ciego.  Ya nos vamos.

Spanish originally published in Abuso de confianza (1992)

Translated by Kristin Dykstra