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Pablo Armando Fernandez


Pablo Armando Fernandez:   Premier Poet of Cuba
Featuring Sample Poems from The Dream, The Reason

Biographical/Bibliographical Introduction
by Daniela Gioseffi, Translator

. .

Pablo Armando Fernandez is 74 years old and a premier poet of Cuba—a leader of his generation of writers. He won the coveted Casa De Las Americas Prize in 1969 for his celebrated novel, Los niños se despiden (Children's Farewell). Shortly thereafter, he slipped from literary view in his homeland. He became a nonperson, unable to publish his books for nearly a decade. Now he enjoys national prestige and publishes freely. Armando Fernandez, fond of being sardonic, has said:

We Cubans possess no wealth, other than our revolution. We have no gold, no energy, no forests, no big rivers. All we have are mosquitoes, Cubans, and the Revolution. And of those three, the worthiest is the Revolution which freed us from slavery, misery and hunger under Batista's imperialism! It will not only be preserved. It will always be improved.

In an interview with Marc Cooper printed in The Village Voice [May 1,1990], Armando Fernandez said:

I think it's very healthy for Cuba to be opposed by the United States. It brings us closer together! . . . . The United States and its economic blockage can be blamed for a lot of our troubles, but not all of them. When our bananas sit and rot on the dock, it has nothing to do with imperialism! But now with Eastern Europe changing, if our bureaucracy remains in place we can no longer say, 'Well, that's the way our socialist brothers and sisters live.' In that sense, we are better off alone. . . .
     We are islanders, and islanders never think of isolation. It is very beautiful, or perhaps very sad, but Cubans are very narcissistic. The only border we have is the sea. And when we come to the shore and look at the water, all we see is our own reflection, an eternal reproduction. And we leave very self-satisfied. I think it's healthy for us to be alone and narcissistic. We will be better off without the U.S. or U.S.S.R.  . . . At least now our errors are our own; we will have no one else to blame . . . Cuba is no Poland! Cuba is no Panama! Neither of those two things is going to happen here! If the bombs do start falling on us . . . this will not be a Panama.
     Our country has been preparing for 30 years. The bombs that fell on Panama were a warning, a reminder to the rest of Central America and the Caribbean. But we are not going to sit in the bar and sip drinks under the rockets as some did in Panama. The U.S. better not try that here! If we are attacked, millions of Cubans would die. But so will millions of Americans. No one knows what would happen if an island disappeared! Because surely, we would disappear before surrender. Probably, the two oceans would sweep over us and meet and the currents would carry us up the Mississippi River and overflow the plains. . . .

Pablo Armando Fernandez was born in the sugar mill factory town of Delicias in Las Tunas, Oriente, Cuba, in 1930. He had his high school education at the Instituto de Holguin and at Washington Irving High School in New York City. He attended Columbia University and lived in New York from 1943 to 1959. In 1958, his dramatic poem, Las armas son de hierro (The Weapons Are of Iron), was staged in the Sala del Movimiento 26 de Julio, a social gathering place for the Cuban Revolutionary Movement.

He returned to Cuba in 1959, where he held many positions, such as assistant editor of the literary section of Lunes de Revolucción, (Monday's Revolution) until 196l. From 1961 to 1962, he served as secretary of Casa de las Americas, an eminent Latin American literary institution which publishes the important magazine of the same name, and offers reknown literary prizes throughout Latin America. Julio Cortazar and Ezequiel Martinez Estrada of Argentina, and Mario Vargas Llosa of Chile, among other famous authors, have served on its Board of Directors. Next, he served from 1962 to 1965 as cultural attaché of the Cuban Embassy in England. He served for some years as director of the prestigious magazine, Union, published by &Unión de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba (UNEAC).

His poetry has been published in translation in many languages, among them:  French, Russian, Chinese, Bulgarian, Finnish, Swedish, Portuguese, and Danish. His first book of poems was titled, Salterio y lamentacion (Psalms and Lamentations) (1953). For Libro de los Heroes (Book of Heroes), he received a prize from Casa de las Americas in 1963. During his stay in New York, he published Nuevos poemas (New Poems) in 1955. It had an introduction by the well known poet and professor emeritus of Columbia University, Eugenio Florit. Many volumes followed, among them:  Toda la poesía, Admoniciones, El gallo de pomander walk, Poemas apocrifos de Adriano, Isla de Pinos, Armas, Campo de amor y de batalla, Suite para Maruja (for his wife), De este lado del espejo, Vuelven vigilantes a sus cumbres, and En tren hacia el poeta. Recently, he published a series of poems reminiscent of his time in New York City, titled, Pequeño cuaderno de manila Hartman, (From Hartman's Small Brown Envelope) written from 1948 to 1950 when he lived in Spanish Harlem. Hartman is the name of a Cuban friend who saved his poems for him in an envelope. His memories of New York are poignantly beautiful.

As a celebrated Cuban writer of today who spent much of his youth growing up in the United States and attending schools there, Pablo Armando Fernandez's work exemplifies cross-cultural exchange and is a good place to further Western hemisphere freindships between writers of Cuba and the USA. Speaking at New York University in 1988, where he was invited to read his poetry for the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, the poet said: "Reconciliation is the most important idea of our times. We must unite all people for the Earth's future."

Among his famous works of fiction are the novel, Los niños se despiden, (Children's Farewells), mentioned earlier, which received the Casa de las Americas prize in 1969. Prior to this well received novel, he published two other books of poetry in Europe, Un sitio permanente, (A Permanent Place) in Madrid in 1970, and Aprendiendo a morir, (Learning How to Die) in Barcelona in 1983. Both of these works received plaudits and prizes in their respective countries. Recently, his complete poetical works were collected and published in a volume titled, El sueño, la razón, (The Dream, The Reason), from which the Spanish originals, herein come. They are Copyrighted, 1988, Unión de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba (UNEAC), and reprinted by permission of the author.

Armando Fernandez told the U.S. poet/translator, Daniela Gioseffi:

Time for me is a bird dressed in black mourning, flying beyond the path of a train speeding into a never or a forever. Poetry is the progressive memory of culture, the primal memory of all its books, songs, stories and history. I never wanted to be a poet. A poet was the last thing I wanted to become. It wasn't important. I wanted to write plays, to portray the reasons for social justice, but friends told me I was a poet and it's come true. Poetry to me is a way of learning about myself. My memory is full of other memories, the books, the people I met, including my parents and grandparents. They gave me their memories so I would learn from them, but I needed to know about myself. I had a very serious need to know who I was, an identity, a projection of identity. My mother was Jewish and my father, Catholic. In Cuba, I went to a bilingual school, so I felt divided. Who was I and what am I? But whatever I am, I owe it to poetry.

© 2002 Daniela Gioseffi

~ . ~

[Photo: March 2000: Lawrence Ferlinghetti with Armando Fernandez in San Francisco. Source:]


Cantar no es fácil, joven.
No es ceñir cada palabra al canto
y apretadas, echarlas a volar.
Muchas veces tropiezan, caen y ruedan.
Dificil es alzarlas una a una
sin resentir sus alas; animarlas
de un aliento distinto,
no siempre poderoso, pero firme.
Y hacer que de ellas nazca la voz
que el canto exige.
Joven, cantar es doloroso.
No confíes al acento del canto
su belleza; piensa que la tiniebla
y el silencio fueron primero.
Piensa que de ese encuentro
nacieron la palabra y lo que alumbra.

~ .

Balada de las Tres Guerras

La súbita llovizna
que golpea su ventana
y una última rosa,
la devuelven a abril.
Y abril a un jardín verde
que no oculta su fin:
crear vida que alimente
su voraz sucesor.
¿Quién llama a su ventana?
¿La rosa que en su pecho
vuleve al hielo verano
y hace de octubre, abril?
Oh, tú, quienquiera seas,
si en tierra representas
armas y guerra y sangre,
no allanes su morada!
El día de la partida
a toque de centella,
veinte abriles cual rosas
adornan a su amado.
Un papel amarillo
con negros caracteres
es cuanto le devuelven
del gallardo varón.
A solas, en la noche,
recrea su hermosura
y en las entrañas guarda
del amante, el amor.
Días y días vuelan,
da su fruto el manzano
y apacienta entre lirios
el hijo del amado.
Dichosa de saber
que con desvelo paga
a amor, lo que con celo
le retribuye amor.
Nunca fuera mujer
más cuitada, que aquella
que a mujer su hijo entregue.
Mas ambas, en mal hora
oyen un son de guerra
y pactan no ceder
ante mujer tercera.
La guerra es mujer seca
a la que falta pechos
y de los hombres hace
cenizas, soledades.
¿Qué voz llama a su puerta?
Una carta de pésame
y condecoraciones
trae un hombre de luto.
La inocente sonrisa
del pequeño, en los brazos,
hace menor su pena,
hace sa ira mayor.
La llovizna y la rosa,
la devuelven a abril.
Una llama a su amado,
la otra por él responde.
Treinta y siete años vuelan
y en tres feroces guerras,
voces que fueran a su oído
canto, silencio son.
Mas, no lo es su pecho,
ní su mente lo es:  arden,
y en otro fuego avivan
incendio vengador.
Sobre vastos sepulcros,
cenizas, soledades,
quiere ser entre perros
el último en aullar.

~ .

Un Sitio Permanente

¿Y que no ha sucedido en estos años?
Quién podría juzgarnos o absolvernos?
Ni siquiera se trata de estar vivo.
Cuántos son nuestros muertos?
Como país hemos sobrevivido a todas
las conquistas.
Se trata de encontrarnos,
de ser a plentitud hombres que viven
un sitio permanente.

~ .

Soledad, Cruel Estación

¿Qué haré para que mi amor
no sea una sombra dolorosa?
¿Qué haré para no ser mi sombra,
para no oír mi voz confiando su canción
al oído de la tierra?
¡Oh soledad, ruptura con el dios, sola conmigo!
En la hierba tendido, te escucho:  soy tu amigo,
el más pobre, condenado a ser poeta.
En la hierba te escucho cada vez más cercana:
Yo nada puedo, te traigo de la mano.
Mis amigos están lejos, mis muertos andan solos,
no reconocerían el olor de mi sangre.
Tú puedes elegir y estás conmigo ahora.
¿Qué puedo yo? ¿Soñar otras imágenes?
Nada que yo ecuerde sería hospitalario.
Nadie en casa conversa
de las edades de la tierra; del desamparo,
de la injusticia que sentencia al hombre
al frío, al hambre, a la locura.
Nada que yo recuerde sería acogedor.
¿Qué haré para no ser mi amor dolido,
para que no sea mi sangre la cólera dormida?
Ciudad, puño del tiempo, cópula de la muerte.
Aún queda la sangre, grito, forma de una salvaje fuerza.
No es para ti, mujer menguada, loba, el olor de mi sangre.
No es para ti el amor que padezco
aunque te haya traído conmigo a estas arenas.
Todavía me retienen lus manos, te escuchos soy tu amigo.
¡Oh soledad, cruel estación!
Eres la sombra solorosa de mi amor.
Seré por ti el poeta.

~ .


Ahora nos tenderemos callados
para fingir qué amarillenta transición.
Yo velaré el minuto que comunica su eternidad.
Velaré el tiempo que presiento,
velaré su ceniza.
Si su llegada a la madera no inundara
los ojos, pensaría en los trenes,
en el tren que trajo a mi prima en Nochebuena.
Cuidaría de no agrandar los ojos
cuando me ofreciera, para iluminar
mi infancia, la manzana.
Y pensaría para siempre en amapolas y peces.
Pero traspasará victoriosa, sin que lo consintamos,
la noche que pusimos a los números
y también a las cruces y a las máscaras.
Por eso será mejor que no hablemos de reposar
y no se sentirá tentada.
De cualquier modo volverá a acurrucarse
en los relojes y nos señalará
que está presente y que sólo aguarda
que descuidemos la vigilia.

~ .


Ciudades, ¿quién borrará
mis pasos, mis asombros?
¿Recordarán el día
que almorcé en un hotel,
estuve en un teatro,
o errabundo
siguiéndole a la noche
los pasos presurosos?
¿Sabrán que anduve, sujeto
el corazón para no echarlo,
entre la multitud,
a rodar, gritando:  "os amo",
por puentes y caminos solitarios?
¿Pensarán que os encuentro,
saludo y acompaño
en el último viaje?
¿Únicamente para mi el desvelo?
Ciudades, nadie sabe
que sois grandes sepulcros.

~ .

Translations: © 2002 Daniela Gioseffi

Daniela Gioseffi has published eleven books of poetry and prose of her own and several translations from Spanish and Italian. Her March 2003 compendium, Women on War:  An International Reader (The Feminist Press, NY), contains several of her translations. Pablo Armando Fernandez visited with Daniela Gioseffi when he came to New York City in 1988. As an executive member of UNEAC, the Cuban writers and artists union, he approved wholeheartedly of her translations of his poetry, as well as of works by Carilda Oliver Labra, Nancy Morejón, and other Cuban poets. Gioseffi is a Regular Contributor [Masthead] to the magazine.

(The Poet's Testament)

Singing isn't easy, child.
Words can't be tied down to a song,
squeezed and scattered into flight.
Many times they stumble, tumble and roll away.
One by one, with difficulty, they attain their wings
beyond injuring them; animating themselves
with a unique breath of life,
not all-powerful, but durable,
They create the new born voice
demanded by the song.
Child, it's painful to sing.
Don't entrust beauty to the accent
of the song; imagine that the darkness
and silence came first.
Imagine that the word and its light
were born from their concurrence.

~ .

Ballad of the Three Wars

The sudden drizzle
that taps at her window
and a last rose,
returns her to April.
And April to a green garden
that makes no mystery of its purpose:
to create life that feeds
its voracious succession.
Who calls at her window?
The rose that in her breast
turns summer to ice
and makes October, April?
Oh, you, whoever you may be,
if on earth you represent
weapons and war and blood,
don't violate her dwelling!
On the day of his departure
in a sounding flash
twenty years of Aprils like roses
adorn her lover.
A yellow paper
with black letters
is all that returns to her
of her gallant man.
Alone, in the night,
she entertains her own beauty
and in her womb keeps
the love of the lover.
Days and days fly by,
the apple tree bears its fruit
and the son of her lover
grazes among lilies.
She is happy in knowing
that what ardent care
she pays to love,
love repays to her.
There's no woman
more fortunate, there's none
sadder, than the woman
who gives her son to another woman.
But both, in an evil hour,
hear a song of war
and make a pact to be invincible
before a third woman.
War is that dry woman,
that one without breasts,
who makes of men,
ashes, loneliness.
What voice calls at her door?
A letter of mourning
and medals
brings a man dressed in black grief.
The innocent smile
of the little one, in her arms,
makes her grief less
her anger more.
The drizzle and the rose
return her to April.
She cries out to her loved one,
and death answers for him.
Thirty-seven years pass
through three ferocious wars,
and voices that were a song in her ears,
are silence.
But, not in her breast,
not in her mind; there they burn,
and like another flame, revive
a vengeful fire.
At the top of vast graves
ashes, loneliness.
She longs to be the last one
howling among dogs.

~ .

A Permanent Place

And what hasn't happened in all these years?
Who could judge or absolve us?
It's not even about being alive.
Our dead are how many?
As a country we've survived all
It's about finding ourselves,
to be the fulfillment of a people who live
in a permanent place.

~ .

Solitude, Cruel Season

What can I do that my love
won't be a painful shadow?
What can I do that I won't be my own shadow,
that I won't hear my voice confiding its song
to the earth's ear?
Oh solitude, I'm estranged from my god, alone with myself!
Lying on the grass, I listen to you:  I'm your friend,
your poorest one, the one condemned to be a poet.
On the grass I listen ever more intimately to you.
I'm helpless to do anything; I take your hand.
My friends are far, my dead walk alone;
they wouldn't recognize the aroma of my blood.
You're the one who chooses me as your companion now.
What can I do to dream other visions?
Nothing I'd recall would be congenial.
No one else is comfortable conversing
of the ages of earth, the homelessness,
the injustice that condemns people
to cold, to hunger, to insanity.
Nothing I'd remember would be satisfying.
What can I do not to be my own sorrowful love,
so my blood won't be my sleeping fury?
City, fist of time, death's copulation.
My blood still remains:  a scream, the form of a savage
Useless woman, she-wolf, the scent of my blood's
not for you.
The love I'm suffering's not for you
though I brought you with me to these shores.
Your hands still hold me, I listen to you I'm your friend.
Oh solitude, cruel season!
You're the sad shadow of my love.
For you I'll be the poet.

~ .


Now we will lie down in silence
in order to fake a yellowing transformation.
I'll guard the minute that communicates eternity.
I'll guard time that forbodes.
I'll guard its ashes.
If its arrival in the wood won't flood
my eyes, I will think of trains,
of the train that brought my cousin at Christmas Eve.
I'll be careful not to stare in amazement
when it offers me the apple
which illuminated my childhood.
And I'll think forever of tulips and fish.
But the victorious night to which we murmured the numbers,
the crosses and the masks
will pass without our consent.
It's best not to mention anything concerning rest
so it won't feel tempted.
In any case, it will return to shriveling up
inside the clocks and displaying to us
that it's always there, merely waiting
for us to disregard our vigil.

~ .


Cities, who will erase
my steps, my amazement?
Will you remember the day
when I had lunch in the hotel,
when I was in a theatre,
or a wanderer
following the night's
hurried steps?
Will you know that I walked, holding
my heart closely not to toss it
amidst the crowd,
rolling away, shouting "I love all!"
through bridges and lonely roads?
Will you realize when I meet,
greet and accompany you
on my last trip?
Is this sleepless anxiety only for me?
Cities, nobody knows
that you are huge tombs.

~ .

To a Young Freedom Fighter in Prison

You already know it:
it's as if you'd awakened free.
Those walls don't isolate you,
they concentrate
all the world within you,
in your body which alone
without looking for itself, finds itself
resisting, living.
It's what matters.

Rumors from the world arrive
(never so many)
and they break the silence
of your brave solitude.
Torture, mockery,
do not degrade or humiliate you:
they've left your body transparent
and today, you see
your inner self more clearly.

You already know it,
you know what you don't want.
You don't want for yourself the freedom
of the commissioner, the district attorney, and the priest;
you don't want for yourself the freedom
of the bankers, the industrialists
and the landowners;
you don't want for yourself the freedom
that day by day brings you to the Parliament,
to the Army Generals, to the Academy, to the Stock Exchange;
you don't want that power, you don't envy that force.
You have no desire for adulation, for pampering, or obedience.

While your name is paraded in the press:
hero, bandit, sane one, crazy one,
adventurer, apostle, and many other things
that you didn't want to be, that you aren't,
you really know
because of you and for you, what brought you to yourself
to those four walls
where you resist without fear now.

That's what matters.

~ . ~ . ~