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Three Poems from Cuba


The Whole Island: Six Decades of Cuban Poetry, Ed. Mark Weiss. (U California P) $29.95

cubanTo celebrate the release of The Whole Island: Six Decades of Cuban Poetry, edited by Mark Weiss, Molossus is happy to publish three poems from that anthology. Our selection, recommended by Weiss, includes two late founders of the Orígines group, Piñera and Diego, as well as the younger Molina, b. 1968, now a expatriate living in Rome.

The anthology presents a wide selection from Cuba’s past sixty years of poetry, including many poets relatively unknown to English-language readers. The selection’s variety allows for a realistic survey of Cuban poetry, including all major schools, movements, and groups. The poems themselves are presented en-face, English translations across the page from their Spanish originals. On the whole, the translation itself—including work by editor Mark Weiss, Nathaniel Tarn, Mark Schafer, Mónica de la Torre, and Harry Polkinhorn—is competent and adheres relatively tightly to the form of the Spanish poems. Weiss’ introduction is dense with literary history, but more interestingly engages with the recent course of the Cuba-USA relationship, especially how its larger sociopolitical implications trickle into our literary correspondence.

More information about the poets below, including the Spanish originals as well as more poems, can be found in The Whole Island.


XXXXXfor Alicia, on her birthday

The pharmacist’s youngest daughter
dressed like a schoolgirl set our each morning
for petal and root,
bullrush and honey.
Fear did what love could— it made her
a stalker, a beast of gaze and scent.
She stole, she watered, she begged
of the soil
that was also the soil of the dead.

Ancient star,
sun of other times that rots the flower’s pollen,
that sweetens it,
why did you awaken me
to the good and the suffering of others
but without the magic, the spells,
the effective action or power
with which the pharmacist’s daughter
hid a language,
kept secret her formulas.

XXXXXby Alessandra Molina, tr. by Mark Weiss

The House of Bread

XXX“Enter the white shop: see the table covered with flour—white flour.

XXX“Outside the town, the path barely twists towards the open air, and there
it is, the house of bread—the white shop.

XXX“Where a black with a distant smile removes from the oven palettes of
crusty bread. He removes the palettes of crusty bread from the enormous,
quiet oven.

XXX“How long have you been here?” you ask him, “how long have you spent
with flour?”

XXX“He answers with ready jokes: since ceremonies and masks, since sails and
escapes, since tobacco bugs and machines, since circuses and flutes.

XXX“Since they lit the fire in the oven.”

XXXXXby Eliseo Diego, tr. by Mark Weiss


At the One-Eyed Cat

At the One-Eyed Cat there are no cats.
At the One-Eyed Cat there are people,
with their eyes like binoculars,
mouths like vents,
hands like tentacles,
feet like detectors.

At the One-Eyed Cat
there’s a night within night,
with a moon that emerges for some,
a sun that shines for others
and a cock that crows for all.

At the One-Eyed Cat
there’s the seat of happiness,
the seat of misfortune
and also the terrible seat of hope.

At the One-Eyed Cat,
will I dare to say it?
there’s a cloth to wipe away tears,
and there’s also
—I scarcely dare it—
a mirror to look at yourself face to face.

At the One-Eyed Cat
on a certain night two lovers say yes to each other,
and at the One-Eyed Cat
another night they killed the one they’d loved.

At the One-Eyed Cat
there’s an expectant moment
when the imagined lover
makes his appearance.

He casts an amorous glance and says:
“I belong to the one who waits for me!”
And then the feeling reaches the heart,
at the One-Eyed Cat plus Revolution.


XXXXXby Virgilio Piñera, tr. by Mark Weiss

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5 Responses to Three Poems from Cuba

  1. John Comino-James December 8, 2009 at 11:41 pm #

    Do any translations of into English of the complete work En La Calzada de Jesus del Monte by Eliseo Diego exist?

  2. molossus December 10, 2009 at 2:36 am #

    Best to ask Mark Weiss, editor of this anthology. Send your question to editors AT moloss DOT us and we can forward it to him.

    Thanks for reading!


  3. Mark Weiss January 30, 2010 at 12:11 am #

    It hasn’t been translated, butr I’m working on it myself. Eliseo is pure magic, the stories and essays as much as the poetry.

    Mark Weiss

  4. John Comino-James May 20, 2010 at 11:42 am #

    Dear Mark Weiss

    I am delighted to hear you are working on Eliseo Diego.
    My second book of photographs made in Havana will be published in July by Dewi Lewis Publishing.

    Title FORTUNATE STEPS – In the Calzada del Diez de Octubre

    As you will be well aware this is the modern name of La Calzada de Jesus del Monte. I have read a few of the poems in the collaborative translations by Eliseo Diego and Margaret Weaver

    All the best

    John Comino-James


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