there’s a cabin on a mountain. the sky’s foam gives the mountain a cool, transparent atmosphere. the air around the mountain is sonorous, pious, legendary, prohibited. the entrance to the mountain is prohibited. the mountain has its place in the soul. it’s the horizon of something and it retreats ceaselessly. it gives the sensation of an eternal horizon . . . and I describe that painting with tears, because the painting strikes my heart. it feels how my thought unfurls across the painting, a space that’s ideal, absolute, but in a space with a form that could be incorporated into reality. there I fall out of the sky…   — Artaud

the black line (more abrupt) is the one that ruptures our equilibrium with those skips that cause us to deviate from continuity. you preferred the red one. because, like me, it was a river of blood that’s feared–it can wash you away. it allowed us to keep going along above our boots toward a tenuous slope–to glide and pretend–that we rupture the air pockets with our lungs and that we open, with our bodies incarnate, the illusion of a form. swift, across the immense whiteness that turns purple-blue with the desperation of the after. after this love? after this ocean? after this metaphor? to glide and to fall on the frothy snow, bathing ourselves in light, in champagne, in red algae . . . we’ve suffered so much from wanting to open up the line at the edge of the object, the feeling, the word, the border. the border of nature is black and we’ll brain ourselves in an attempt to cross it (the skies where we used to commit suicide in reverse, toward infinity, against gravity). the bloodstained hills under the snowy peak that cut into my left leg when I scraped against it and I, rather than suffering from the wound, describe its pain (aesthetics) of disaster. against all protection–unprotected–looking in the mirror at the fissure from which I bleed, first sniffing, touching the bubble that appears and later, from that complicit height, to always watch the body, shrunken and dark from the act in which we’ve participated as an incident, not as a choice. of the different lines of escape, we’ve taken one as a way–not as an end–and this red, lyric line allows us to concentrate our sensations in the structure of a feeling, to throb with the explosion of a word (wrapper) that encloses and protects our desire. the poesis of this watery line allows me to pretend that this human landscape is one of snow. and it’s inside. without the difference of the (my) intermediary, I assume it as an (I). but I’m tired of the drawing and I throw it away (the boot bucks and drops its binding and I don’t fall). does a difference exist, or is the self in the difference? that’s how I can repeat the fall incessantly. but the space comes and goes. does the writing move away from itself (the motion of the stroke enters the very motion of the text), from life? the difference is choice. the difference doesn’t exist at the center (each thing is the same thing). the difference is peripheral and I like to wander, to split those oblique borders that seem to determine some structure of feeling between these trails of complexity that the artist chooses for his blue, his green, his black gravity. the trails aren’t in the context, they just mediate the interior and the white surface of the mountain (his page). Mont Blanc as end and death. and the metaphor (paperweight with snow made from blanched wheat that whirls around without melting) is the real fiction. every man is alone in his determination. and this is nothing more than the tone that assaults him when he makes a choice in time. not in space, his space, which is instant and repetition. we’ve sensed it at different heights (the yellow espeletia seem like forests, as we court the shadows of the trees). over the appearance of this reality, a fixity: we’re imprisoned between the gray air of the paperweight, its green pines, and the border that is the sky and is made of glass. from here, the fable: the sentence constructed to save ourselves from not coming back from the black hole, its dark line, the most dangerous point of escape. (my feminine discourse is syntax; the stapling of the tapestry in which I capture the night). the bell sounds its last peal with horror, it opens and that’s my fatal moment to intervene, to glide, frightened (to create inside us spaces for life, spaces that didn’t exist, that didn’t seem to be able to find a location in space). you were expecting a story. dare to discern whether you’ve ridden on a ski sauvage, between the leisure and the soft caress with streaks of the obscenity that is writing.

— Translated by Kristin Dykstra and Nancy Gates Madsen




The ventilator
blades are tired of lifting dust over
these lifeless objects
objects in disuse.exhaling.restlessness.
on a sinuous street an abandoned store
and it’s June it’s called paradise.
pressed against the window I’m chewing straw
and see nothing specific definable: nothing costly
the point being not to die not to see
a boredom that once pertained to light
stains here and there
no one knows what of.
spent timeworn nothing costly
waiting for a buyer to come: useless garment
my left breast out from under my blouse
there’s a whetstone.
the rats watch us, distrust us, watch us
their reddish eyes behind a cardboard box.
items that meant something once
simulation. ovation.
the melody is mediocre a music blending
to complaints from the fan
blades shuddering against themselves. something moves
seems to move.
old lamps old artifice: nothing costly
mirrors only images
the opaque mercury against the eye of a previous object.
we are sick of the performance and the indemnity.
the street sinuous: storefront. monte street. paradise.
setting down the second-hand store that allured me
ok I was looking
but now nothing’s antique not even
the proximity of their forms to curb the illusion
among so many objects of no use no destiny
resigned to their silent routine
when not
otherwise piled together

— Translated by Roberto Tejada




—at least, that’s how he looked, backlit—
for Fernando García


I stuck a red tack into the photo
—into the famous, legendary photo—
the ectoplasm of what has been,
what you see on the paper is as secure
as what you touch. photography
has something to do with resurrection.
—maybe he was already here
in what was real, in the past
with the distant man whom I now see in the portrait.
the Byzantines said that Christ’s image
on the shroud of Turin wasn’t made
by the hand of man.
I’ve exiled that reality into the past;
I stuck a red tack into the photo.
through that image (on the wall, in the photo)
we’re contemporaries again.
the body’s reserve in a face’s demeanor,
that speck of life, like the man himself,
that distant man whom I now see in the photo
something moral, something cold.

it was the end of a century and there was no way out.
the dome had fallen, the utopia,
an immense vault billowing from my head,
had fallen.
the black Christ from the Church of Christ
—at least, that’s how he looked, backlit—
reflecting his soul at high noon.
I could even photograph that distant Christ;
could have the casual resignation
to recover my faith.
could look again, too, at the yellow leaves,
at the ghost of a tree in Havana’s Central Park,
its fountain dry.
(and you who still require faith from me.)

my friend was the supposed or real son.
he carried poems in the pocket
of his school uniform.
he was always an unusual boy,
one I couldn’t love,
maybe because I loved him already. the mother (his mother)
was his (mental?) lover
and she is what they fear the most in him.
what does it matter if they once met each other
on a more real level.
in the house on the Malecón, he had that
old book by Neruda, dedicated.
I don’t know what his handwriting was like—or certainty, either.
I don’t know if anything can be real again.
his son was my friend,
between the blue and yellow curves of the sea.
what you see on the paper is as secure
as what you touch. (I press down on the red tack,
the click of the shutter . . . what you see isn’t
the flash of gunpowder, but the tiny lightning
of a photo.)
the son (his son) lives in a yellow house
on the Malecón—no one knows it, he doesn’t know it either—
he’s a poet and a carpenter.
they’ve made him wear a beret since he was a child
so no one could steal his illusion that he would be,
someday, like his father.
something in the eye socket, a certain irritation;
something in the silence and in the resolve
seems like him. between the blue and yellow
curves of the sea.
—it’s said they appeared on the plain
and the image wasn’t made by the hand of man—
maybe he was already there, waiting for us.
the verisimilitude of existence is what matters,
the pure archeology of the photo, of reason.
(and you who still require faith from me.)

the black Christ from the Island of Christ is still untouchable,
in spite of the forgery they’ve made
of his flesh in the restoration;
the lover is still untouchable
and attends homages on anniversaries;
(his son) my friend, the poet, the carpenter of the Malecón,
walks in cracked sandals through
the streets of Havana,
through bars where cheap rum overflows,
and lives in a yellow house
between the blue and darkened curves of the sea.
what does it matter to have lived
for more than fifteen years so close to the spirit of
that distant man,
to his purest feature, to his genetic illusion,
under the corrupted shadow
of the summer’s only tree, thirty years later?
if he has died, if he too will die?

I don’t dare put the legendary photo on the wall.
a simple click of the shutter, a red tack
and the germinating grains of silver
(his immortality)
announce that the photo has also been attacked
by the light; that the photo will also die
from the ocean’s dampness, its duration;
the contact, the devotion, the fatal
obsession of repeating so many times that we would be like him.
anyway, I don’t dare for fear of resurrection,
because resurrection too is touched by death.

the only thing that’s left for me is to know that I was, that I am
the imaginary lover of an imaginary man
the real friend of the poet of the Malecón,
with the same insufficient desire as the eye that captured
his literal death, photographing things
in order to drive them away from the spirit afterwards;
finding myself there, in what is real, in the past,
in what has been,
by having been made in order to be like him;
in the real death of an imaginary past
—in the imaginary death of a real past—
where this fable doesn’t exist, or the importance
or the impotence of this fable,
without the right to unveil it
(a poem gives us the right to be illegitimate in something
more than its transcendence and its corruptibility).
a simple click of the shutter
and history returns like a declaration of love
but empty and dry. like the fountain in Central Park
or the ghost of fallen leaves that was once its protective tree.
she has been trapped by light (history, truth)
the woman who was or who wanted to be like him,
the friendship with the one who will be, who will never be his son,
the woman who loved him from her open house,
anonymous, on the closed page of the Malecón;
under the shadow of the shutter’s click
opened many times
in the boy’s insistent eyes,
darkened almonds that
learned to see
and to be silent
as if chosen.
(and you still require some faith from me?)


Translated by Kristin Dykstra & Nancy Gates Madsen


Reina María Rodríguez is the author of numerous books and a two-time winner of the Casa de las Américas award for poetry.  Some of her recent books are El libro de las clientas (2005),  Bosque negro (2005), and Otras cartas a Milena (2004).  These original and translated versions of “Ski sauvage” and “—at least, that’s how he looked, backlit—“ (which refers to the image of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, though without ever naming him explicitly) are taken from the bilingual anthology of her work, Violet Island and Other Poems (Green Integer, 2004).  The poem translated as “Paradise, Storefront, Monte Street” is from En la arena de Padua (1992), winner of Mexico’s Plural prize for poetry.