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"Eve's Discourse," "Of the Word," and "Sonnets for My Father" are From Dust Disappears, selected poems of Carilda Oliver Labra, Letras Cubanas, Havana, 1953."The Boy Who Sells Greens" and "Declaration of Love" (C)1953 by Carilda Oliver Labras, Letras Cubanas, Habana, Cuba.

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Carilda Oliver Labra Carilda Oliver Labra

Translated and introduced by Daniela Gioseffi Daniela Gioseffi


Carilda Oliver Labra was born in 1922 in Matanzas, Cuba, in a Colonial home now under preservation by the state. The City of Matanzas is considered to be the Athens of Cuba as many important cultural and literary figures of 19th Century Cuban Romanticism and contemporary Cuban literature had their roots there. She graduated with a degree in civil law from the University of Havana and went home to practice law for some years in the city of her birth. She also taught as a professor of Fine Arts there.

Her debut collection in l943, Lyric Prelude (Preludio lirico) immediately established her as an important poetic voice. At the South of My Throat made her famous: the coveted National Prize for poetry came to her in l950 as a result of the popular and notorious book, At the South of My Throat (Al sur de mi garganta) 1949. In honor of the tri-centennial of Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz in a contest sponsored by The Latin American Society in Washington D.C., in 1950, she had also received the national Cuban First Prize for her poems. Her work was highly praised by Gabriela Mistral, the Chilean poet and first Latin-American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1945. In 1958, Labra published Feverish memory (Memoria de la fiebre) which added to her notoriety as a blatantly erotic woman. The book concerned a theme which has dominated her poetry--that of lost love--as it was written after the unfortunate and untimely death of her second husband.

Like Alexandra Kollantai of Russia, Emma Goldman of the U.S., George Sand of England, or Simone de Beauvoir of France, she was a pioneer of woman's independence in her homeland. She has emerged today as one of Cuba's leading poets. She was a brave pioneer writer of the plight of the Cuban people under cruel colonialism. Such works as Song to the Flag (Canto a la Bandera, 1950); Song to Marti (Canto a Marti, 1953); Song to Matanzas (Canto a Matanzas, 1956) display such sentiments. Today, in Spain a foundation offers "The Carilda Oliver Prize for Poetry," and a documentary of her life has been produced. She has travelled throughout Spain, Eastern Europe, South America and the United States giving recitals and interviews.


Eve's Discourse

Today, I brutally greet you
with a grunt
or a kick.
Where are you hiding,
where have you fled with your wild box
full of hearts,
and your stream of gunpowder?
Where are you now;
in the ditch where all dreams are finally tossed,
or in the jungle's spidery web
where fatherless children dangle?

I miss you,
you know I do--
as myself
or the miracles that never happen--
you know I do?
I'd like to entice you with a joy I've never known,
an imprudent affair.

When will you come to me?
I'm anxious to play no games,
to confide to you: "my life"--
to let thunder humble us
to let oranges pale in your hand.
I want to search your depths
and find veils
and smoke,
that will vanish at last in flame.

I love you truly
but innocently
as the transparent enchantress of my thoughts,
but, truly, I don't love you,
though innocently
as the confused angel that I am.
I love you,
but I don't love you.
I gamble with these words
and the winner shall be the liar.
Love!. . .
(What am I saying? I'm mistaken,
because here, I wanted to write, I hate you.)
Why won't you come to me?

How is it possible
you let me pass by without requiting our fire?
How is it possible you're so distant, so paranoid
that you deny me?
You're reading the newspapers
passing through
death
and life.
You're with your problems
of groans and groin,
listless,
humiliated,
entertaining yourself with an aspiration to mourning.
Even though I'm melting you,
even though I insult you,
bring you a wilted hyacinth
approve your melancholy;
call forth the salt of heaven,
stitch you into being:
what?
When are you going to murder me with your spit,
hero?
When are you going to overwhelm me again beneath the rain?
When?
When are you going to call me your little bird,
your whore?
When are you going to profane me?
When?
Beware time that passes,
time,
time!
Not even your ghosts appear to me now,
and I no longer understand umbrellas?
Every day, I become more honest with myself,
magnificently noble. . .
If you delay,
if you hesitate and don't search for me,
you'll be blinded;
if you don't return now,
infidel, idiot, dummy, fool,
I'll count myself nothing.

Yesterday, I dreamt that while we were kissing,
a shooting star exploded
and neither of us gave up hope.

This love of ours
belongs to no one;
We found it lost,
stranded
in the street.
Between us we saved it, sheltered it.
Because of that, when we swallow each other
in the night,
I feel like a frightened mother left
alone.
It doesn't matter,
kiss me again and over again
to come to me.
Press yourself against my waist,
come to me again;
be my warm animal again,
move me, again.
I'll purify my leftover life,
the lives of condemned children.

We'll sleep like murderers
who've saved themselves
by bonding together in incomparable blossoming.
And in the morning when the rooster crows,
we will be nature, herself.
I'll appear like your child asleep in her cradle.

Come back to me, come back,
penetrate me with lightening,
Bend me to your will.
We'll turn the record player on forever.
Bring me that unfaithful nape of your neck,
the blow of your stone.
Show me I haven't died,
my love, and I promise you the apple.


Declaration of Love

--written during the Cuban Missile Crisis, October, 1963

I ask if I'm wise
when I awaken
the danger between his thighs,
or if I'm wrong
when my kisses prepare only a trench
in his throat.

I know that war is probable;
especially today
because a red geranium has blossomed open.

Please, don't point your weapons
at the sky:
the sparrows are terrorized,
and it's springtime,
it's raining, the meadows are ruminating.
Please,
you'll melt the moon, only night light of the poor.

It's not that I'm afraid,
or a coward,
I'd do everything for my homeland;
but don't argue so much over your nuclear missiles,
because something horrible is happening:
and I haven't had time enough to love.


The Boy Who Sells Greens

You have no parents, it's clear. . .I know
because of your indecisive look. I can tell
because of your ragged shirt.

You are small but grown up behind the basket.
You respect the sparrows. A penny is enough for you.

The people pass their insides dressed in steel.
They don't listen to you...You have shouted
two or three times: "Greens!"

They pass indifferently carrying packages and umbrellas;
in new pants and new yellow blouses;

they walk in a hurry toward the bank and the tedium
or toward the sunset through Main Street. . .

And you're not selling: you do the game of selling;
and although you never played, it comes to you without trying...

But don't get close to me; no, child, don't talk with me.
I don't want to see the site of your probable wings.

I found you this morning around the courthouse,
and what a blow your unhappy innocence has given me!

My heart which was a urn of illusion
is now like wilted greens, like no heart at all. . .


Of the Word

I won't tell you about truth,
because the word's going to die
and others
will need it.

You came bearing the word
and I was sensitive to it.
I said:
give me a little of it...
I was weak
and I took the word from your shoulder.
You see:
it's so heavy
that I, too, double over.

I want to say the word
over your grave,
but a flower already blooms there.
Between the final truth
and immortality
stands the poet
whose word was murdered by gunfire.

They killed your word
and covered you with earth,
but it doesn't matter,
you'll sing in the seeds.


Sonnets for My Father

I.

Father of yesterday who made hope
full of children and debts.
I conjure your hand which was never dry
and never knew stone or spear.

When you were judge, you were ill with insomnia...
as you longed to save so many thieves.
Let the sparrows chirp peace for you
and may you have playthings at last!

I make believe, now, that you're sleeping
and your affectionate greeting, your amazement, lives on.
My life now moves with entropy;

Now, I'm truly the sad little daughter
that can no longer lean on your shoulder
because you died in January, Father.

II.

Grief arrives so violently
like the rain after the dawn;
today my smile is different:
an invisible tear that doesn't weep.

(I tell myself in secret: maybe he's coming by,
and not only as he knows of this grieving
but because I still wait anxiously
in case he asks for the key to our house. . .)

I can't believe it. . . I need you,
and you are dead, my father, little dead one.
This time you are checkmated.

Like a crazy person, in super human delirium,
I lift your chess piece with my hand
and place you playing in the game!

III.

I have dressed in white, green, red,
because grief does not rhyme with love.
It has been a long time, my father, since your eyes
refused darkness or glare.

Don't let hail and snow fall on your innocent and foreign grave.
Let the birth of spring sing to you
let a flower exude perfume on the ninth!

I reserve the glory of your room for you,
a happy sparkle of the sun, that I keep apart
that piece of earth where you were born,
your robes, your books, your saw. . .
It's not enough now to love you so much:
you're dead, my father, you're dead.

IV.

Your comfortable chair. . . where is it?
Your student violin. . . how does it sound?
You buried pennies in the sand
and gave my mother other names.

I keep all your letters and pictures.
In my dream your prostate is cured.
On the patio floor and in my affection,
your last shoes walk on.

I want to see you beyond the shutter.
Come, spirit; come, my supportive angel.
I no longer know what to do, what to say,

because I long to eat breakfast
with my father, my sage, my almsman,
at 81 Tirrey Avenue.