4.15.2014

Tatuaje / Ednodio Quintero

Tattoo

When her fiancé came back from the sea, they got married. On his trip to the eastern islands the husband had carefully learned the art of the tattoo. On the very night of the wedding, and to his wife’s surprise, he put his abilities to use: armed with needles, Chinese ink and food coloring he drew on the woman’s belly a beautiful, enigmatic and sharpened dagger.

The couple’s happiness was intense, and as usually happens in these cases: brief. A strange illness revived in the man’s body, contracted on the muddy islands of the East. And one afternoon, facing the sea, the sailor began the longed-for trip to eternity.

In the solitude of her room, the woman let loose her wails, and occasionally, as though finding some consolation there, she would caress her belly adorned with the precious dagger.

The pain was intense, and also brief. The other one, a terra firma man, started to circle her. She, at first elusive and cautious, eventually gave ground. They agreed on a date; and on the set night she waited for him naked in the room’s darkness. And in the clamor of combat, the lover, strong and impetuous, fell dead on her, cut through by the dagger.




{ Ednodio Quintero, Ceremonias, Barcelona, España: Editorial Candaya, 2013 }

4.14.2014

Cada / Guillermo Sucre

Each

Each word displaces another we never manage to say




La Vastedad (1988)




{ Guillermo Sucre, Conversación con la intemperie. Seis poetas venezolanos, selección y prólogo de Gustavo Guerrero, Barcelona, España: Galaxia Gutenberg/Círculo de Lectores, 2008 }

4.13.2014

Escribir / Guillermo Sucre

To Write

To write not the order but the rhythm of life
a rhythm we know don’t know again and recognize
only by the breathing of the writing




La Vastedad (1988)




{ Guillermo Sucre, Conversación con la intemperie. Seis poetas venezolanos, selección y prólogo de Gustavo Guerrero, Barcelona, España: Galaxia Gutenberg/Círculo de Lectores, 2008 }

4.10.2014

Misterio / Rafael Cadenas

Mystery

I have asylum in you, daily room. You aren’t
a supernatural edge in chosen flesh. You bore through everyone
like an imminence. You intersperse your texture between your
thoughts. You make speech vulnerable. You correct the eyes.
You suspend the projected owner.
You’re a hidden prompter.




{ Rafael Cadenas, Sobre abierto, Valencia, España: Editorial Pre-Textos, 2012 }

4.08.2014

Las palabras / Rafael Cadenas

The Words

They seem to sustain us
but they don’t lean on anything.

What an honor to say them
with silences.

We inhabit?

We float by acting.




{ Rafael Cadenas, Sobre abierto, Valencia, España: Editorial Pre-Textos, 2012 }

4.06.2014

Agradecimiento / Rafael Cadenas

Gratitude

Hills behind the buildings,
unscathed bamboo trees,
mountain next to the parking lot,
pine trees clinging, roots in the air, miraculous,
birds that I hear as if they were singing in the book I read,
thank you for being there still.

One lives saying goodbye to things
that men don’t want to keep.




{ Rafael Cadenas, Sobre abierto, Valencia, España: Editorial Pre-Textos, 2012 }

3.30.2014

Políticas paralelas / Oswaldo Barreto

Parallel Politics

At this point no one, neither inside or outside our borders, ignores the fact that Venezuelas situation represents, when considered from an internal perspective, one of the most difficult our society has ever lived through and, from an international perspective, one of the national crises with the greatest repercussions on other countries, other societies. And this representation from within and from abroad assumes as a fundamental symptom of our situation the prolonged and diversified protests that shake the country. And in appearance, what are these protests today but the expression of two antagonistic behaviors. On one side, the behavior of a large portion of society that demands the rights and liberties that the government systematically infringes upon or denies them. And on the other, the behavior of the government facing the form and content these protests enact.

And its in relation to this appreciation of the different behaviors in the face of the protests, and not in relation to the protests themselves, that our visible political activity orbits. Every day we hear declarations, pronouncements and decisions based on what has been done or is being done by the government in the face of complaints and demands; we speak of the viability or impossibility of “dialogue,” of the effectiveness of the peace conferences or the groups of notables commenting on the forms the protests take, or on the biased attitudes of the opposition toward them.

But if this is the apparent reading of our crisis that’s barely interrupted by daily reports of those who fall in them or are brought down by them, of those who’ve ended up in jail or in darkness, there is another reading that the force of these events imposes on us. I’m referring to other parallel politics, that no declaration or political or rhetorical subterfuge can hide.


On the one hand, what the regime (the president and his apparatus of power) hasn’t known how to or hasn’t been able to do to resolve the difficulties, calamities and penuries that all of us as Venezuelans endure. And on the other, the continuous growth and diversification of the repression. And one of those lines, expressed by the each day more obvious lines of customers at stores, unavoidably gives rise to the other. The inefficiency in the production and fair distribution of goods is immediately transmuted into raids by the police and army, into prisons, tortures and deaths. And this is why the protests grow.




{ Oswaldo Barreto, Tal Cual, 21 March 2014 }

3.08.2014

¿Duerme usted, señor Presidente? / Capoulicán Ovalles

Are You Sleeping, Mr. President?

If instead of sleeping
you danced the tango
with your ministers
and your chief of loves
we would be able to
hear
from night to night
your heels
clacking
like an archduke
or duchess.
We could just laugh
by watching you,
ridiculous as you are,
waiting for the applause
of all the frenetic
gendarmerie.

Of course we're all tired
and want a little entertainment,
monstrous,
like this one
watching you
with a lyre hanging
around your neck,
like a Roman,
or like a blind Roman
woman with absurd optimistic beliefs.

If instead of promising
the discovery of the philosopher's
stone
that might produce bread
and twenty dollar bills
you'd spend more time,
because of how arrogant you are,
selling rotten potatoes
or rancid corn,
the Indians of this nation
might call you
Chief Eye of Pearl.

If instead of crying
you'd die one of these days,
like an elegant pig with its grease
imported from the North,
we,
who are tired
of so many stupid confessions,
would make the stones dance
and the trees would provide manufactured fruit.
With your old and putrid skeleton,
food for rats,
we will fill a single place on this earth
and we will call it
the Cursed Cave
and people will be proscribed from seeing
and approaching it
for fear of awakening hysterical
tenderness.
They call you
José of the dreams,
the one with the sacred cows,
the owner of the skinniest cows
and President of the "Condal Society of Dreams."
Your friends call you
Barbiturate.
How late do you sleep, Mr. President?
If you adore the cow,
sleep!
If you adore the calf,
sleep!
And if the General gives you lunch,
you sleep like a log
or you have a seizure of drowsiness.
Mud Face,
Eye to see the Serpents
and call them,
Eye to keep company
and burn you
with humble Kerosene,
Eye to have at your service
like a cheap bellhop.

Are you sleeping, Mr. President?
I ask you because I'm a smart young man
unlike you, gentleman of the siesta.




1962





Caupolicán Ovalles (Venezuela, 1936-2001)

2.19.2014

Venezuela from Overseas. Open Letter from Venezuelan writers, artists, journalists, intellectuals in support of the students.

Due to the grave situation in Venezuela today, where Nicolás Maduro’s government and his military leaders have unleashed a ferocious assault on students, journalists and citizens in general, submitting them to attacks with live ammunition and savage corporal and psychological punishment, leaving in its wake a trail of death, torture, arrests, and media outlets silenced in their work as sources of information; we Venezuelan writers, intellectuals, journalists and artists who live abroad, exhort the international community to demand the following from the government of Nicolás Maduro:

1. Respect the human rights of all Venezuelan citizens.
2. Free the participants in protests that have been detained.
3. Disarm the paramilitary groups (“colectivos”).
4. Restore freedom of the press.
5. Order the immediate opening of an investigation, with the presence of international organisms that can guarantee impartiality, to determine the responsibility of the crimes committed during the protests.

Venezuela, a country that was once a democratic alternative in the midst of the dictatorships of all types that afflicted the American continent, a country that in the past supported victims of similar repressions in other countries of the world, deserves to live in freedom.

Signed,

Carolina Acosta-Alzuru (USA)
Mónica Amor (USA)
Alexander Apóstol (Spain)
Miriam Ardizzone (Spain)
Aymara Arreaza (Spain)
Ophir Alviarez (USA)
Victor Azuaje (USA)
Betina Barrios Ayala (USA)
Gustavo Balza Gamez (Spain)
María Lorena Bello (USA)
Cecilia Bellorín (Spain)
Loriel Beltrán (USA)
Anadeli Bencomo (Mexico)
Lisa Blackmore (UK)
Adriana Boersner Herrera (USA)
Leonardo Bonett (USA)
Irene Bou (Spain)
Lorena Bou (Spain)
Julio Tupac Cabello (USA)
Silvia Cabrera (Germany)
Margarita Cadenas (France)
Paula Cadenas (France)
Celia Calcaño (France)
María Cecilia Camacho Capodiferro (Austria)
Pedro Camacho (Argentina)
Alessandra Caputo (Spain)
Amalia Caputo (USA)
Marian Castillo(Spain)
Nayarí Castillo (Austria)
Beatriz Castro Cortiñas (Spain)
Juan Cristóbal Castro (Colombia)
Jeffrey Cedeño (Colombia)
Silvia Celi-Borges (Francia)
Daniel Centeno (USA)
Israel Centeno (USA)
Juan Carlos Chirinos (Spain
Doménico Chiappe (Spain)
Hecsil Coello (Uruguay)
Fernando Conde (USA)
Francesca Cordido (Spain)
Juan Ignacio Cortiñas (Spain)
Alejandra Cubero González (Spain)
Elena de La Ville (USA)
Linda D´Ambrosio (Spain)
Ana Lucía De Bastos (Spain)
Elian E. Degen Canelón (USA)
Dina Di Donato (USA)
Fanny Díaz (Israel)
Carla Duarte Vidal (Brazil)
Andrés Duque (Spain)
Juan Carlos Durán Canal (Spain)
Antonio Fernández Nays (Spain)
Carlos Fernández de Larrea (Spain)
Carmen Leonor Ferro (Italy)
Víctor Galarraga-Oropeza (France)
Elvira García (France)
Pedro José Garcia Sanchez (France)
Marina Gasparini Lagrange (Italy)
Miguel Gomes (USA)
Eleana Gómez (USA)
Elizabeth González (Germany)
Guaritoto González (France)
Manuel González Ruiz (Spain)
Ricardo González Coll (France)
Jacquelyn Grifith (USA)
Gustavo Guerrero (France)
María Alexandra Guerrero (Germany)
Leroy Gutierrez (Uruguay)
Claudia Hernández (Germany)
Diana Hernández Aldana (Spain)
Karlinda Hernández (USA)
Manuel Hernández Silva (Spain)
Sonia Hernández (USA)
Verónica Jaffe (Germany)
Blas Kisik (USA)
Liliana Lara (Israel)
Indira Leal (USA)
Adriana Loaiza-Tennenbaum (USA)
Andrea López López (Mexico)
Antonio López (Spain)
Fabiola López Durán (USA)
Margarita López (Spain)
Magdalena López López (Portugal)
Rubén Machaen (Argentina)
Eva Márquez Velandria (USA)
Wladimir Márquez (USA)
Claudia Martín Carmassi (Spain)
Denise Martinez Breto (Italy)
Juan Manuel Matos (Spain)
Diana Medina (Spain)
Juan Carlos Méndez Guédez (Spain)
Manuel Antonio Mendoza (USA)
Andrés Michelena (USA)
Corina Michelena (Russia)
Mariela Michelena (Spain)
José Javier Míguez Rego (Spain)
Rossana Miranda (Italy)
Juan Pablo Mojica (Colombia)
Valentina Monagas Tovar (France)
Gabriela Montero (USA)
Marco Montiel Soto (Germany)
Patsy Montiel Moronta (Spain)
Luz Ainai Morales Pino (USA)
Andreína Mujica (France)
Boris Muñoz (USA)
Moisés Naim (USA)
Nela Ochoa
Linda Ontiveros (Spain)
Liseth Ortega (Singapore)
Adriana Ortiz (Canada)
Eduardo Ortiz Viso (USA)
Indira Páez (USA)
Tomás Páez (Spain)
Guillermo Parra (USA)
Amalia Pereira (Spain)
Luz Pérez Ojeda (France)
Xavier Padilla (France)
María Gracia Pardo (USA)
María Carolina Pina (France)
Camilo Pino (USA)
Alexandra Poleo (Francia)
Sandra Portillo Lafuente (Spain)
Carlos Pulido (France)
Juan Rafael Pulido (France)
Carol Prunhuber (France)
Marieli Quiaro Maggiorani (Germany)
Gabriela Rangel (USA)
Cheryl Riera Rivera (Canada)
Cinzia Ricciuti (Italy)
Raquel Rivas Rojas (Scotland)
Maday Margarita Rivero (Spain)
Patricia Roncayolo (Denmark)
Carlos Rondón (Spain)
Paola Romero (UK)
Esther Roperti (Spain)
Magdalena Rosello (Spain)
Karina Sáinz Borgo (Spain)
Adalber Salas (USA)
Lisbeth Salas (Spain)
Eduardo Sánchez Rugeles (Spain)
Elvia Sánchez (Spain)
Ervin “Wincho” Schafer (Brazil)
Claudia Sierich Georgi (Germany)
Leonora Simonovis (USA)
Manuel Silva-Ferrer (Germany)
Marco Tulio Socorro (Spain)
Mónica Socorro (France)
Andy Solé (Spain)
Blanca Strepponi (Argentina)
Gonzalo Tovar (Peru)
Alina Tufani Díaz (Italy)
José Urriola (Mexico)
Vicente Ulive-Schnell (France)
Keila Vall De la Ville (USA)
Patricia Valladares (USA)
Gustavo Valle (Argentina)
Pedro Varguillas (USA)
Paula Vázquez (France)
María Teresa Vera Rojas (Spain)
Ruth Villalonga (USA)
Carmen Victoria Vivas Lacour (France)
Vitier Vivas (France)
Vivian Watson Molina (Spain)
Lena Yau (Spain)
Gregory Zambrano (Japan)
Leonardo Zelig (USA)
Slavko Zupcic (Spain)

2.18.2014

Avena sobre Kafka / Lena Yau

Oatmeal On Kafka

To all the students.
To Bassil and Robert who will always remain.



The whole wide world lives beside the handkerchief world. Two phrases chasing each other. They leap on each other’s back to disprove themselves, which at the same time, is a way of confirming themselves. A type of linguistic ball game: trap me so you won’t trap me.
These days the countries of the globe start to paint themselves in tricolor with stars. The maps light up with little yellowbluered points that say: a Venezuelan lives here, you’re important to this Venezuelan, we are your voice.

I write this from 6,000 kilometers that aren’t a distance. It’s enough to turn on the computer to make it my balcony to the country. I open the curtain and see María Eugenia, Carlos, Gabriela, Pepe, Johnny, Gladys, Venancio, Lucía, Felipe, Coromoto, Joao, Jessica, Franklin, Pili, Gorka, Fátima, Paolo. When they sing you can see their white teeth, some of them have nose piercings, on their tongues, their lips. They’ve been on the pavement for days but they seem fresh. I click on the button, they run and hide from the tear gas. I think: yesterday they were children playing hide and go seek. I click on a link and they wrap their t-shirt over their nose fighting against the gas. I think: they should be in class avoiding paper airplanes.

I start my day with them early on and I finish it with them too. They’re all in my house. I want to march with them. I do it typing.

Like now. Each key pressed is a step accompanying them. It’s time for school. I come back to my here. I leave my march of letters and rush Adrian along:

“Hurry up and eat, the bus is gonna leave, you have tests today, eat well.”

His milk mustache inquires about the kids “over there.”
“They’re around,” I tell him. “They’re still going.”

I leave him at the bus and come back to continue my march facing the plasma. I look at my desk. On top of a book by Kafka sits my breakfast: a bowl of oatmeal.

Oatmeal on Kafka

It’s a good title for so many things: for a short story, for a paradox, for a love letter. For a uchronia: What does student Kafka think about everything that’s happening in Venezuela. Or for one more anxiety: Have these kids been eating breakfast? Today my typed steps keep talking poetry and food, words and groceries. The students nourish us with a literature they write on the street.

We Venezuelans who live outside those nearly one million square kilometers vibrate alongside them. We applaud them, we embrace the air to make them ours. We admire their gracefulness, we bow to the example, we learn as we watch them. To feel them is to recover a hope for rebuilding Venezuela. Our gratitude covers all the colored forms of the mapamundi. All the skies. All the water. There are no kilometers separating us from them.




{ Lena Yau, El Nacional, 18 February 2014 }

2.17.2014

La taberna / Rubi Guerra

The Tavern

     The two men —one old and the other young— arrive at the tavern. Like many other travelers in this corner of the country, they seem like they’re running from something, this is what the tavern keeper thinks. The majority of them come from the south and are heading north, toward the ports. The desert is in the east. The tavern is the last human establishment before the sands and the yellow stones that no one has crossed in centuries. The cities of the west, it is said, are cursed and have vanished from the memories of men.
     The old man and the young man get drunk every day with the liquor that is distilled in town. Some people affirm this drink brings on hallucinations.
     One night the tavern keeper stays at the table with them. There’s no one else around and he’s bored, so he’s willing to listen to a story. The youngest of the travelers affirms that the old man has been to one of the lost cities. The tavern keeper laughs. He’s already heard too many similar stories. “This one’s true,” the young man affirms. After a painful trip in which his companions and the animals for transporting their goods died, the old man —who wasn’t old at the time— arrived at a city of iron doors and stone walls. The doors were rusted and open, the temples had been decayed by time and by the grains of sand dragged along by the wind. In one building he found a fountain from which a cold and crystalline water was bubbling. During the day he would explore buildings in which no utensil was left, no tool, no tapestry or jewel, not even a pottery fragment, as though its inhabitants had left taking everything with them, or as if the thieves had visited the place for a thousand years taking even the slightest vestige. At night, he was visited by the specters of the city’s inhabitants, who came before him to give their complaints as though he were a magistrate from the beyond. The translucent apparitions had terrible, sad faces.
     The tavern-keeper smiles reluctantly. Another absurd story.
     Just before dawn he wakes up and gets out of bed with careful movements. He’s been married for forty years and he’s still careful not to wake her when it’s still early. He goes outside. In the sky, the stars fade one by one. A cold and fast breeze coming from the desert shakes his wool clothing. He contemplates the infinite amplitude that extends before his sight as though it were an extinct planet. He too dreamed of one day crossing the great sands and conquering a forgotten kingdom.
     He puts on his clothing and blows on his hands before heading out to the corral to feed the chickens.
     His insipid days anticipate the indifferent sleep of eternity.




Translator’s note: This text is included in an appendix of a novella by Guerra about the final days of the Venezuelan poet José Antonio Ramos Sucre in Europe in 1930. This is the second of Guerra’s three imitations of Ramos Sucre.




{Rubi Guerra, La tarea del testigo, Caracas: Lugar Común, 2012 / Fondo Editorial El perro y la rana, 2007 }

2.15.2014

En la barca / Rubi Guerra

On the Boat

     We row along the river’s slow current. Standing on the flat bottom of the boat we pushed ourselves along with poles made slippery by the sweat and humidity. My two companions leave the last of their energy in the struggle against the viscous and absorbent riverbed. A yellow sky, unprotected by clouds, hangs over our heads like a threat. A tenuous cloud of vapor rises from the surface of the water. Shadows move amidst the palm trees on the far shore, we don’t know if they belong to animals or to the inhabitants of the devastated region.
     A wide estuary opens to our efforts. The waters of the river seem to spin around themselves, they form whirlpools of unhealthy colors, as though they couldn’t find an escape toward an impossible sea. The heat becomes less crippling.
     We advance toward a line of big mansions with wooden doors. As we drawn near, we notice that the iridescent water reaches the lowest windows. The fire has consumed the rooftops, the doors have fallen off the hinges and there are gunpowder and blood stains on the walls. We direct the boat toward one of them, more elevated than the rest, protected from the waters by a marble staircase.
     We agree to spend the night there. Hunger torments us. Even in that condition we manage to sleep, aided by exhaustion and the will to annul the world.
     I wake up with the first light of the sun. I shake my companions and we’re soon on our feet, ready to continue our journey, to reach the sea, to move as far away as possible and forget this region that’s been forgotten by the gods. The golden reflections of the newborn sun on the water and the facades of the mansions make the horror of the destruction disappear for an instant and allow a fugitive beauty to prevail.
     We search amid the underbrush and palm trees for the way out of the estuary. Slow spirals disorient us, but we eventually find it, hidden between scrubs and fallen trunks. The jungle surrounds us once again and accompanies us for hours.
     After unprecedented efforts one of my companions manages to catch a large fish. Three little horns stand out on its head. We gut it and lay its meat to dry on the planks of the boat. Hours later we devour it, sating the hunger that threatens to bring us down.
     Long stretches of jungle have disappeared, consumed by the fires. From the dead and blackened earth rises the smoke of the charred trees and animals. Further ahead, standing in the mud of the shore that stains her dress, a woman makes signs at us. We manage to drawn near and she climbs onto the boat. She stretches out on the floor with her eyes closed, her hands over her mouth in a gesture of stopping some words that she will never pronounce. We look at her and then back at each other; she’s a beautiful young woman despite her pale face that seems to announce death. I touch her on the shoulder; I offer her the remnants of the raw fish.
     At night we’re stunned by the icy glimmer of the stars. The constellations spin while we take turns rowing.
     The presence of the woman, who remains apart and silent, has made my companions stern and between them they’re plotting some type of violence. I decide to keep one step ahead of their designs: I wait for my turn in charge of the vessel; when I see them sleeping I toss the one closest to me into the thick water, where he sinks without even screaming. I hit the other one behind his ear with the pole. He tries to stand up; blood runs down his neck. I unleash a second, terrible blow to his skull. The sound of broken bones wakes up the woman, who begins to shriek as though she were crazy. The whiteness of her thighs awakens my drowsy senses.




Translator’s note: This text is included in an appendix of a novella by Guerra about the final days of the Venezuelan poet José Antonio Ramos Sucre in Europe in 1930. This is the first of Guerra’s three imitations of Ramos Sucre.




{Rubi Guerra, La tarea del testigo, Caracas: Lugar Común, 2012 / Fondo Editorial El perro y la rana, 2007 }

2.08.2014

Ráfagas: Sobre Los impresentables, de Raymond Nedeljkovic / Carlos Ávila

Bursts: On Los impresentables, by Raymond Nedeljkovic


Raymond Nedeljkovic, Los impresentables (Caracas: Monte Ávila Editores Latinoamericana, 2011)


Twenty years later, a woman in a wheelchair remembers what she lived through during the disturbances of 1989 in Caracas: she sees a neighbor carrying two bags of ice —“Ice, what for?”—, she sees a woman with a refrigerator on her back and she watches her own husband trying to calm down a group that’s trying to loot a neighbor’s business. In the background of her story we can hear gunshots, desperate steps and the murmuring of a crowd of people crossing the avenue. The woman holds in her tears and evokes the bullet that wounded her and the one that killed her companion: both of them shot by the neighbor they were trying to protect. That’s the story told in “Disfraz de zombie,” a text that makes use of two central marks of this book: the very subtle insinuation regarding an era’s “mood” and a particularly careful treatment that’s given to the topic of violence.

There are eighteen very short stories: each one a burst that doesn’t reach two pages. And while several of them respond to a linear and perhaps more conventional form of the story, many of them are built out of fragments and leaps in time. The author also turns to resources such as italicized letters or the trio of asterisks in between paragraphs to highlight a change in tone or a transition; or to more technical dexterities like the flashback, the ellipsis and the deliriums that are unique to oneiric fiction. The language is diaphanous and simple and with the bare minimum it manages to register intimate experiences, though the prose doesn’t ever close itself off to poetic gleams. At the same time, there’s a reflexive handling of the narrative as a practice, that is, several of the voices possess a clear awareness of what they’re telling and how they’re doing it: some question themselves about the nature and form of the story and others about the impossibility of writing. In general, the stories follow the path of realist tradition, but each eventual denouement brings us back to the knot where they would seem to resolve themselves, as if the story’s “exit” were hidden between two or three lines that have been left behind. The effect is a degree of uncertainty: each clarification is barely suggested and found mid-way between the fantastic tale and a type of metaphysical determination. One of the narrators, for instance, tells her story from her own death and another one announces in the opening sentence that he himself is a ghost. The most significant aspect of these stories might just be that: the possibility always exists that the words will surprise us with a final explosion or they’ll force us to surprisingly reinterpret the tale on unexpected grounds.

First thing: the atmosphere in which the majority of these stories occur tends to be that of a newsroom; almost all the narrators and characters are tied to the world of journalism (correspondents, reporters, photographers). Second thing: the book can be read as a collection of snapshots, not just because of their brevity but also because each story seems to be trying to outline a static image. It’s as if the exercise of photography constituted a restlessness that the prose tries to liquidate: as though among the author’s purposes was the notion of telling the story of a photo. Third thing: most of the stories revolve around a certain trembling of solitude and the form that love takes in the middle of a crisis. Nearly all of them are told by meditative and solitary men; many of them find themselves facing an abyss, sustained by an identical paradox: a woman’s love as the cause of their ruin and at the same time their possible salvation. Fourth thing: among the plots and storyline of each text moves the frequent presence of the social theme that has gained so much importance in the current Venezuelan discussion. A clear demonstration of this is found in “Coleccionista de ventanas,” where beginning with a phrase enunciated by an important leader at the end of the nineteen nineties —an apparently imperceptible detail—, we’re able to configure a certain apathy that’s characteristic of the era faced with political dissertation and reasoning. Fifth thing: the urban theme is recurrent, along with a violence figured in a repeated rumor of gunshots. Despite the fact that the image of Caracas is displayed throughout various time periods —the late sixties, late eighties and “the present day”—, it becomes a matter of representations that share an identical violent assault in common. That’s it. The final effect is of an unmistakeable but curious sensation: of producing amid the book’s pages the precision of a single echo of bursts and detonations.




{ Carlos Ávila, Facebook, 7 February 2014 }

1.30.2014

Una biografía cautivadora: José Antonio Ramos Sucre: Creación y vida

A Captivating Biography: José Antonio Ramos Sucre: Creación y vida


The engineer and writer Alberto Silva Aristeguieta will present his most recent work on February 1st: José Antonio Ramos Sucre: Creación y vida, a biography of the poet from Cumaná.

This latest publication by Silva Aristeguieta, who is also a descendant of writer born in Sucre state, is an outline as transparent as it is deep telling the story of the life, the gifts and the sufferings of the author of Trizas de papel, the most universal poet of the first half of the 20th century.

A text, produced by the Rosa and Giuseppe Vagnoni Foundation, via Fundavag Ediciones, of revelations regarding the forty years of the erudite writer from Cumaná, a descendant of Antonio José de Sucre, seen through the events he lived through and which took him away from his family; the testimonies of his contemporaries, and also through the intimacy of letters for his closest family and friends.

“Silva’s loose prose, prodigious in episodes from that world from 120 years ago where Ramos Sucre was born, subtly describes the man marked by misfortune from childhood, perhaps because of the eight of a lineage that, amidst material scarcity, also deprived him of the affection he desired and overloaded him with rigors that only deepened at each new stage the wounds in his soul as well as the health of this brilliant being,” describes the prologue.

“If Ramos Sucre had been born in Paris, instead of Cumaná, he would be acknowledged as one of the great universal poets,” affirmed Joaquín Marta Sosa, the noted poet and author of one of the best anthologies of Venezuelan poetry published up to now. The author cites him in the first page of this splendorous biography of a master among masters.

The presentation of José Antonio Ramos Sucre: Creación y vida will be at 11 A.M. at the bookstore Kalathos in the Los Galpones art center in Los Chorros, Caracas.




{ Tal Cual, 29 January 2014 }

1.27.2014

Presentan biografía del poeta José Antonio Ramos Sucre

A Biography of the Poet José Antonio Ramos Sucre Will Be Presented


A biography of José Antonio Ramos Sucre, valuable for both experts as well as those new to his work, will be presented on Saturday, February 1st at the bookstore Kalathos in the cultural center Los Galpones in the Los Chorros neighborhood of Caracas, at 11 in the morning.

José Antonio Ramos Sucre: Creación y vida, written by his descendant Alberto Silva Aristeguieta, is an equally diaphanous and profound outline of the history of the life, actions and suffering of the most universal Venezuelan poet of the first half of the 20th century.

With the initiative of this book produced by the Rosa and Giuseppe Vagnoni Foundation, through Fundavag Ediciones, Alberto Silva explores Ramos Sucre’s life starting from his birth on June 9th, 1890. The book is also a collection of revelations about the 40 years of this erudite man from Cumaná, of testimonies by his contemporaries and letters to his friends and family.




{ El Universal, 27 January 2014 }

1.23.2014

Intervenir: Dolores Dorantes y Rodrigo Flores Sánchez


Dolores Dorantes y Rodrigo Flores Sánchez leen parte de su libro Intervenir en Casa Vacía, Ciudad de México, 21 de noviembre de 2009.


A finales del 2014, los poetas mexicanos Dolores Dorantes (Córdoba, Veracruz, 1973) y Rodrigo Flores Sánchez (Ciudad de México, 1977) publicarán un libro de poesía en colaboración bajo el título Intervene/Intervenir (Brooklyn: Ugly Duckling Presse, 2014, de próxima aparición). La traducción del libro al inglés (que es inédito en español) está bajo el cargo de la poeta y traductora estadounidense Jen Hofer (San Francisco, California, 1971). Jen Hofer es, indudablemente, la más importante traductora estadounidense de poesía mexicana. Entre sus múltiples publicaciones se encuentran la innovadora antología Sin puertas visibles: An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry by Mexican Women Writers (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003), y más recientemente fue co-traductora del estudio crítico de Heriberto Yépez sobre los viajes y las investigaciones en México del poeta estadounidense Charles Olson, The Empire of Neomemory (Oakland/Philadelphia: Chain Links, 2013).

Conocí la obra de Dolores por medio del mundo de los blogs mexicanos de poesía, que surgió durante la misma época en que muchos poetas experimentales estadounidenses abrieron bitácoras digitales. Dolores todavía mantiene un blog (Dolores Dorantes) y por más de una década su escritura online y sus libros de poesía han sido esenciales para mí. Los lectores estadounidenses pueden leer su obra a través del volumen titulado sexoPUROsexoVELOZ and Septiembre: A Bilingual Edition of Books Two and Three from Dolores Dorantes, translated by Jen Hofer (Denver: Counterpath Press and Kenning Editions, 2007). Dolores vivió por muchos años en Ciudad Juárez y hoy en día reside en Los Ángeles, California.

Fue Dolores quien me presentó a la escritura de Rodrigo, en particular su segundo conjunto de poemas, Estimado cliente (Toluca: Bonobos Editores, 2007). Rodrigo también es traductor y ha publicado versiones en español de los poetas estadounidenses Jack Spicer y Muriel Rukeyser. Vive en Ciudad de México. Intervene/Intervenir será su primer libro publicado en inglés. Hablé con Dolores y Rodrigo por e-mail sobre su libró que se publicará con Ugly Duckling Presse. También he traducido nuestra conversación al inglés para el blog The Best American Poetry.



Me da la impresión de que Intervenir surge, en parte, de la amistad entre ustedes dos. ¿Cómo surgió la idea de colaborar en este libro?

Dolores Dorantes: Intervenir surgió de una invitación para colaborar con la revista Kaurab oline, el poeta Aryanil Mujerkee me escribió para crear un número para la revista con textos creados en colaboración. Aryanil quería tres cuartillas por cada pareja de autores y yo invité a Rodrigo a hacer algo juntos. La experiencia de colaboración para mí fue tan nueva y, conocer el proceso creativo de Rodrigo fue tan impresionante (era mi primer trabajo en colaboración): como descubrir el mecanismo que produce que una flor se abra o algo así, que no quise parar. Yo había decidido ya dejar de escribir poesía formalmente, acabar con los versos, pero trabajar con Rodrigo me hizo ver la forma de la poesía de manera distinta, comencé a romper muchas de mis propias reglas, con mucho miedo, retomé el verso (al que no he vuelto). Y también con mucho miedo abrí mi proceso creativo a otro escritor para poder colaborar. Eso fue fantástico.

Rodrigo Flores Sánchez: Lola y yo somos amigos desde hace tiempo. Ella me propuso hacer una colaboración conjunta para una revista; así que escribimos dos o tres poemas en conjunto, sin ningún tema definido. Esos poemas salieron en uno o dos días. Es decir, Lola me enviaba dos versos, yo le mandaba otros dos de regreso, así salieron los primeros textos. Posteriormente la estrategia cambió: cada uno escribía poemas completos y nos contestamos con otros textos. El breve conjunto de poemas pronto se vio rebasado.

                              (Dolores Dorantes, por Rob Ray)

¿Podrían describir el proceso de composición del libro? ¿Colaboraron en persona o por correo?

DD: Para mí fue un proceso eufórico de intercambios de documentos en archivo de word que enviábamos mandábamos por email. Una completa sumersión. Después, yo no recuerdo fechas, pero tal vez Rodrigo se acuerde, yo viajé a la ciudad de México y nos encontramos en Coyoacán para decidir qué poemas conservaríamos para formar el libros, y cuáles otros poemas podrían sobrevivir a la corrección. Creo que fue así, pero en estos casos el proceso puede tener percepciones distintas, es como la misma historia contada por diferentes abuelos, siempre habrá detalles que yo cargo de emoción y preferencia y que Rodrigo tal vez observe de forma mucho más precisa, él siempre observa de forma más precisa y ordenada que yo.

RFS: Para mí el proceso de composición fue muy estimulante y desconcertante al mismo tiempo. En el caso de Intervenir, yo nunca había participado en un proyecto colaborativo de escritura sin los elementos que mencioné arriba. Hay que tomar en cuenta que Lola estaba en Ciudad Juárez y yo en el Chilango. En realidad Lola y yo nos hemos visto pocas veces personalmente, pero yo siento muchísimo afecto, admiración y empatía por ella. Creo que sin estos elementos no podría participar en un proyecto como el de Intervenir. Yo sigo todo lo que Lola publica y tenemos años escribiéndonos. De hecho, después de Intervenir comenzamos a escribirnos cartas para otro proyecto. Para mí fue muy denso el desarrollo paulatino de inmersión en el otro. Este proceso para mí fue un cuestionamiento radical de lo que significa la identidad y el “estilo” de una escritura. El proceso es el inverso al del hilo de Ariadna. La intención no era salir del laberinto sino adentrarse, extraviarse en las interrogaciones, recurrencias y marcas estilísticas del otro. Al final creo que la escritura, al menos que esta escritura, es un trazo, una mirada hacia signos vedados de antemano, que pertenecen a Nadie, es decir, a un Cíclope, a un ciego, a un vendado. Me refiero a que uno no tiene pistas para descifrar un trayecto o definir una ruta, sino únicamente para hollar el territorio con preguntas.

En una lectura del libro que hicieron en Ciudad de México en 2009, que aparece en YouTube, se escucha la voz del poeta Jorge Solís Arenazas leyendo algunos fragmentos desde la audiencia. ¿Se podría decir que Intervenir es un libro que busca intervenciones de sus lectores?

DD: La lectura que está YouTube fue grabada en la presentación de una plaquete que regalamos donde imprimimos un fragmento de Intervenir. Todo el evento fue totalmente una fiesta. Sin pensarlo o decirdilo abiertamente sí, sucedieron varias intervenciones: la intervención de los poetas Karen Plata e Inti García Santamaría, que elaboraron la plaquete. La intervención de la poeta Laura Solórzano que leyó antes de que nos otros interviniéramos el espacio: la casa del poeta Jorge Solís Arenazas, quien nos ayudó presentando su voz para el performance, y la intervención de Producciones Autismo, que grabó la lectura. Todo sucedió en la “Casa Vacía” (así llamaba su casa Jorge cada vez que organiza una lectura) en la avenida Alvaro Obregón de la Colonia Roma y muchas de las cosas y las situaciones que se dieron ahí fueron accidentes. Decisiones que tomamos minutos antes de leer.

RFS: El sentido del título y del libro para mí tiene que ver dos cosas. En principio, históricamente México es un país que ha sido y es intervenido por distintas fuerzas, ejércitos, países, policías, etc. Antes de 1519, la constitución de Mesoamérica tiene que ver con la intervención de distintas culturas y clanes. El territorio que hoy comprende a México y parte de Estados Unidos fue intervenido por el imperio español durante tres siglos. Posteriormente México fue intervenido dos veces por Francia y dos veces por Estados Unidos. El territorio mexicano se adelgazó debido a anexiones estadounidenses y a las independencias de los países centroamericanos. En este sentido, a mí me llama mucho la atención que si la historia y la política de México puede leerse y rastrearse a partir de la historia de sus intervenciones, su política oficial haya sido la doctrina Estrada: es decir: la no intervención. Freudianamente es una proyección social curada en salud por un lugar común y por una imposibilidad no sólo histórica sino epistémica: no intervenir. En mi caso, me interesaba hacer visible esta palabra traumática y hoy, en día, muy vigente. Por otra parte, en el libro la intervención está representada por la sobre-escritura. Digamos, creo que el símil social está subjetivizado en el mapa que es el libro: un territorio lleno de adendas, supresiones, jerarquías tipográficas, voces, preguntas, que no pertenecen a una autoría sino que sólo hacen evidente un desarraigo autoral. La experiencia de la primera lectura del libro (y hasta ahora la única en conjunto) a mí me gustó mucho. Pues pudo hacerse de forma “coral”. Jorge, Lola y yo leíamos distintas marcas tipográficas. Para mí fue muy inspirador, por ejemplo, conocer el audio de las lecturas de Hannah Weiner, a quien conocí, por cierto, por Lola. Son increíbles.

                              (Rodrigo Flores Sánchez, por Ramón Peralta)

¿Cómo fue el proceso de traducción al inglés por Jen Hofer? ¿Ustedes colaboraron con ella en la traducción?

DD: Bueno, creo que los procesos de Jen siempre son muy cuidadosos y creativos. Es un proceso que todavía no termina y del que sería fantástico conocer más, por parte de Jen Hofer. Las colaboraciones con Jen Hofer nunca suceden en el mero plano de la interpretación o reinterpretación de un texto. Jen siempre busca más allá, y hace sus preguntas. Pero, como te digo, es un proceso que no concluye todavía porque el libro se en edición bilingüe se publica hasta finales de este año.

RFS: El proceso de traducción me gustó mucho. Jen es una excelente conductora de textos. Además de interesarle la literalidad de la traducción, está muy al pendiente de entender el texto en su contexto y de no quedarse en un primer nivel, es decir el literal. En este sentido, de parte de ella siempre hubo un diálogo abierto con Lola y conmigo, donde no faltaron las preguntas, inquietudes y observaciones. Para mí fue muy enriquecedor.

Me parece que la traducción del libro al inglés ofrece nuevas posibilidades para lecturas del libro en público, con un contrapunteo entre los dos idiomas. ¿Piensan presentar el libro en los Estados Unidos cuando salga?

DD: Tenemos que presentar el libro en Estados Unidos, claro. Es la forma en la que las editoriales promueven sus publicaciones y aseguran que el libro tenga un impacto más cercano entre el público, sobre todo tratándose de poetas que escribimos en otro idioma. ¿Cómo podría la editorial justificar sus razones para publicar poesía mexicana sino a través de los propios autores? Publicar poesía de por sí es un riesgo, y publicar poesía en otro idioma, con autores del país más cercano a Estados Unidos no es precisamente del mayor interés entre los intelectuales blancos, entonces hay que mostrarnos, y divertirnos mientras lo hacemos. Años atrás leí parte de Intervenir en un museo de Detroit y participaron los poetas Patrick Durgin, Laura Solórzano y Jen Hofer, sosteniendo con su voz un discurso diferente de los que aparecen en Intervenir (Intervenir es un libro donde se entrelazan más de tres discursos). Eso le dio una dimensión teatral interesante. No sé con cómo nos divertiremos esta vez, y cuándo exactamente, pero seguramente será algo bien loco, porque la presencia de Rodrigo, (uf) es otro mundo.

RFS: A mí me encantaría que Intervenir se presentara en Estados Unidos.




{ Enero 2014 }

1.14.2014

Ednodio Quintero, literatura resistente en estado puro / Flor Gragera de León

Ednodio Quintero, Resistant Literature in Its Pure State

                               The writer Ednodio Quintero. / Carmen Secanella


Ednodio Quintero (Las Mesitas, Trujillo state, Venezuela, 1947) has been on vacation for a few days in a wild place in the high peaks of the Venezuelan Andes. The same one that saw him born when there was no electricity or cars, “a zone with a Medieval imaginary and customs” for which he feels grateful. There is a curious relationship between the author, who occupies a place among the greats in the literature of his country, and geography. His father had a political position as a registrar that forced his entire family to continuously move around, and Quintero’s first memories are tied to a type of chronology of places. Afterwards, other memories have come linked to the great cities such Mexico D.F., Paris and Tokyo, all of which he confesses to admire.

But critics describe the austere and hallucinatory landscape of his childhood as being inseparable from the cadence and register of his very personal voice. Despite that deep connection to the land, some miss the target by mistakenly trying to find biographical references in Quintero’s literature. Or subjectivities. Or classifications. He has cultivated all types of work: novels, essays, movie scripts and those tales of disconcerting borders whose second compilation has now been published by Barcelona’s Editorial Candaya in Ceremonies, after the first one titled Combates (1995-2000). The stories in the latest volume were written during the twenty year period between 1974 and 1994 and they represent that purely literary universe to which he has aspired. He doesn’t play down his effort or laziness along the way. “It’s hard for me to be a realist author. I put dreams, reality, personal experience in a blender... It’s a gift that some God has given me, even though I’m polytheistic...,” he says on the phone from Venezuela’s Mérida, where he now lives. It’s a matter of “the imagination at the service of nothing, literature in its most pure and savage state.”

“I remember a dream I had when I was four years old. A demon was chasing me and I found myself escaping; hidden in a cloud I took off flying,” he recalls. In an almost casual manner, the author directly highlights a great pursuit in his life: freedom. “It’s the value I defend the most,” he clarifies. Quintero mocks the vanity of artists, those who depend on their ego, which is something that makes him “laugh,” as well as the servitude that comes with certain “leonine contracts” from publishing houses that demand periodical publications. In order to publish El hijo de Gengis Khan (Seix Barral, 2013), a successful novel in Venezuela, he had to wander around for six years to various publishing houses and even then, he declares without resentment that he’s “like a 19th century writer.” “Today there’s an anxiety for fame. My good friend César Aira ironically recommends that in those cases you should publish first and write later...”

Nor does he seem to wear a watch on his wrist. He went for ten years without writing and he explains how he took advantage of that time to “read the classics” and to fill himself up “with lots of music.” “It’s hard for me to see myself as a writer and I don’t have the discipline... like that of a functionary. I write in bursts.” While he sarcastically assures me that people scold him because he spends his money or because he gives it away too quickly, at the same time he says he’s frightened by another, very different loss, his reason. “I fear mental deterioration.” And he adds, clarifying the fact that he’s joking: “I might commit suicide if I get Alzheimer’s, if I can remember where I put the gun...”

For this lifelong voracious reader, among whose memorable readings he treasures Don Quixote which he went through “almost in one sitting,” movies have been another great love and an important influence on his writing: “My fiction works through images, I like Westerns a lot....” One of them actually serves to illustrate the point: Ednodio Quintero says he goes into places and functions “like a scanner” of everything that enters through his eyes. Sight is the star among his senses.

The author’s short stories speak of a vital struggle sustained by heroes whose resistance is narrated from an insurmountable interior and through the first person “which provides much more verisimilitude and is much stronger.” If the topic of the strength and the struggle that carve his literature is addressed, Quintero supports himself with a religion he’s made to fit his measure: “Being alive is a miracle... Existence is given to us for a brief time not so much for our enjoyment but rather for learning.”

And he makes it understood without any qualms about the modesty of his response that if he considers himself a survivor it’s also because of the Venezuela he inhabits. “We’re still here, we won’t give up.” He was told that his book El arquero dormido. Cinco novelas en miniatura (Alfaguara) “had been a premonition of what happened afterwards, the strange experiments of 21st century socialism, out of step with the times.” He repeats the words that point to a resistance so as to shore up strength against that “hesitancy” about discussing the topic of Venezuela after Hugo Chávez, “because dirty laundry should be done at home.” “We’re navigating in a strange experiment here that could wander off into something dangerous.” One of the examples he offers as to how the people who think like him keep themselves afloat is the emergence of independent publishing houses that have established their own circuit in his country or the activity that goes on in social media.

“The European viewpoint seems strange to me, very complacent for some reason (towards the Government of Venezuela) because there’s an anti American sentiment you can see in the press....” “They would have to experience the reality here.” Quintero mentions “the unhinged economy, the inflation,” the practical muzzle placed on the mouths of those who disagree, not because they’re prohibited from expressing their opinions —“there’s no persecution like in dictatorships”— but because the official media have appropriated everything.

“I’m not very hopeful that there’ll be any changes soon but people have been waking up little by little.”




{ Flor Gragera de León, El País, 14 January 2014 }

1.03.2014

Cultura contra la muerte / Antonio López Ortega

Culture Against Death

Each time I hear a waltz by Antonio Lauro, immersed in the mysteries of its sonorous depths, I feel that this is where the most important Venezuelan contribution to universal music is to be found. With good reason the Australian guitarist John Williams, who knew his universal repertoire, praised his unique pieces as moments of transcendence.

The great Jesús Soto, in a confession to José Balza, recalled that his optical art had been born on the shores of the Orinoco river, where he would rest in the afternoons to watch the glimmers of the sunset on the water’s ripples: who knows if the genesis of kinetic art could have been that chromatic vibration. Rufino Blanco Fombona, a notable prisoner of General Juan Vicente Gómez, wrote the first literary diary of our tradition while he was in prison.

And we are also indebted to Rufino, according to the testimony of Ángel Rama, because the Biblioteca Ayacucho publishing house was a reinvention of the Biblioteca Americana project that the Caracas-born writer conceived during his years in Madrid. The choreography “Jungle,” presented in the 1970s by the dance troupe Danzahoy, inscribed us in the world currents of contemporary dance. The Brazilian curators who visited us in the 1980s recognized the Caracas Museum of Contemporary Art as the most important of its kind in Latin America.

Our graphic designers produced the most important logos and posters, receiving awards in Poland, but also the best editions, receiving awards in Leipzig. There was a time when the National Center for the Book recognized with its prizes the best efforts of the nation’s graphic design industry, including alternative initiatives. In 1993 Venezuela was the invited country at the Guadalajara International Book Fair, an honor we have not deserved again.

Our photography attained an unequaled splendor starting in the 1970s, with true international exposure. Our visual arts, sheltered by a solid network of museums, mastered all the contemporary discourses and, undoubtedly, managed to be at the head of the continent’s proposal in the plastic arts. In the 1960s Venezuela established the state-funded publishing house Monte Ávila Editores and the Rómulo Gallegos International Novel Prize, institutional platforms that welcomed, first, a good portion of exiles from Spain and, second, the intellectual diaspora from South America that was fleeing dictatorships. That welcoming gesture, perhaps only with the exception of Mexico, always open, has not been repeated in recent years.

It’s good to remember these cultural acts, that are essentially national, in order to counterpose them to the mediocrity of our politics, the baseness of our leadership and the corruption of the language through which the highest authorities speak to us. In general terms, the country has never been up to the level of its creators and, yet, they have given everything for the country. That forgetting and abandonment has been more lacerating in recent times, because if before we were condemned by our careers —what public role could a poet play?, any leader would ask himself—, now we’re condemned by positions or credos.

A true cultural apartheid divides the creative field into critics and supporters. And we already know what the critical position entails as a consequence: ostracism in the face of any public funds. If, despite everything, our creators survive with admirable health, this is because public indifference is already a part of our genetic condition.

During times when the smell of death, of the republic’s dissolution, of national crisis, is to be found everywhere, it’s good to pay close attention to the voice of our creators, who have never made distinctions of any kind and much less discriminated against the acts or gestures of our people. Facing the death of meaning, of the conditions for citizenship, now and always, culture and more culture. Or spoken much more eloquently in the verses of the great singer José del Pilar Rivera: “If I happen to be dying / and they come looking for me / to sing no matter what / I’ll abandon Death and be going.”




Translator’s Note: The original verses by José del Pilar Rivera are: “Si yo muriéndome estoy / y me vienen a buscar / como sea para cantar / dejo la Muerte y me voy”




{ Antonio López Ortega, El Nacional, 2 January 2014 }

12.30.2013

La vejez / Rodrigo Blanco Calderón

Old Age

The Salvadoran poet Roque Dalton and the Venezuelan writer Elizabeth Burgos in Havana in 1970. (Photo taken from the blog Tribulaciones y Asteriscos.)


The phrase is by Roque Dalton. It belongs to an essay titled “The Night I Met Régis” and it goes:

“And suddenly I saw the greying soul of thirty-one years almost caressing the scarf of its retreat in Prague and I felt in some way complicit with a form of being a certain age that couldn’t be mine consciously.”

Dalton speaks of old age, of that unrepeatable instant when a man sees with no distortion his own senescence, the slow acceleration towards death. Although the text was published in the magazine Casa de las Américas in the month of August 1968, Dalton makes a reference to a night in another August, in 1965, when he met Régis Debray in the apartment Oswaldo Barreto was assigned in Prague.

To come across this text precisely today, July 31st of 2012, the day I turn thirty-one, is enough to make you think of the matter with some method: to sit down and think by writing.

Just yesterday while I stared at Alejandra watching TV, I started to hum in my head, to ask her in silence: “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m sixty-four?”

When I’m sixty-two, Alejandra will be fifty-two. Only then, in 2043, will our love have reached its own thirty-two years. Only then will our love, like an independent being, different from us and from our children, begin to think of its own old age, about whether it will arrive and how it will be when it’s sixty-four, when their bodies and love walk step in step to face dissolution together.

But I don’t want to think about those sad things. I wanted to think about and remember the late night of the 28th of September last year when I had a long conversation for more than five hours with Oswaldo Barreto.

I was at the decisive stage of the biography I was writing about Darío Lancini. Oswaldo Barreto, a former Communist Party activist, ex guerrilla fighter, university professor, writer, very sharp critic and airplane hijacker, he had been one of Darío Lancini’s closest friends. I was gathering various testimonies, but up to that point I had stumbled on the irreducible subtlety that Lancini had used to tempt the world. A bunch of evanescent anecdotes, perplexity shells. When I got in touch with Barreto to ask for a meeting, I had low expectations, I was prepared to leave his house and throw in the towel.

The encounter was magical, it made the book possible and produced an important change in my life.

We had agreed on meeting at four in the afternoon at his house, an apartment on Cajigal Avenue in San Bernardino. At four on the dot, at the entrance to his building, I called him from my cell phone. He answered the phone slightly flustered. He was just leaving the Bellas Artes subway station, the closest one to his house.

“We had agreed on five o’clock,” he said, “Right?”

“I had understood four o’clock,” I said.

“I’m on my way up, call me in a little while.”

I thought the meeting might not happen. Cajigal Avenue offered no café to kill time at, not even a little bench or a shaded spot where I might rest. The first drops of a personal rain began to fall. The sky stayed blue, the heat wouldn’t give up.

I walked down to plaza La Estrella and right beside a newsstand I found a low wall under the branches of a jabillo tree. I took out a book and settled down to wait for it to be five o'clock.

After ten pages, I heard a car braking, a horn blast and someone shouting. It was Oswaldo Barreto who was banging on the trunk of a taxi driver who hadn’t stopped for him to cross the street. He was carrying two grocery bags that slowed him down, wearing a little Persian cap and a woven shirt. His pants were jovial and baggy.

He seemed like he had been wounded somewhere by the commerce of Caracas. He was (and at the moment of writing these pages is) seventy-seven years old. The white chain of his beard, certain gentlemanly gestures, made me think of Baron von Münchhausen. Or at least, Terry Gilliam’s version in the opening scenes, when he bursts in, defeated, at a theater where his life is being played out falsely.

He saw me and kept walking while including me in his gait, as though we had agreed on neither four nor five o'clock at the door to his building, but at the conciliatory mid point of four-thirty, mid way home.


Swallowing Stones: A Novel is the fictionalized biography of Oswaldo Barreto written by Lisa St. Aubin de Terán.


The apartment was small and had high ceilings. Two large photos of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir presided one of the columns. The walls were covered by a crawling bookshelf and with paintings I couldn’t identify. As if each were an incarnation, two cats were hiding in different parts of the living room, each one involved in its own thoughts, but intimately linked, like Sartre and de Beauvoir.

But that was only an effect of the decoration, because the cats were called Cynthia and Freud.

“Cynthia for the Turkish singer Cynthia Gooding. Such a beautiful woman, with an exquisite voice. A name that’s turned out to fit her well, since she’s quite a lady,” Oswaldo said.

The cat, a turquoise grey, climbed onto one of the high chairs in the kitchen and purred.

“Freud, in his own way, also honors his own name: sex above all else, for him.”

Now is not the occasion to reconstruct the heart of the conversation that afternoon. Specifically, the tale from the night when Barreto, accompanied by Dalton, met Louis Aragon. That’s already been told in the biography, along with the secret connections between that scene and Lancini’s life. I’m interested, on the other hand, in referring to an anecdote that emerged almost at the end of the night, that Oswaldo told me specifically I should turn into a short story, whose title should be “Old Age.”

On September 18th 1975, when he turned forty-one, Oswaldo Barreto received one of the most beautiful gifts he has ever been given. A silk shirt. The most elegant and delicate silk shirt that his hands had ever touched.

Just a few months earlier, on the 10th of May, Roque Dalton was executed, it seems by a faction of the Revolutionary Army of the People, in El Salvador, accused of being a CIA spy. He was four days away from turning forty. Reaching forty-one was, for Barreto, the guarantee of his own survival. On that day Barreto knew he would face the most exotic destiny for a man of action: to grow old. He knew that the death of Dalton, his brother in combativeness and poetry, would propel him to the end of history.

The shirt was a gift from the mother of Mariana, his girlfriend at the time.

“Back then she must have been the age I am now,” Oswaldo said.

The next week, he went to the department store where she had bought him the shirt. He spoke with a clerk who changed it for another shirt, a pair of pants and two pairs of shoes. All the items were tasteful and much cheaper.

Days later, Mariana took him to her mother’s house to have lunch. Oswaldo arrayed himself with the loot he had obtained in exchange for the silk shirt. His girlfriend greeted her mom and went straight to the kitchen to help. He was left alone with her mother and as if he were a mannequin, he posed for her so she could appreciate his clothing.

“What happened to the silk shirt?” she asked.

“I exchanged it for all this,” Oswaldo said.

“Why did you do that? Didn’t you like it?”

Oswaldo’s answer prevented any reproach from her.

“That shirt was so lovely, ma’m, that in order for me to wear it I’d have to change my whole life.”

The mother, who knew about the turbulent agenda of her near son-in-law, understood perfectly what he wanted to say. So much that she sealed the pact with a kiss.

“She kissed me on the lips. A long and chaste kiss on the lips.”

A second later Mariana entered. Oswaldo looked at each of them, activating a game of mirrors that failed within seconds. Mother and daughter didn’t look anything alike.

“That’s when I knew that relationship had no future.”

Thirty-seven years later, on his seventy-eight birthday, Oswaldo received a gift that made him remember the other one.

He stood up from the table for a moment and went into his room to look for it. At that instant, we had already left behind his memories of Darío Lancini and a whole bottle of whiskey. Garcilaso appeared with two bottles of red wine and Iván Darío, the youngest of Oswaldo's children, joined the conversation with several plates of cheese and crackers from the kitchen.

It was a small and very elegant black bag. Before bringing it out, Oswaldo spent a while trying to describe it. It was one of those little bags, good for carrying over your shoulder, very comfortable. We spent a few minutes looking for the word mapire which we completely overlooked and now, ten months later, appears in the middle of my silence. The bag he was given was in dialogue with the spirit of the mapire, but it exceeded it in practicality, quality and beauty. And just as they gave it to him he decided to use it.

It was at the main desk of the newspaper Tal Cual, where Oswaldo writes a column that comes out twice a week, that someone mentioned that gift to him. The girl there asked him what he was doing with that bag on his shoulder:

“A gift. Don’t you think it’s nice?”

“Very nice. Too nice, Mr. Oswaldo. That’s the problem. Be careful.”

Then Oswaldo got the bag and let us look at it. Once I saw the label I understood everything: Mario Hernández. This ad is enough to explain the passage of time in Venezuela. In the fifties and sixties you could die for your ideals. Today, subversion consists of wearing a certain brand of shoes, bag or cell phone to tempt your luck.

Oswaldo Barreto, an ex guerrilla at heart, pursues danger in any of its transformations. He wears across his chest, as if it were a Mexican revolutionary’s cartridge belt, his bag, displaying it with no fear. But this isn’t the moral of this story. The moral of the short story he wanted me to write is more superficial and at the same time much deeper:

“Being old means accepting new things. That’s it, in the most materialist and historical sense of the word,” said Oswaldo.

Everyone celebrated the anecdote.

And yet, I had taken the job seriously and I paid the excessive attention I tend to pay, not very pleasant at all, when I feel as though I’m on the edge of a story. Something was missing in the tale for me to be able to write it. Something that couldn’t come from outside but rather from the very heart of the plot itself, but which had yet to be revealed. That something I’ve found today like a spontaneous birthday present.


Régis Debray, with a cigarette in his mouth, after being captured in Bolivia in 1967 for his participation in Che Guevara’s guerrilla army.


Dalton, in that account of a night in Prague in August of 1965, tells the following: “A French writer was staying at Oswaldo’s house. His wife, a Venezuelan girl who had been at my house a few days earlier, when I had been merely a pathetic drunk who needed to see new faces, and was staying up late excitedly. Oswaldo said: “Right over there with that child’s face, that’s the Frenchman who knows more than anyone else about guerrillas in Latin America.””

The Venezuelan girl was Elizabeth Burgos. And the Frenchman, Régis Debray. That night they had an appointment at the home of comrade Pierre Hentgés, on Lermontov Street. Louis Aragon, Elsa Triolet and Lily Brick would all be attending. Debray, when he woke up, between uncombed and confused, attacked this commitment. “Do you still insist on attending these intimate acts with the Party bourgeoisie, with the great whores of the French intelligentsia, seated with their big asses on the world’s pinnacle, verbose, didactic and unbearable?” Dalton writes that Debray told them.

From this point on, what seemed like a chronicle of diaspora and political activism is transformed into a serene but no less implacable reflection on youth and old age. Dalton receives Debray’s anger indulgently (“the youth of the world, beautiful pumas trembling with rage”) and he also seals a pact with the wisdom of the old. Maybe he does this because at that moment, at thirty-one, he doesn’t feel young or old. Maybe he does it following the senseless calling to connect the impossible, the past and the future, sleep and vigil, communism and reality. That interregnum, the present the majority assimilates as a transition, is his definitive season. That’s where Roque Dalton remains, tied to the wall of his reflexive mood, ready to die and enter eternity in his own particular manner.

It’s in the final lines of Dalton’s text where I find the phrase that Oswaldo Barreto brought to life: “Being old means having renounced the elimination of a nothingness, the highest proof of the guiltiest overestimation.”

Those are the citations. They, along with the memory of that unforgettable conversation, have allowed me to identify where the nucleus of the story is to be found. At least, for the story that I was given to write, which is at each moment the point of contact between ages, states of being, experiences that aren’t consciously my own.

Now I see that the nucleus of the story, its possibility, is to be found in the mother’s kiss. In that door of time that opened up for Oswaldo when he was kissed by his own girlfriend’s mother. A maternal kiss, but not in the Oedipal sense that Freud, with catlike sumptuousness, would have surely emphasized. A maternal kiss in the sense of the helplessness in which our persistence places us, when we become children of the past and we fall asleep to the lullaby of the best memories.

But I didn’t want to think about such sad things. And much less on my birthday. I think I’ll stop here. I’m going to meet Alejandra. To find my future in her lips.




{ Rodrigo Blanco Calderón, Iowa Literaria, 1 October 2013 }