They asked that man if they could
take his time and join it to history.
They asked for his hands,
because in difficult times
there is nothing better than a good pair of hands.
They asked for his eyes
that once had tears
so he could ponder the bright side
(especially the bright side of life)
because for horror one terrified eye is enough.
They asked for his lips,
dry and cracked, to affirm,
to erect, with each affirmation, a dream
(the high dream);
they asked for his legs,
hard and gnarled,
(his old high-stepping legs)
because in difficult times
is there anything better than a pair of legs
for building or trench-digging?
They asked him for the forest that nourished him as a child
with its obedient tree.
They asked for his chest, his heart, his shoulders.
They told him
that it was strictly necessary.
Later they explained
that all this giving would be pointless
unless he gave up his tongue,
because in difficult times
there is nothing so useful for stopping hatred or lies.
And finally they begged him
please, to begin to walk
because in difficult times
that is without a doubt the decisive test.


A girl is dying in my arms.
She says she is the victim of a major disaster.
That she walked night and day to get to my house.
That she loves the gray stones of my room.
She says her name is The Queen Of Sheba.
That she wants to care for my sons.
A girl large as a goose.
A girl covered with feathers,
soft as down.
A mind with no will to live.
Little breasts lukewarm under her blouse.
Lips whiter than the whites of her eyes,
arms hanging from my neck,
a girl dying helplessly in my arms,
heavy, like girls die;
blaming men,
demanding, poor thing,
for his last minute love
an impossible salvation.


The guard
of Spaskaya Tower
does not know
that his tower is made of wind.
Does not know
that over the pavement
the tread of the executioners
still goes on.
That sometimes
a bloody tendril bursts open.
That the songs recall
a court which has fallen.
That from dark windows
spies are watching.
He does not know
that there is no terror
able to hide itself in the wind.


I live in Cuba. I have always
lived in Cuba. Those years of wandering
in the world of which so much has been said
are my lies, my forgeries.

Because I have always been in Cuba.

And it is true
there were days during the Revolution
when the Island could have blown up among the waves;
but in the airports,
in the places I was
I felt
   that they were calling me
by name
and that as I answered
I was already on this shore
in shirtsleeves,
drunk on wind and foliage,
with the sun and the sea climbing the terraces
and singing their hallelujahs.


Don’t you forget it, poet.
Whatever the place and time
in which you make or suffer History,
there will always be a dangerous poem waiting to ambush you.

This Issue

October 23, 1969