Réplica nocturna / Eugenio Montejo

Nocturnal Reply

      I won’t write any more tonight,
silence, shades,
cover my voices with ash and memory,
bells are suddenly wolves,
each word becomes a knife
and stains my hands with blood.
Anyways, this old lamp
lies too much.

      It won’t be tonight. I’ll fill my eyes
with drunken morning surprise.
I’m stunned by the insomniac noise of taxis
as they descend through the suburbs,
birds that become stars
but don’t sing.
I’m going to mix with the sleep of the world
until dawn arrives to pronounce the words
from my somnambulant notebook.
This lamp returns to dead butterflies
and their glass monologues
cross the centuries and cut my speech.

{ Eugenio Montejo, Trópico absoluto, Caracas: Fundarte, 1982 }


Una palma / Eugenio Montejo

A Palm Tree

                                                            to Ramón Palomares

      What I look at
in a palm tree
is not a leaf or the wind,
nor the savage caryatid
where color appears
to glimpse horizons.
It’s not the bitter rancor
of the rocks
nor the green guitars
of the inconsolable sea.
Some of my bones, don’t I know,
the blood that drop by drop
and man to man
has been rolling for centuries
to populate me
somewhat too of my beloved dead,
their voices,
rotates in its column
and adds me to the air.
What I touch in it
with my eyes
and look at with my hands
the root that binds us
to this deep land
from a dream that’s so strong
no storm
can displace us.

{ Eugenio Montejo, Trópico absoluto, Caracas: Fundarte, 1982 }


Trópico absoluto / Eugenio Montejo

Absolute Tropics

      Blue and white palm trees
sharp marine sun at the shores of the coast,
iodized wind, naked bodies, waves.
I’m contemplating this land as if I were seeing it for the first time
or were about to leave it.
I cling to it, celebrate its ancient desire
in each rock, in each little pebble.
It’s the same landscape modulating the voices
so many times heard in cities and villages,
the same sun that was burning
in the absorbed retinas of my parents.
I’m not sure if I see it from another world
and wander absently now
dreaming through the air.
This light epitomizes for me life and death
in a beam of floating colors
that my silence draws in letters for me.
In this light the false pearl of the thief,
the dark girl with the turban who crosses herself,
the street urchin’s rags,
the alcatraz, the cicada, the noise of the salt marshes,
all align in a vast rainbow
where the magic of the absolute tropics
grows in a scream in the depths of my blood.

{ Eugenio Montejo, Trópico absoluto, Caracas: Fundarte, 1982 }


Noviembre / José Barroeta


                                                  To Mario Abreu

Let’s go look for my father,
My body is full of apples
and I could go out into the hills
with your month's name,
to wait for the stars to come out
and take us to him,
to his black head lost in the mud.
We’re passing the houses,
where your clarity November
frightens the women
to look for my father at the bottom of the soup
that boils.
Let’s enter the cadaver through the gold holes
that the rabbits open
and let’s watch how you pose in them November
close in the eyes to animal convulsion.
Don’t leave home without tracing
neither river nor stone nor forest
go right in at the hollow
right at November’s skin
and take me to the warm place of the dead.
Leave your busy bee clearness as a symbol
that my dead father is found anywhere
nourished by that love I give the night when
I look for him.
Leave me fixed and uninjured,
like the woman who lives in my body,
as I prepare the return to the sky of the cadaver
I seek
and it moves mysteriously in god like the first movement
that was made in the world,
quick and fertile like the dead father
I seek with you November.

El arte de anochecer (1975)

{ José Barroeta, Todos han muerto: Poesía completa (1971-2006), Barcelona: Editorial Candaya, 2006 }


En la mañana / José Barroeta

In the Morning

                                                  To Miyó Vestrini

There’s sun.
My father’s milk drops from the cadaver
into air.
An oneiric milk,
in a state of coma
knocks down summer’s shine at the beginning,
doubles white the roses where the bird poses.
There’s sun.
My siblings like chicks
start to open spaces in the
timid earth.
There’s sun.
I’m riding in the car of the dead
with November flowers
and milk from my father on my face.

El arte de anochecer (1975)

{ José Barroeta, Todos han muerto: Poesía completa (1971-2006), Barcelona: Editorial Candaya, 2006 }


Samanes / José Barroeta


                                                  To Ludovico Silva

These samanes where the day
falls with Christ
keep the sinister away.
Death doesn’t elevate itself in them
but actually lives again
like in childhood
walking around randomly.
Those samanes
living with your father’s colors
in their eyes
they carry no time and no space
they’re calmly subject to disappear.
These samanes that don’t make sense,
because we’ll never reach them,
they make your dead father appear
amid shadows
with the light of those psalms
the wind gives the dead.

El arte de anochecer (1975)

{ José Barroeta, Todos han muerto: Poesía completa (1971-2006), Barcelona: Editorial Candaya, 2006 }


A mi tos no hay lana que la cubra / José Barroeta

There’s No Wool To Cover My Cough

                                                  To Víctor Valera Mora

There’s no wool to cover my cough.
I’m so scared, father, that I wait
for a glass of water alone.
October’s desire to take me has passed,
but I’m scared.
The beast calls me,
my own,
the one I contained so much.
What I thought to leave in spirit
became body
and life indulges me so much
that night still falls.
When the fruit of my town drops
they’re my owners,
I’ve done nothing to keep them
in my heart.
Father, I have a great fright,
tell my mother about it as you touch
her pillow.
Tell her they stole my partridge
and the fig,
the September shade I treated
so poorly.
I can’t do it father.
My sister lives like a chicken
and I want her feathers;
I can’t stand
so much love in her belly.
My thirst for the old places
suffers a fable.
You and I, father,
made appointments in the forests.
Before showing up we imposed silence.

El arte de anochecer (1975)

{ José Barroeta, Todos han muerto: Poesía completa (1971-2006), Barcelona: Editorial Candaya, 2006 }


Elegía / José Barroeta


While death exists I will live in song,
wandering in a wave of desperate music. In the winter,
in any season, there are so many who have died for me.

I always want to leave life without bitterness,
to leave it as I’ve seen it. The hope night gives me,
maybe the obsession of being dead, have prevented me from burying myself,
from flying over the thread of my solar soul.

I would like to dress myself with the color of death,
carry the rigorous fantasy within. Love a pale woman with
wings like nothing else.

My desire is not to flee from life but to fix it within what
snatches it away. This light today covers nothing and only the cadaver’s dream
invites us to travel.

Todos han muerto (1971)

{ José Barroeta, Todos han muerto: Poesía completa (1971-2006), Barcelona: Editorial Candaya, 2006 }


Victoria de Stefano: “Vivimos con temor a que el país nos arrastre” / Hugo Prieto

Victoria de Stefano: “We live in fear of the country sweeping us away”

                                                  [Photo: Elvira Prieto]

The writer is struggling with the novel she’s writing at the moment. She has chosen a Gauguin painting as a lamp that guides her path... Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? Surely the country, the bog that Rómulo Gallegos spoke of, is imposing formidable obstacles for her. But we already know about her tenacity, her perseverance. There will be continuity, a line that extends to her most recent novel Paleografías (2011), but also a portrait of what we are and a renewed exploration, perhaps without the joy of other experiences, of that great theme which is desolation nearly transformed into a literary genre.

Victoria de Stefano will speak about the contemplative world, which is the world of artists and of intellectuals in general, and about her extensive literary oeuvre at the Plaza Altamira Book Fair tonight. She will be joined by another great Venezuelan writer, Elisa Lerner, in a colloquium that will be moderated by the poet Rafael Castillo Zapata. The event is scheduled for 6:00 P.M. What follows is a long conversation with the author of Historias de la marcha a pie (1997).

What’s your view of the panorama of Venezuelan literature?

I think that the crisis of these last few years (economic, political, cultural...) the crisis of a country more that divided, right? even with people completely cut off from one another, has forced everyone to feel the necessity of reading Venezuelan writers. In the 1970s, when I began to appear as a writer, let’s say, there were very few writers, apart from the already famous ones: Adriano González León, Salvador Garmendia, Elisa Lerner, Baica Dávalos, Orlando Araujo, Francisco Masiani... I could name more, but there wasn’t the quantity of writers from different generations who coexist as they do today. I’m talking about fiction, about the novel, the short story. Of course, there’s also the poets. In those years, young Venezuelan writers needed to read the elders. Now I think we read each other more. Today I have no problem reading both younger and older writers. There’s a need for acknowledgement and also, perhaps, for establishing a tradition.

That seems to come later in Venezuela, right? That is, if there’s not a tradition, there’s not a school, there isn’t constant renovation but rather a literature like the one we’ve seen: zigzagging, abrupt.

But we definitely can say that the academy has grown, the professors have grown. We can’t talk about literary critics, since there aren’t any publications where literary critics might write. I mean, the tradition of criticism is weaker, but we do have one. What I think is that there’s been an attempt to remake a tradition.

With the existence of talent, isn’t there a need for that literary tradition, that tradition of criticism?

There is a literary tradition! That is, there’s been a tendency in the country to depend on tradition. In Argentine literature, for example, where that fact is very present, there’s something interesting as well. There are even writers who in their novels make references to not only literary tradition, but they embody it in characters, in situations, in circumstances. There’s a type of dialogue with other writers, with other tendencies. We’ve seen much less of that process, but the tradition exists. We’re not going to say that it’s a tradition like the French one or what Gombrowicz calls the primary traditions. No. We still belong to the secondary traditions.

Does that make you uncomfortable? Does it make you perceive a more precarious reality?

No, more conflictive for the writer. I mean, if the writer is reduced to the local world, to the Venezuelan tradition —which of course is part of the Latin American tradition, right?—, if you localize yourself too much, you lose the possibility of creating beyond those immediate surroundings and if you turn too much to the outside, in regards to writers from abroad, that also turns you into a second rate writer. I’m going to lay it out for you as a writer not a critic, because the question you ask me about the panorama would imply that I’ve tried to internalize that panorama, something I haven’t done. I’ve never been a professor of Venezuelan or Latin American literature. What is the conflict one faces? Well, in the end I say to myself, I’m going to write what I want, what I can and what interests me, no matter how much the country might scold me for not writing about what’s happening here, regardless of someone telling me I have a lot of references to Italy in my work. Yes, those are in there.

To traditions outside our own?

We all have the right to do that. The homeland, for writers, for intellectuals in general, can’t be reduced to geographical limits. That theme of identity no longer interests me at all. That was back in the 1970s, not just for me but for many writers. Well, trying to write proudly, to write what you think has to be written. There’s a detail too. I was born in 1940, in Rimel, Italy. When the war was over, I came to Venezuela. There’s a glance, because I have a family tradition, both my father and my mother were educated, trained people. So, how am I expected to cut that world off? I can’t. Anyways, today we’re all multicultural beings.

Venezuela is a country that’s eternally under construction, that has struggled a great deal in many areas to achieve accomplishments, completed tasks. Could its literature be a reflection of that?

Each generation, each period, tries to build itself from the beginning, as if what came before weren’t there. The generation I belong to studied elementary school in the 1950s, I entered the university in 1958, we had a more vernacular education compared to students today. I say it in a more Venezulanist, more Americanist sense. When I started school, we had many professors who came from Argentina, some of them came after the fall of Perón, we used to read the poetry of Gabriela Mistral. Do they read anything like that in high school today? We read Ramón Díaz Sánchez very well. I used to levitate with “Cumboto,” With the novels of José Rafael Pocaterra. It was actually a world with a more Latin Americanist vision.

I’d like to propose something to you, since you mention Pocaterra. Many people are waiting for the novel about the Bolivarian revolution, like Memories of Underdevelopment in Cuba or the counter narrative, as Memorias de un venezolano en la decadencia could have been. But neither of them has appeared.

But that’s a petition that can’t be made to writers. I mean, Pocaterra’s book has to do with the concrete experiences of a country, it’s the biography of a writer, a writer who’s been in jail, who has known conspiracies, who also has a lineage and antecedents in England, he forms part of a time period when politics, the country and literature went practically hand in hand. The role of the writer now isn't Pocaterra’s, nor is it Arturo Uslar Pietri’s. They're more isolated figures, they’re less engaged with the country in that sense. By this I mean the country has become departmentalized, just like in France today you can’t think of figures such as Sartre or Albert Camus, it’s another era, another story, another world.

They’re more solitary, more self-absorbed.

It’s another society. That starring role no longer exists and whoever aspires to it might attain some social or media success, but it won’t go beyond that. We write, and who knows if in 20 or 30 years anyone will read us or not. I think the idea is that writers should write, regardless of whether they might hope or not hope to be read. What will be left of this small world in 20 or 30 years? We don’t know.

What’s left of that country from your first novel El desolvido (1970)?

A great disenchantment and a great sadness. But there might also be a certain nostalgia for youth, for the chimeras and the experiences that were lived and took shape.


No, not bitterness.

It’s nostalgia, a sorrowful feeling, a certain mourning, but not bitterness.

It includes a portrait of your generation.

Yes. Historias de la marcha a pie, which I wrote much later on and was very difficult to publish, is a continuation of La noche llama a la noche (1985), it’s another reflection on the same theme, amplified. In the tradition of universal literature, the theme of disenchantment is very present, there’s even a category of novels called the category of disenchantment and in Cuban literature there are great novels of disenchantment, for example, the novels of Jesús Díaz. There’s a tradition, it almost constitutes a genre. But when I write, I don’t do it based on a plan... I’ll write about this... I’ll write about that, no. I start writing from very small things. For example, in Cabo de vida (1993), which is a novel that hasn’t been read much, because it didn’t have editorial continuity, the theme is a group of waiters for a party planning agency, who go from party to party, serving, so there’s both worlds, how they see them and the fact that being waiters doesn’t prevent them from having a spiritual rather than an intellectual life.

Out of those utopias, those experiences, what remains? What line could be established in continuity?

I wouldn’t know how to answer what line of continuity might exist. There are people who lived through those experiences, some of them are writers, some are intellectuals, some are even in politics and have lived through the fact of disenchantment. Sometimes, a few of them can do this with bitterness, others not. I don’t feel any bitterness.

The characters in your novels live in surroundings that dominate them, that impose themselves, but at the same time they’re characters that reflect tremendously about that. One could say they’re not people of action and yet they experience situations of great adversity.

The theme of adversity is present in my novels. In La noche llama a la noche, there’s a man of action, who is the kidnapper, then he leaves and continues his political activities throughout the world. He dies on a train. We don’t know how, I don’t even know how, if it’s a suicide or a paranoid situation that leads to his death. In my novels there’s a reflection on action and on the contemplative world, which is the world of the artist. That’s in all my novels. Even in the one I’m currently writing. But there’s an overarching theme which is adversity. Maybe when you asked me if there’s bitterness, I said no, but there is a great fear of adversity. Of the adversity that can present itself in different ways. There’s also the theme of freedom and of how you’re determined, how others determine you, and of what the human being’s space for freedom might be. As a question. I never have an answer.

Adversity isn’t the result of an action, it’s the result of a circumstance, of events that are unleashed and those characters are unrelated to those events.

And that’s our reality, for my characters. I don’t know if I’m making sense. My characters include many depressed people, who are living through a moment of crisis. Some of them very serious, others not as much. I don’t know how a French person might live in Paris, who’s a professor or writes. But I do know how we live here in Venezuela. Those of us who are intellectuals, writers, even other types of people, we live everything as if it were a crisis, with a fear of a certain adversity, that the country might overtake us, that it might sweep us away, that we might return, as Rómulo Gallegos would say, to the bog. I do think that’s present and, surely, it can be found in many other writers.

There’s an anguish that competes with adversity. One notices that the country already devoured us and it continues to do so. How can we fight against that?

As an individual, independent from your social or intellectual condition, we all have to fight against that, individually.

With an intellectual life or a political one?

Each person makes a choice. Some are made for political life and they fight from there. Others are made for the spiritual life. Regardless, they’re not two separate things, right? Are they two separate things?

I think that in Venezuela, yes.

Ah then, in Venezuela yes.

Would you agree with that?

Yes, I agree.

Is Historias de la marcha a pie a novel about death?

It’s about illness, death, adversities. Yes, that’s the central theme. On one occasion I read a chapter at a university in Mexico, where I was invited. At first I said I felt bad with them, for reading such a terrible chapter to them. And the professor who invited me, who knew my novel very well, said: “But it’s written in such a jubilant style. One feels that when the writer writes she enters into a certain ecstasy, a certain jubilation, so read it like that.”

It’s also a jubilation for life.

Of course, exactly. That’s what he meant.

It has that counterpoint.

That’s life.

And what you’re narrating is death.

Which is a part of life.

Don’t you think death is a business we should leave to doctors, priests, conjurers?

I think that regardless of the word business, each one of us negotiates with our illness and our death, in our own way. There are people who don’t negotiate illness and death. I’m remembering a friend who was gravelly ill and the doctors told him he needed an operation and he didn’t do it. He died on his own terms.

Which is also valid.

Perfectly valid. Juan Sánchez Peláez [the poet] also refused treatment. But regardless of that, maybe recovery by means of medicine is valid. But there’s also recovery through desire, through necessity, through will. All the variations exist. So does suicide. At the moment, I’m writing a novel. Each time I write a novel, I set up a painting for myself. It’s as if it guides me, maybe it doesn’t guide me and I find another one. But the one I have for my novel right now, which I’m having a lot of trouble writing, I think I feel a certain amount of dejection. Where am I heading? What am I writing? What interest can this have? I’m not writing with the jubilation I had when I wrote Historias de la marcha a pie. Does that have to do with what’s happening in Venezuela? I suppose. Obviously yes. But the painting I set up is Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? Do you know which one it is? The famous painting by Gauguin that he painted in one of those islands.

In that sense, will your next novel have continuity with Paleografías?

I hope so. But I feel that what we’re living is slightly where we come from, who we are, where we’re going and that it’s an eternal question and that maybe with us it’s more present, marked.

It’s an eternal question, but at this moment, for us in Venezuela, it’s an urgent question.

Well, eternal and urgent.

{ Hugo Prieto, Contrapunto, 16 November 2014 }


As de sol / José Barroeta

Ace of Suns

                                                  To Rebeca Giamate


You’re my forbidden reading,
the true story I love and tell myself,
You’re the golden door that makes the afternoon,
the fire it lights to celebrate my best


Your fragrance recovered
Oh your fragrance I loved so illusively,
may the sun and all the stars move for you.
And even when my heart’s fire perishes,
even when it sobs sacredly with solitude,
even when without looking at the earth your strong smell persists
all over the world,
you will see my cold silhouette, leafless in the wind.


dreamed daughter of beauty,
who comes to me riding your sun horse.


Fable where being or not being
is the red countryside.


Honey hidden in a cup of liquors.
How many times have I tasted your last presence there.


Your web of gold makes a vassal
of my life. You fly like a beautiful and imaginary


The distance between your two breasts
is a long red and white acacia.


I call you,
I speak with you in the depths of the rain.
A volcano and silk rose falls to me from your


City where our retinue
is crossed by wild animals. Inexplicable castle
of a pure and real anxiety.


Even for you in the olive grove
I listen to blood from your words. For you that thought
of the cross becomes aroma.


There’s no fable nor truth
where I might keep you.


You speak a language of wild animals,
there’s no pride nor treachery to serve your taming.
You’re one thing in the world and another in the sky,
you always fill my lair with water copiously.


I reach you through desolation.
For you I haven’t ceased stepping on sadness.
To persuade you I’ve gone to every temptation.
To have you I’ve filled your head with breeze.


Now I blaspheme.
Your pollen skin sleeps far from me.
Sacred like the moribund.


great master of the year and sky,
cover our entire white past.
Insult this holiday of sadness.

Todos han muerto (1971)

{ José Barroeta, Todos han muerto: Poesía completa (1971-2006), Barcelona: Editorial Candaya, 2006 }


Rostro de Baudelaire / José Barroeta

Face of Baudelaire

                                                  To Rafael Brunicardi

Face of Baudelaire into which I always
dose of dawn and the Bastille.
Oh, my poet,
let’s talk under the moon tonight
entrusted to the cats,
let’s talk alone as in elegies.
Face of Baudelaire where my adventures
are flowers of evil.
Face of Baudelaire that wanders in my room,
that accompanies my turbid and hurried sleep,
who will accompany me triumphant on dead nights.
Face of Baudelaire;
sick god of every day.

Todos han muerto (1971)

{ José Barroeta, Todos han muerto: Poesía completa (1971-2006), Barcelona: Editorial Candaya, 2006 }


La vigilia / Antonio Trujillo

The vigil

The vigil

is learned
in trees

look at them

day and night
in the same spot

toward the fog

they too

know nothing
of God

{Antonio Trujillo, Taller de cedro, Caracas: Editorial Tropikos, 1998}


Una mesa / Antonio Trujillo

A work / table

A work

is always
something rude

it’s due
too many blows

lives churlishly

tends to speak
poorly about the government

about the king
and his subjects

man leans
on this table

never the soul

{Antonio Trujillo, Taller de cedro, Caracas: Editorial Tropikos, 1998}


De la niebla / Antonio Trujillo

Of the Fog

All of that could have been in the ages
of the recent plumage and of the fog
Migue Ramón Utrera.

The tongue
of the valley

Desires the humidity
of that height

And there’s no vestige
of the landscape

All of the fog
comes from us

There is a smell
of fog

Of an engraving
of a rusted sky

If it descends
the rain won’t come

A certain tremor
says it.

To the center
just to look

The sky
and the hills

Don’t forget
Have edges

tossing flowers

it devours you

offers itself

And the light
isn’t enough

takes you

Through spikes
to the frond

The nascent
lives below

You should drink there
like the birds


The path
is another

You say fog
and the sky listens

You name it
and the trees tilt

The gesture
where we’re lost

You forget it
and it chases you

It is a desire

You think
someone has died

and it’s raining

Once again
it’s in the valleys

Not a single tree
reigns over your heights

Toward the landscape
you live blindly

Though the sun
lifts that white sea

That fog from last night

The fog forces
it knows you’re alone

The mountain offers
not even a magpie

The fog
challenges you

And the field
is it

You descend
without knowing

You think you’re there
and you break

In another house

I walk
in what’s possible

Until dawn

I wait for the branch
that breaks the dark

And I give
in this fog

I look
and it’s not enough

It too
is fugitive

The fog
changes and moves the houses

not a single word
makes noise

there’s no light
and truth doesn’t
sprout in the fields

Only within
too deep

A certain cold
lifts the scream

While the fog

In the leaves
makes another light

This penumbra
of trees


its own fate

There is a zeal
in the fog

I’ve seen it
covering the grass

That lights
this part of the earth

It barely glimpses you

Becomes flight
something moves it

If man
walks in it

                         to Ricardo García De La Rosa

There is fog
in the sea I hear

It grows on
the rocks

And the water
opens itself an instant

I can see it

its depth

Drink its light
and return to these meadows

it pronounces


over the landscape

To flee
through these majaguas

There is no branch
to     detain it

There it is
touching the air

don’t look for it

and stars

Go after it

If you implore
the sky escapes

If you demand

You’ll never know
what the wind does

I live in it
and nothing is dark

It surges and moves
the irises

It’s there above us

Pay no mind
to what’s dense

Mark the air

The fog
is a leaf

All the leaves

Have a path
on Earth

They flee on it
and exit to the sky

they are the forest

The penumbra
we lack

There are no fears
in the fog

It knows how to look
at your trembling from there

The fog
does not offend

It hovers
and knows how to die

It knows
this side

It is in God

{Antonio Trujillo, Vientre de árboles, Los Teques, Venezuela: Ateneo de Los Teques, 1996}


Del mismo lugar / Antonio Trujillo

From the Same Place

Some plants

and you descend

in these irises
calm of the sun

tall spike

you dawn wounded
on stars of grass

below your valleys
plot the fire.

I don’t know the weight
or the mystery

of these places

I barely glimpse
a light

toward the valleys


It is water light

the shade
from the bamboo

measures the humidity
of the greeting

flowering the river
sinks its return.

{ Antonio Trujillo, De cuando vivían los pájaros y otros poemas, Los Teques, Venezuela: Ateneo de Los Teques, 1994 }


Fracaso y aprendizaje / Margarita López Maya

Failure and Apprenticeship

The tributes the poet Rafael Cadenas has received in Latin America and Spain make me think about how difficult but valuable it is to accept personal or collective failure. Cadenas began his poetic notoriety decades ago by expressing his existential failure in a context that included the defeat of his political convictions. One of his emblematic poems was titled “Failure” (1966) and another “Defeat” (1963). He wrote them several years after returning from exile in Trinidad.

Cadenas suggests for me today the idea of the new defeat of the Venezuelan left, or better yet, of that left that never learned from the disaster that was the armed struggle in the sixties. Hugo Chávez’s “socialist” project now displays its unviability, not merely economic but political and moral. A great deal of beautiful rhetoric and utopia, but at its core, it is not democratic and it is sustained by the volatile and sterile petroleum income. Nicolás Maduro in New York, with an entourage of 175 people, spending money all over the place while the country is facing shortages; the use of a PDVSA state oil company airplane for private errands in Brazil by the family and nanny of minister Elías Jaua; and Jaua’s wife checking in to the very expensive Syrian-Lebanese Hospital of Sao Paulo, Brazil, while Venezuela endures shortages of medicine and the collapse of our basic medical services. These all reveal an elite that is self-absorbed and alienated from the reality that surounds it.

The failure of the Chavista project is also the failure of Venezuelan society that supported it and kept it in power. But, as Cadenas says, that failure could be a “clue toward another more demanding space.” If this elite and us were capable of looking at ourselves in the face and recognizing that we’ve failed, we could begin to repair the “magical” side of our petroleum economy, which has once again brought us to this dead end. That acknowledgment would allow us to open ourselves to humility, which would in turn create the conditions for listening, engaging in dialogue, evaluating our weaknesses, while also examining our strengths. From this other space it would be possible to rebuild a less grandiloquent plan for the country, one that is rooted in the ground and allows us to take the leap we need in order to articulate ourselves for the globalized community of the 21st century. It won’t be easy, as is the case with all lives that deserved to be lived, or with the itineraries of societies that have provided dignity and well-being to their members. We need to learn from this failure that belongs to Chavismo, but also to the rest of us.

{ Margarita López Maya, Últimas Noticias, 10 November 2014 }


Cinco poemas del lugar / Antonio Trujillo

Five Poems from the Place

When she comes
everything smells like earth

she announces herself
with a riled lightning bolt

we shut doors
and want the flame

when she comes

the cliff sings

then the grass grows.

She comes naked     rising

damp trees
cling to her skin of sky

she doesn’t talk

flies and moans
such an old dream

in loose leaves

lives saying goodbye.

A few birds
cross the fog

without song

lean on branches
their capacity to forget

return to flight
always without talking.

Then the night plunges you

stubborn spiral

the river returns in full humidity
and the houses were gone
just beyond the leaves

where no one
moves the trees.

This yellow
of so many irises

brings back
a certain time

where roosters
climbed their song

and their hard crests
we already flowering.

{ Antonio Trujillo, De cuando vivían los pájaros y otros poemas, Los Teques, Venezuela: Ateneo de Los Teques, 1994 }


La narrativa de Gustavo Valle se sitúa en los lugares abandonados / Humberto Sánchez Amaya

Gustavo Valle’s Fiction Is Situated in Abandoned Places

Álex Kantor is sick of it. He decides to escape the city that’s been the stage for all his failures. He can’t find himself there. He needs to exile himself from his frustrations, including his family.

This is the leitmotiv of Happening, the most recent book by Gustavo Valle which won the XIII Annual Transgenre Contest sponsored by the Sociedad de Amigos de la Cultura Urbana.

“It’s a fantasy everyone has, to slam the door, take off to an unknown place and start over. These are traumatic decisions that many people never make,” expresses the novelist who recently came to Venezuela to present his work at the Kalathos bookstore and the International Book Fair of Carabobo University.

Desperation is the fuel for the protagonist and his only attachment, at the beginning, is the 1976 Range Rover that will take him to a place where he expects to find some peace. He takes the trip at night with darkness as his accomplice, until an involuntary homicide adds other motives to the anguish of the character, who ends up hiding in the Gulf of Cariaco alongside others who are also waiting for redemption.

Caracas is seen from a distance by the author, specifically from Buenos Aires, where he has lived since 2005. He left Venezuela in 1997, for Spain. “I spent a long time over there. In 2003 I returned to Venezuela for a while, until I left again,” he details.

Unlike the protagonist of his book, Valle assures us that his departure from the country doesn’t have anything to do with any particular torment. He only did it, he affirms, to expand his horizons.

“My imaginary universe is situated here in Venezuela, which means that I work with memory a great deal. I write non-fiction about the place where I live and my fiction is based on the zones I’ve abandoned,” notes the novelist, who is already back in Argentina.

Memory can be deceitful, he admits, but that doesn’t bother him. “The writer is an impostor of memories. He’s permanently placing masks on them. That’s his job. When we evoke the past we always corrupt ourselves and transform ourselves. What occurs is reconfigured and becomes a viscous, unreachable matter.”

He indicates that the escape and the journey are themes in all literatures, but that in Venezuela there’s a particularity that is difficult to ignore. “The most recent Venezuelan circumstances speak of a migratory process that grows more immense each day. There are writers who are placing a magnifying glass to this situation. There’s a discussion about concepts such as flight, exile, escape, none of which were on the menu of terms for Venezuelan literature and for daily occurrences,” affirms Valle, who is now concentrating on a novel about sexual initiation.

{ Humberto Sánchez Amaya, El Nacional, 7 November 2014 }


A los vencidos ancianos la noche les cae encima / Lorenzo García Vega

Night Falls On the Defeated Old People

Walking, as if headed to the brothel that only ends up being a trompe l’oeil, I sing to Saint John of the Cross.
     I ramshackle in my song, then. Somber night. Oh dark night of the soul!
     I don’t know how to get there.
     I take the wrong road.
     Ugly people, oh canticle!, through the streets with the blackness of ink (do you want anything more stupid than what I’m whistling?).
     I don’t think I’ll get there.
     Incredibly, in the years of my youth, when I was at the Havana Institute of Secondary Teaching, I would always go around (but why does it occur to me to evoke such an idiotic thing?) dressed in a coat and tie.
     Don’t ask me anything.
     I’d have to sing what a somber Venezuelan priest once sang.
     Oh canto, pretty or ugly, I’m an old man and I walk. I love the dark night, repeat and repeat my Nonsense Nocturne.
     “And he kept sleeping forever / hugging the rigid skeleton,” sang the priest Borges.
     And then, at the moment when the guitars should come in, what’s said, even if it makes no sense, is said.
     But a light rain —keep singing this Nonsense Nocturne— is falling on the green house in front of my house.

{ Lorenzo García Vega, Erogando trizas donde gotas de lo vario pinto, Madrid: Ediciones La Palma, 2011 }


Una chorretada difícil de comprender / Lorenzo García Vega

A Hard To Understand Squirt

If you don’t know about the crocodile that circles me, it’ll be hard to understand what I’m about to say here.
     What I saw, very white, and later, having heard someone say, to someone else, that it was enough, the presence of a maharaja for a pain in his neck to disappear.
     Nothing, a pretty yellow bird, but someone else said that just by using the Manager (sic), or a black pebble, “the cover of the mountain” would come crashing down. There’s a knife that opens without opening, the other one ended up saying.
     A little bit of death won’t hurt. He went to a little box of chocolates. Someone tossed it, and it landed in the patio of a jail, full of starving prisoners.
     The nuns of the Sacred Heart send me the Mater Pages every month, but I’m barely able to buy the shoes I wanted in the fur shop where I’d been. You see, I was listening to the absurd allegations of some clients, cowardly and combative.
     My grandfather was in the habit of making his own cigars —they were cigars with yellow paper—. But now someone the Argentines call a “boludo.” This “boludo” escaped the very moment —smoke-filled night— I began to think of him.
     It was five in the morning. It had been a while since I’d left the Publix where I worked as a bag boy. Twenty-five decrepit old ladies, dressed up as little girls were at the Home. The horror! So then I started to think about how, in the Publix, they owed me two weeks of sand. What did this mean?
     The deserted sidewalk. The undead man staring right at me. Raining which is a happiness. I’m gonna go out with the painter Baruj Salinas, but before that someone dictates how I should paint. Afterwards, I hear about something more or less like this: someone, who’s left for Oregon, leaves the toilet seat cover for his grandma.
     The devil whispering to me on the little cart I drove, when I was a bag boy at Publix. Where will I take him? I ask myself if that little cart might actually be inside me.
     What was the painting I set out to make, when I thought I could be a painter? I discover myself insisting. Romans? The opposition to a matrimony?
     It seems like an argument. A wedding should not take place.
     There’s a tenuous pinkness, in all of this.
     And I can finish by saying that the son of the heroine —a barber, as far as I can tell— is happy when he learns that she’s the only one who’ll escape. But how many colors does it take to say this?
     I don’t even find out how sad I am.

{ Lorenzo García Vega, Erogando trizas donde gotas de lo vario pinto, Madrid: Ediciones La Palma, 2011 }


Pequeña alucinación / Lorenzo García Vega

Little Hallucination

The green of the smear? A quantity of ants, where you might learn a lesson.

But above. Above? Especially above. The head of the smoke. We know the past wove it (stain, little stain, on the unforeseeable, ancient mailbox).

But what it’s about precisely is the rhizome, that will appear when the electricity arrives. Well, jotting something down like, from a river, the fissure.

A river, if someone were actually able to notice it, would produce cuts in the silence (could it be, silence, like a broken hose, without water?).

{ Lorenzo García Vega, Erogando trizas donde gotas de lo vario pinto, Madrid: Ediciones La Palma, 2011 }


La teoría y Ayotzinapa / Heriberto Yépez

Theory and Ayotzinapa

Events like those in Ayotzinapa test our concepts. The elite commentariat of the dominated territories use ideas from the social sciences and humanities of a previous era. This gap has been evident in the case of Ayotzinapa.

I will enunciate three understandings that theory today already judges as obsolete. But that govern the interpretation of Ayotzinapa.

Foucault or Snowden aren’t necessary to understand there is no such thing as “personal life.” But people insist Ayotzinapa was a loss of the “personal” lives of “young students.”

Ayotzinapa was an assault against a micropolitical group, composed of dozens of Mexicans of which millions exist, a profile that is anything but “individual.”

Faces, desires, discontent, their lives were the same as those of millions of bodies here and there. Ayotzinapa doesn’t belong to the order of the biographical but to that of the biopolitical.

A second fallacy of the commenters indicates that the Mexican government is the aggressor.

There is a theoretical consensus that we live under a global order. But the commenters cling to the existence of autonomous, identifiable and “national” governments.

They seem to be unaware of NAFTA. To not know we’re part of North America.

Everything that happens here is part of a check list of economic, military and political powers that administrate this transnational zone. Only the naive or desperate can believe in the “national” and when faced by an event such as this complain against their assistant political class.

From Ayotzinapa to Ferguson, all repression in this zone follows the same geopolitics.

That’s why a third outdated understanding (invoked to exhaustion in these weeks) is the most laughable of all: to lament that in “Mexico” there’s no “rule of law,” and, instead, that “barbarism” or “corruption” rules; as if they lived in a century that never existed and didn’t know that “civilization” and the “law” operate to perfection here and, thus, impose violence and inequality.

Ayotzinapa was a civilizing violence, not very different from the one practiced in New Spain to “civilize” indigenous peoples and blacks and very similar to the fast and furious civilizing violence of the United States.

Ayotzinapa was one more police action to impose “civility” today in the transnational region of North America. There’s nothing particularly Mexican about it.

Even more than in 1968, Ayotzinapa is a protective measure for diverse economic interests. We will never know who gave the first and final authorization to protect such interests, always already glocal.

If you think the president is a fool, then the fool is you. National governments don’t exist. This has been known by global theory for a long time already.

We shouldn’t think lucid theory will help us. It is merely the technical confession of civilizing crime.

Commenters and common victims come and go without ever even suspecting the diagnostic laugh of high theory, the latter always a neighbor to those guilty of genocide.

{ Heriberto Yépez, Archivo Hache, Suplemento Laberinto, Milenio (México D.F.), 1 November 2014 }


¿De qué luna se trata? / Lorenzo García Vega

What Moon Is It?

There’s me, today —and I’m not surprised—, under the January moon that serves to maintain for me, fixed, a morning there once was in the town of my childhood. But what strange constancy could this be? I can’t measure it. Threads, I’d say, that don’t break, but threads that have already ceased to exist. There will be a silence to explain what I’m saying here, but I don’t think there will be an end where I’m able to touch that silence. So, there’s a January moon, and that seems to be enough. More or less, yes, that seems to be enough.

{ Lorenzo García Vega, Erogando trizas donde gotas de lo vario pinto, Madrid: Ediciones La Palma, 2011 }


Pianola por el mediodía / Lorenzo García Vega

Midday Pianola

In an abyss? What could there be in an abyss? Pieces? The paper star that adorns a box of cookies doesn’t have to look like that impoverished place, called Pereira, where my grandfather slept.

And yet, I would guard, during the daytime sleep of this midday, the sinister child —his hallucinating eyes— who threatens with the stick he holds in his hands (is there a zero?).

But how can the paper star on the box of cookies look like the place that was called Pereira? Is there a hallucination going on?

And yet, there’s no doubt the place of the paper star on the cookie box is the same place —a place of earth— that was called Pereira. The place where my grandfather slept.

Meanwhile, in a uterus? The child, no doubt, could keep threatening with the stick.

Could it be I’m about to get a cold?

And the eyes mark an Egyptian face (but what eyes am I talking about?), while maybe we’re at the edge of the sinister.

In other words, to put it simply: it might be that with the pianola of this midday today, the paper star on the box of cookies is driving us toward a little box where it wouldn’t be strange at all to find an abyss. One doesn’t understand anything, but these things do happen.

{ Lorenzo García Vega, Erogando trizas donde gotas de lo vario pinto, Madrid: Ediciones La Palma, 2011 }


Creo en unos triángulos / Lorenzo García Vega

I Believe in Some Triangles

I believe in some triangles.
     I believe in some triangles!
     Standing by a window. The window facing the little leaves of the tree. I believe, I repeat.

In other words, rain, rain, rain, a wig.
     It’s stupid to start talking about a wig, but it’s raining.

While everything smells like the din of the past: butter —boiled—, but barely recalled.

Thrown in the patio, flooded by rain, the dry triangles I believe in.
     However, I don’t know what formula could’ve sucked the color out of those triangles.
     (I laugh with some invisible cubist teeth —I laughed for the first time, after the dentist made quite a few extractions—, but I won’t talk about that right now.)

Waiting, then, like this. Stripped of all my knobs. But what knobs am I talking about?

Although, thinking more about it, how can I depend on a belief? Well, despite my belief, there could be a road where I might find a lung made of rotten caramel, in the dry triangles. Road... and what might Kandinsky say, then? Road, finally, where we might even, maybe, find a strange smell. It could happen, yes, just like I’m saying it could, all it would it take is for you to stop paying attention for a second.

{ Lorenzo García Vega, Erogando trizas donde gotas de lo vario pinto, Madrid: Ediciones La Palma, 2011 }


Divagación inútil / Lorenzo García Vega

Useless Digression

Is the carrousel facing the sea? Does it exist? Who said that? Is it on the, smoke-filled, structure or backdrop of a sunset? I ask all this without being drunk.

The sea, at times also yellow, often rises from a dark film —also full of smoke—, where a documentary, I think it’s about Carthage.

I turned —it’s a saying—, amid so much nonexistence, on the documentary, at the moment when the narrator was saying mummies had given in to the conquered.

Amid the images, what a phenomenal leap! But who, even though we don’t know what the wind brought, could have been the one to blow? (but, who, within me, has thought to ask this idiotic question?)
     I confess I was strolling around a gas station to prove how strange a yellow sea could be. But, instantly, I began to cry, and this was because I felt so alone, facing the invented carrousel.

Although now, in fact, a breeze has run along my ears —maybe it’s time to stop digressing.

Does everything end up eating itself? About the gusts, even if they’re decayed, nothing can be known. And you end up getting tired of going in circles —yellow turns, like the sea?— around the same, empty hole.

But now then, well, the afternoon has fallen, should I pretend a boy scout executed the crocodile with the green wig, or should I pull Rimbaud out of the closet, or some pretty, literary mummy? No, I should keep calm. The monkey’s not up for any taffeta, and let’s stop trying to be original. I’m much too old to pretend I’m original.

{ Lorenzo García Vega, Erogando trizas donde gotas de lo vario pinto, Madrid: Ediciones La Palma, 2011 }


Perder tu cara, perder tu nombre / Heriberto Yépez

Losing Your Face, Losing Your Name

Exactly twenty years ago I was worker in a factory in Tijuana and I was planning to put bombs in those factories and in the building of the PRI political party facing the wall built by the United States on the border.

I don’t know if due to the most wonderful or to the worst luck, the factory (Verbatim) where I was working that year was located in front of a public university, and I applied and was accepted and decided to cross that bridge, which took me out of the assembly line and the Cartolandia slum of the East of Tijuana where I lived without public utilities and surrounded by drug labs, because those were the years and zone of operation for the cartel.

Many things have happened since then. I sometimes ask myself why I wanted to stop being a maquiloco factory worker, that miserable person who was at war with every single point of the system.

Today I’m a writer (hated by many) but, in contrast to that young Tijuana native who dreamed of being “someone” (escaping misery), today I want to be “nobody.”

In the middle of September of this year I announced I had closed the project of “Heriberto Yépez” because I considered it the dream of a marginalized young man who wanted to save himself by transforming into a writer of “Mexican literature”; there was no shortage of idiots who jumped for joy about the (imaginary) disappearance of an oeuvre, a name or, even worse, a writer.

A few weeks later, the Mexican government decided to organize yet another of its killings of discontent people. Faced with that event I reiterated that my decision to disappear as a “name” wasn’t a “personal” whim but rather an act that is part of something much larger.

One of the students executed in Ayotzinapa had his face ripped off, he was skinned; while that horrifying crime was circulating (like an anti-selfie), I couldn’t help but think that the decision to disappear my name, and practically bury my own career, was congruent with this moment (and others).

That young man dreamed of being someone, because that’s what could be dreamed in a marginalized neighborhood in Northern Mexico, the backyard of the United States.

I used to be a foul proletarian and today I’m a foul intellectual. Today I want to show my solidarity with those who have been executed by all the causes (and all the cartels) and, consequently, dispossess myself of my own name. To not have a face or a personal signature, to be just another disappeared person (in this colonial-capitalist control).

No other book assembled by these hands under that name will ever appear again.

Unfortunately, I have to make a living and I’ll surely have to sign here or there with the name that appears on my birth certificate, which is false (like all names and identities), but as a minimal intellectual gesture and as a minimal sign of congruence with the Mexican history to which I belong I want to make it clear I’m convinced that being ethically Mexican today means abandoning everything, starting with our own (skinned) face and our own name (target of a CIA drone).

The wind says now is the very moment to lose your face, to lose your name.

Nothing in the previous world is worth anything. Another world is coming.

{ Heriberto Yépez, Archivo Hache, Suplemento Laberinto, Milenio (México D.F.), 25 October 2014 }


Un país llamado Cadenas / Antonio López Ortega

A Country Called Cadenas

In light of the tribute to Rafael Cadenas that has taken place this week at the PoeMad Poetry Festival in Madrid, it’s worth reflecting on the gravitation of an oeuvre that has represented, why not say it, the most important textual adventure of these times. His poems accompany us like talismans since 1958, with the apparition of Una isla, and it has already been five decades of closeness, revelations, renunciations, lessons or apprenticeships. My generation, in particular, has grown up with this poetry, has drunk from it, has made all of its sonorities its own. He is our poet par excellence, our secret company, our figurehead. Some might say this praise has nothing to do with a poetry that describes humility, that seeks the essential in life, that removes itself from exaggeration, that sees the I sacrosanct institution of the West— as a great trap. But maybe our historical accidents, our political and moral ruin, have seen in this poetry of abandonment, paradoxically, a last resort. Cadenas never thought his poetry could mean so much to so many readers who seek it or find a refuge in it. But once again it has been the circumstances that have labored for this conjunction to exist.

It’s also worth noting that the referent of the country, faced by the avant-garde, has meant very little. It was disdained, it was kept in the vault for lost objects. But this conviction also revealed that no one really values what they already have, like the air we breathe. The country, let us say, is a fait accompli, it’s the closet where we hang our clothes. With that security, with that firm ground, literature advances with complete freedom, concerned with its own evolution, expressing outrage at conservative ideas and planting flowers in the heads of the obtuse. Until, of course, the country ceases, stops, dissolves, which is what is happening now. They are taking away the strip from which we would lift off, they hide certainty from us, they dissolve the culture that explained us and gave us exposure. The freedom with which an oeuvre like Cadenas’s has grown and evolved to critique the sense of possession, the foolish urges, the vanity, the superfluous ways of life today, and has advocated, instead, in favor of transcendence, of the flame that is all being, of a condition that is more celestial and less earthly, while it also ceases or suspends itself without the certainties that have seemed natural, eternal to us. And it has been in these last few years when, surprisingly, without being predetermined, that the work of Cadenas, faced with the lack of a country, grows among adepts and readers to constitute itself as an alternate country, with its own geography, inhabitants, feelings and certainties. This is what happens with great works when the sustenance that postulated them disappears. 

{ Antonio López Ortega, El Nacional, 23 October 2014 }


El Cónsul / Tomás Eloy Martínez

The Consul

Now the insomnia had installed itself in his body with such a vigorous sense of belonging that the Consul could only recognize things beyond himself through the eyes of that intruder. Each time he opened a book, insomnia was there, arriving at the letters first and taking them to a horizon where he, José Antonio Ramos Sucre, could never read them.

He looked out the Consulate windows, onto the rue du Rhône, and distractedly licked the envelope of the most recent letter he had written. To miss Dolores Emilia Madriz —his cousin—, in Cumaná, Venezuela: “I still shave each day. I barely read: I discover a radical change of character in myself. The day after tomorrow I turn 40 and it’s been two years since I’ve written anything.”

He had grown thinner. He had so many bags under his eyes they couldn’t all be his: sometimes he thought another person’s bags (the Other?) had descended on his face to torment him. He was getting dressed carelessly, feeling that the shirt was adhering to two different bodies and that the tie was tightening around two necks. For six months now he had wandered from sanatorium to sanatorium, submitting himself to desperate examinations and interrogations, so they might extirpate that company. But the insomnia was (he wrote to José Nucete Sardi in January) “of an unbelievable tenacity”: it would climb onto the same trains as he, stretch out in the same bed sheets, shave with the same hands.

The spring air was tossing a few sad gusts of pollen into the street. In the distance, the twelve arches of the Mont-Blanc bridge, above the Rhône, were dissolving in the viscous light of early evening, and the ringing of a bell, descending from the hill of Saint-Pierre, was bringing the first sounds of insomnia to his room. The Consul’s body tensed up with alertness: he, José Antonio Ramos Sucre, stealthily moved towards the darkness of the curtains so the Other wouldn’t see him. From there, he glimpsed the street. A homeless dog was preceding the parade of the last office workers toward Saint-Gervais, the jewelry shop in front was turning its lights off, and further on, at the corner, the waiters at the Aux Nations were setting up the tables on the sidewalk. Suddenly, the Consul saw insomnia cross the street, dodge two cars, and approach the portals of the rue du Rhône. What should he do now? Once again insomnia would break through the entrance in a single thrust, leave his straw hat on the rack in the vestibule, he’d glance at the remaining files the secretary had organized on the desk by the entrance, and with a malevolent smile then burst into the library where the Consul’s body was preparing itself, tensed, to resist the assault. But even though José Antonio Ramos Sucre had hidden his body in the banks of the window, even though his eyes were closed and his palms were open and facing forwards, using his already exhausted strength to oppose the invasion, he knew insomnia would eventually occupy him, as always: it would breathe for him, it would dictate all the words and gestures of his life.

Since his arrival in Geneva, on the 12th of March, the Consul was plotting to kill his enemy. Leaving Venezuela had allowed him to throw away the last traces of “anthropophagous morality” that prohibited the crime and, now relieved, with his hands free, he was reviewing the means to put an end to his torment. “I can only assure you that you won’t see me sick again,” he had written to Dolores Emilia —his cousin—, on April 8th. By then he had already dismissed a violent death —all the variations of gunpowder and knives—, because he couldn’t tolerate the idea of the body being disfigured in that combat, and that his relatives would have to later hide the traces of his wounds when displaying his body. He was thinking more of a clean and peaceful death, one that would disconcert insomnia and leave it defenseless. He would often ask himself if the Other, who had resisted the infinite assaults of sleeping pills and distractions, would be capable of surviving that final attack: if insomnia would continue to float over the streets of Geneva even after all of reality had fallen asleep.

He had consulted the possibilities of the poison in an old vademecum: he rejected arsenic, due to the horror of convulsions, the ulceration, the risk of wandering; he excluded belladonna and strychnine because he imagined them entering the body in a slow, violent sunset, taken over by a basement of asphyxia, and the mere possibility of that death was even more unbearable for him than dying. He vacillated, how many times he had vacillated! “Only the fear of suicide allows me to suffer with patience,” he wrote. But insomnia itself had been in charge of diminishing that fear, until it was reduced to the size of nothing: he had continued to make fear fade with its nocturnal screams and its servant’s insolence, until he himself, José Antonio, had ended up forgetting it.

Now everything was clear: he would annihilate the Other through sleep, with an overdose of a sleeping pill the doctors at the Stefania sanatorium had taken away from him in Merano and that he had secretly rescued, with the help of some compassionate German nuns. He consulted the vademecum once more: “Individual susceptibility varies” —he read—. “The signs of intoxication habitually appear after five centigrade. A dose of .25 grams (by one means or another) tends to be mortal in an individual not used to taking it.” He took the beautiful edition of Wilhelm Meister from the library shelf, the one that had accompanied him on the journey between Hamburg and Merano, four months ago, and he left the bottle of pills out in the open. He carefully calculated its contents: one gram, maybe even 1.25 grams. It was more than enough to attack insomnia two days from now, when the Consul would have the misfortune of turning 40.

The muddled hopes he had left Caracas with had dissipated by now. For months he had been wrapped up in petitions and procedures so that the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry could transfer him from his duties as official translator to a position abroad. He trusted they would send him to Paris, where the Minister César Zumeta had promised him hospitality and protection, but the unexpected vacancy of the Consulate in Geneva detoured him in that direction, at the end of December 1929.

Upon arrival he had stayed at the Bellevue Hotel, in front of whose windows both Mont-Blanc and Lake Léman spread out and, with a joyous impatience he hadn’t felt since his university years, he had gone out to exhaust himself strolling through the city: he willingly got lost on Rousseau Island, enjoyed the slight sun in the gardens of the Grand Quai, and he was about to explore the suburb of Petit Saconnet when the lashing of the cold pushed him back towards the hotel lobby, in whose fireplace the forms of fire were rousing.

He had thought insomnia, like all the creatures of the night, would resist following him in his displacements. It seemed natural that, the further the boat got from La Guaira, the easier it would be for him to recover his intimacy with sleep, to the point that by the second week of navigation he had been able to sleep for three hours in a row.

The minister Hurtado Machado had received him at the station in Geneva, and after accompanying him to drop off his luggage at the Hotel Bellevue, took him to the Consulate building, on the rue du Rhône, where they confirmed the secretary’s diligence and the good manners of the neighbors. Hurtado confided in him that they were considering moving the offices to a building facing the lake, but Ramos Sucre begged him to not do it: where would they find such silence, such courteous people? And as for lodgings, the departing consul, Luis Yépez would soon find him a placid hotel nearby (Hurtado said). “None of that” (Ramos Sucre stopped him): he only aspired to a house where the kitchen was clean and the guests silent. He told Hurtado about his long months of suffering: he was a victim (he said) of a tropical parasite that didn’t allow him to sleep and unleashed in him nervous crises and intestinal disorders. He had been recommended a sanatorium in Hamburg that was experienced in cleansing the body of those parasites, and after a few weeks of acclimatization in Geneva, he would depart for Germany to begin treatment. He was sure that by March, when Yépez had to return to Caracas, he would be taking charge of the Consulate, with no other disorder besides solitude.

When night fell, Hurtado had returned to visit him at the hotel, with a few letters of recommendation for the doctors in Hamburg, and had explained in detail about the pending problems at the Consulate. Yépez (he told him), who was spending the Christmas holiday outside Geneva, would definitely be back by the 26th. They spoke of him affectionately, and the minister entertained himself with a long sermon about the painful separations to which a functionary of the Foreign Service is exposed and about the need for keeping one’s feelings under control.

It was when the minister left that Ramos Sucre felt once again, while he was crossing the hotel lobby, the sharp pain in his stomach that hadn’t attacked him since his departure from Caracas. His hair stood on end as a current of sweat froze his back. Hunched, he let himself fall into an armchair hoping to catch his breath. Was that pain the thing that opened the doors of his body to insomnia, or was it actually insomnia that, once settled inside him, damaged his guts?

He went up as best as he could to his room and laid down fully dressed on the bed, waiting for the night’s inferno, with no other defense but immobility and a profound awareness of suffering. He was comforted when he suddenly thought that the insomnia was suffering as well: so many times he had felt memories and remorse belonging to the Other enter his body, he had so frequently felt, when he spoke, the words of insomnia flowing from his mouth, that he couldn’t imagine it being removed from his pains. And yet, the idea didn’t comfort him: suffering was there, and it was he, Ramos Sucre, who never ceased to endure it.

He guessed that the following days would only get worse, because he’d be forced into a chain of inevitable social rituals: meetings with Venezuelans from the embassy, conversations with the secretary, visits to the Palace of Nations, and a starched Christmas Eve with Hurtado’s family who would force him to eat hallacas and toast champagne. What sense did any of it make?

At dawn, he wrote a hurried note to the minister, explaining that the disorder of his health was forcing him to leave immediately on his trip to Hamburg and begging him to not worry about him. He packed his luggage once again, left the letter with the hotel’s reception, and wandered through Geneva in a rented car, searching for a modest rooming house. He found it at the entrance of Petit Saconnet, over the slope that opens onto the Saint-Gervais.

He spent three days there, without moving from his bed other than to try some of the food the owner would bring him, concentrated in his tenacious combat against insomnia. At dawn on the 27th of December, in such a pathetic state of weakness that even parting the air required a great deal of effort from him, José Antonio Ramos Sucre took the express to Hamburg. The fields were covered in snow, and the whiteness entered everything gently: even the dark demons of his thought.

He spent an entire week in Hamburg without leaving the Esplanade Hotel, not daring to face the cold on the street. The wind was creating whirlwinds in the main plaza and, through the fog Ramos Sucre could blurrily distinguish the imperial eagle displayed on the tower of town hall along with the chorus formed by twenty emperors sculpted in bronze around the monument to Wilhelm I, in the center of the plaza.

Sometimes, when he managed to gather up all his dispersed courage, he’d go down to the restaurant and drink a little soup, anguished by the currents of air that would arise each time one of the guests entered or exited the hotel. Then he would hurry back to the room, where he’d try to distract himself reading Goethe and Leopardi, or unburdening himself in a rosary of letters to Zumeta, to Luis Yépez, to Dolores Emilia: “… I beg some indulgence for someone afflicted by agonizing insomnia, direct enemy of mental faculties.”

Starting January 2nd he lived attached to the phone: he would call the Tropensinstitut over and over again to set up his appointment with doctor Mühlens, he’d inquire about the type of treatment he would undergo, about the temperature of the room where he would stay, about the remedies they’d employ to combat his insomnia. On the 3rd he called the Consulate of Venezuela to request references regarding doctor Mülhens’s reputation and to ask if any correspondence had arrived for him. He said he was anxious about the confusion that could arise regarding his first paycheck: the director of the Office of Consulates had promised to send it to Geneva, but he needed it in Hamburg, where he would undergo a costly treatment. He spoke with the irritation and anguish of those who by chance fall into the web of bureaucracy and don’t know how to orient themselves. He lived in constant tension, and his jaws hurt from clenching his teeth so much.

Finally, on the 4th he entered the clinic. He felt a certain amount of relief in delegating to others the care of his body and in being able to depend on the auxiliary will of others to keep the assaults of insomnia at bay. With a certain degree of distraction, he tended to think of the forms God used to manifest himself, and he would say to himself that the light rain, the vapors of the sun, the defenselessness of women and the perfume of soap were signs that God chose so men might not forget his existence. He was enthused by the discovery of a theological outbreak in Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister, and he rushed to confide the discovery to César Zumeta in the first letter he wrote after plunging into the sanatorium.

During all of January he noted with concern that the insomnia didn’t recede. On the first nights of his internment, the nuns of the sanatorium had surrounded his bed, praying aloud for him to sleep. More out of surprise than conviction, the insomnia seemed to let down its guard when faced by the murmuring of the prayers. At that point, sleep, taking advantage of the distraction, ascended to José Antonio’s eyes with the caution of a secret. But once it returned, insomnia took charge of the airs in the room with such force that the nuns’ Ave Marias became tangled and the nurses didn’t know how to soothe the commotion of the pampering gestures.

When he was able to rest, Ramos Sucre would become loquacious. He would write beatific letters to Dolores Emilia and entertain the laboratory analysts with his lessons on morality: “Austere virtue, even when it wears a donkey’s face and a cannibal’s soul, deserves my abomination at each step,” he would explain, euphoric. “The habit of censorship is merely a release for our arrogance, of believing ourselves to be superior to others, and superiority depends on one’s point of view and it is almost always illusory.”

He would contradict himself when speaking of Europe. The initial impressions were dark: “I find Europe in discord, impoverished and relaxed. That spectacle saddens me; I wish for the good of all mankind.” But then he’d be guarded against his own dissatisfaction and would write, moderating himself: “The best part of Europe is the people. Everyone is courteous and cheerful here.”

He was happy to find himself with the strength to once again tend to the gardens of his language, cleaning the weeds that grew in them during his insomnia: he would carefully pull out relative pronouns that muddled the fluency of paragraphs, separate infinitive nouns and idle adjectives. But sometimes, the mere premonition of insomnia would depress him, and in the final phrase of his letters his cards would fall on the table: “Forgive the nuisances that I might cause you;” “I hope that all of you prosper;” “I beg that you forgive these secrets.”

He fearfully observed the succession of the analysis he underwent every day. Each time the results were negative, he would hide desolately in his room, until the doctors opted for going along with him and admitting that yes, the insomnia and the tropical virus were an indissoluble marriage, and that the death of one would drag the other down with it. But he would sometimes let his doubts show through in his letters: “… if the illness possesses an independent existence and isn’t derived from that infection, I’m lost.”

At the beginning of February, one of the doctors told him the virus had been isolated, and that a couple injections would annihilate it. He felt with fruition the adversary’s retreat; he recalled, with all the memories and feelings that had been displaced by the disease, the beautiful deserted field that now opened within his body, free so the winds of sleep might blow and he be occupied again by the houses of thought.

On the 5th they declared him as being cured and advised him to spend his convalescence in Merano. On the 7th he crossed Germany on the Munich express, and there changed trains. In the station he disinterestedly read the news about the alliance of two unknown right-wing caudillos, Alfred Hugenberg and Adolf Hitler, who had come together to bring an end to “the slavery of the German people” and to reject the economic responsibility of the country during the disasters of the Great War. He felt a profound disdain for all the farces of politics, and the defiant march of a dozen young men with brown uniforms along the platforms of the station seemed like a ridiculous prelude to a carnival.

Suddenly, amidst the benches in the waiting area, he thought he saw a dying swallow dragging itself towards the wall. He remembered the myth that he himself had imagined in a poem (“The swallows… rose to the rigorous clime and spoke into the wise ear the solution to the enigma of the universe”). He approached to help it and offer the new warmth of his body. He took it carefully in his hands and tried to caress it. The swallow then turned its head toward him, lifted its beak and outlined the same cruel smile that Ramos Sucre had seen so many times before in the face of insomnia.

When he left Hamburg he supposed there were no longer any corners of his body that hadn’t been taken over by suffering, and to a certain degree, the sensation of having reached bottom soothed him. But in Merano he learned that the worst part of suffering isn’t the size but the intensity of it.

They had reserved a room in the rest home Stefania (he called it the Stephanie sanatorium, making the name French). It was a two story building, in the lower half of the city, about two hundred meters from the Post Office and a hundred and fifty from the Passer river, on whose banks he began to stroll as soon as the cold diminished. He paid fifty liras a day, a third of what a hotel would have cost him, with the advantage that the neighborhood was pleasant and rarely tormented by fascist fanfare.

After lunch, at least during the first days, he would venture out along the via del Portici, until the beautiful Gothic Duomo whose campanile dominated the city. Or, if the afternoon was sunny, he would entertain himself at the Paseggiata Regina Elena, in front of the Municipal Casino, listening to the martial concerts of the bands that arrived from Bolzano to Naturno to compete for the prizes awarded by the Town Hall. One of those walks brought him close to the via Goethe, near the church of the capuchins. Upon returning to the sanatorium, he wrote Yépez: “I’ve discovered a vestige of Goethe here, the street with his name, and I’ve joined this discovery with the memory of Manuel Díaz Rodríguez, who spoke to me once about the ethnic composition of the Tirol. Many Slavs. The German poet must have resided here when he was headed to Italy. I don’t have the means for verifying that conjecture. I precisely recall his stay in Trento, where he only discovered one distinguished building: a palace attributed to the devil, built by him in a single night.”

Each day at sunset, insomnia would present itself punctually. The doctors verified that, truly, the tropical virus had completely vanished, and that the insomnia survived on its own, armed with even more ferocity, now that it shared the possession of that body with no one else. Ramos Sucre felt mortally wounded, waiting for his extreme weakness to lead to consumption. He barely moved. The cold that came down at dawn from mount Benedetto extinguished the last embers of his will and thus, stretched out for hours, he would let his attention drift after the small phosphorescence that opened in the air.

At the beginning of March, tired of the tenacity with which the insomnia attacked him, he gathered the last of his strength and returned to Geneva.

During the first weeks, he was kept busy by his apprenticeship at the new job and the preparation of several reports for the delegation that would attend the assembly of the League of Nations in April. He didn’t sleep, but he would face the nights exercising his mind with the translation of some Danish poet (someone, maybe his cousin Dolores Emilia, said it was Jens Peter Jacobsen) or randomly interspersing verses from the Iliad and the Hymn to Hermes, that, once they were joined, composed another Homeric saga, in which fire was born between laurel branches and pomegranate leaves. Time (now he knew it) cruelly dissolves the identity of men: Homer, who at one time had been many poets, was once again a single poet thanks to that game of Greek verses that would approach the Consul’s mouth from different centuries.

When he got to know the consular files down to the last detail and was left once again with his misfortune, Ramos Sucre felt that murder was his only escape. Each time with less uncertainty he witnessed, as the afternoon advanced, the displacements of insomnia along the rue du Rhône, intrepidly dodging automobiles and stopping at the cigarette kiosk to exchange some vulgar joke with the vendors. The intruder dressed stylishly: a dark suit, impeccable shirt and a stiff straw hat that covered up his long forehead and the slight separation of his ears. That was how he would enter to occupy the Consul’s body, each time the evening fell over Geneva.

He managed to keep his mind removed from the meetings at the League between the 27th of April and the 2nd of May. He would mechanically translate the reports, serving as an interpreter for the Venezuelan delegates with a courteous distraction, and he’d even allow himself the luxury of walking with them along the banks of the lake, entertaining them with his erudite observations about Calvinism and Saussure’s linguistic theories, without for an instant setting aside his attention from the tactics he would soon employ to do away with the Other. He reflected on insomnia’s weaknesses, he’d review the distractions in which he had incurred, he essayed formulas to attack it by surprise and choke its throat until it died.

Little by little, the desire to kill was more solid than the fear of dying. He knew that on the other side there were only empty plains and mirrors in which nothingness was reflected. That he would never again hear another name other than his own pronounced nor would he see any other silhouette besides the horizon.

On June 7th, 1930, two days before his birthday, he wrote his final letters. He knew he was about to take the leap and yet he trusted his body would remain unscathed on that other shore of life, where hands that might console him with tenderness still existed.

At dawn on the 9th he shaved and dressed with care. He felt, under the sad palpitations of his throat, the movement of insomnia: he guessed the framework of his musculature, the ferocity of his appetite, the dimensions of his hate. He walked to the window and contemplated, without the slightest melancholy, the blue vapors that rose from the lake and gently wrapped around the city’s needles, wound through the tires of the automobiles and then advanced toward the foothills of Mont-Blanc.

He suddenly took a hunter’s leap: he pulled from the library the copy of Wilhelm Meister and trapped the bottle of narcotics. Before insomnia could recover from the surprise, he drank the syrup in a single gulp.

It took four days for both of them to die, but when the savage bites of the intoxication gave him some respite, the Consul could happily recognize, in the depths of his body, the clear sea of his early childhood, the white church of Santa Lucía, the arrival of the boats carrying sea salt at the old dock in Cumaná, the smell of the flowers, the color of the walls, the rounds he had timidly rehearsed at the school of don Jacinto Alarcón. Insomnia’s dirty corpse was moving away between the jars of alcohol and the syringes for the transfusions, while he, José Antonio Ramos Sucre, entered a forgotten sky, where things had no name and the rivers went nowhere.


{ Tomás Eloy Martínez, Lugar común la muerte, Buenos Aires: Alfaguara, 2009 }


Rafael Cadenas: “La poesía es poderosa e insignificante” / Javier Rodríguez Marcos

Rafael Cadenas: “Poetry Is Powerful and Insignificant”

                         [Venezuelan poet Rafael Cadenas. Photo: Álvaro García]

If there’s a poet who is pursued by one of his poems, it’s Rafael Cadenas. The poem is called “Defeat,” a landmark of Latin American literature, written by the Venezuelan poet when he was 32 years old. He’s now 84 and smiles timidly when asked if he’s tired of that litany that seems to follow him, that begins: “I who have never had a trade / who have felt weak facing every competitor / who lost the best titles for life / who barely arrive somewhere and already want to leave (believing that moving is a solution)...” and continues with a first person portrait of someone who thought his father was eternal, who was “humiliated by professors of literature” and who has “been abandoned by many people because I barely speak,” or is “ashamed of acts I haven’t committed.”

Cadenas, a timid man who is more stealthy than silent, picks up the book the journalist has placed on the table, he skims over the verses as though they belonged to someone else and concludes: “I’m not tired of it, but this poem doesn’t reflect who I am today. I wrote it in the middle of a personal crisis... well, a depression. If so many people liked it that was because it coincided with the political situation of the sixties and the consolidation of democracy in Venezuela with Rómulo Betancourt.”

Awarded the National Prize for Literature in his country in 1985 and the FIL Prize for Literature in Romance Languages in Guadalajara, Mexico —formerly known as the Juan Rulfo Prize— in 2009, Rafael Cadenas is in Madrid to read his poetry today at the Poemad poetry festival and to participate on Tuesday in a colloquium on his work at the Casa de América. He doesn’t mind traveling —he lives in El Hatillo, in the metropolitan area of Caracas— but he’s not very enthusiastic about interviews. “It has nothing to do with journalists,” he clarifies. “It’s just that I’ve never gotten used to that apparatus,” he says pointing to the tape recorder that’s running. “It’s best if we chat, you take notes and later improve on whatever I’ve said.” Very shortly, in fact, he will publish a book of interviews —“but most of them I answered in writing”— while he is also finishing a new book, En torno a Basho y otros asuntos. It will be published by Pre-Textos, the Spanish house that released in 2007 the more than 700 pages of his Obra entera (previously published by Mexico’s Fondo de Cultura Económica) and which two years ago also released Sobre abierto, his last book to date.

“Don’t disdain anything. / The frog gave Basho / his best poem,” he writes in that book. The new one, Cadenas says, follows that path: reflections on the Japanese haiku master and, as the title says, “other matters.” Which ones? “We’ll see what appears. Sobre abierto is very tied to daily life, but there’s a side of me that’s very close to thought. As Antonio Machado would say, the great poets are failed metaphysicians and the great philosophers, poets who actually believe in the reality of their own poems.”

Rafael Cadenas is the author of classics such as Los cuadernos del destierro (1960) and Falsas maniobras (1966), the book that includes “Defeat.” These were followed by Intemperie, Memorial (both from 1977), Amante (1983) and Gestiones (1992). “I know that title [Managements] seems like a book about administration,” the poet explains, “but I was speaking about other managements, psychic ones.” And he adds: “One never knows why one writes something, I don’t know what has been for me what the frog was for Basho, what I do know is I’ve continued to lose, what would I call it, exuberance? There’s plenty of mystery in daily life.” Slow and laconic, with the gestures of a wise man —he called himself a tightrope walker in a poem—, Cadenas measures each word and uses his shoulders and eyebrows to accompany his answers. That might explain —“so as to not be pretentious”— why he prefers to say mystery rather than transcendence, thought instead of philosophy and sayings rather than aphorisms.

Dichos [Sayings] is the title, precisely, of the book he’s carrying as if he were going to yet another exam instead of an interview. He opens it and reads: “How many collapsed utopias. This opened your eyes. Be thankful.” It’s more than just a lapidary phrase, in the case of someone whose communist activism against the dictatorship of Marcos Pérez Jiménez led him as a twenty-something year old to be exiled on the island of Trinidad. “It’s 30 kilometers from Venezuela. You can get there by motorboat,” he says, downplaying the dramatic element of an event that influenced his most famous book, the previously mentioned Cuadernos del destierro [The Exile Notebooks]. “At first I lived off help from my family; later on, by teaching at a school.” He spent four years there, returning to Caracas in 1957 and a few months later he witnessed the fall of the dictator, “who was a 20th century dictator, now they’re not as blatant.” In 1958 he published La isla, a collection of poems that opens with an epigraph by the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz: “Unhappy under tyranny, / unhappy under the republic, / in one we sighed for freedom, / in the other for the end of corruption.” What do people sigh for today in Venezuela? “The margin of freedom is being reduced on a daily basis in Venezuela. The Government shut down the opposition TV stations and now it’s going after the critical newspapers, they’re being left without newsprint paper to publish. That is intentional. That’s why I insist in defending democracy despite its faults. Of course it needs to be reformed, but accusations against corruption can only be effective when there’s a separation of powers within a government.”

Cadenas emphasizes that he has never been afraid to say what he says —“sometimes they insult me, but there’s never been an act of aggression against me”—, but he is skeptical about the social role of a poem: “Poetry is all-powerful and insignificant. Insignificant because its influence in the world is minimal. Powerful because of its relationship with language. Politics empties meaning from words —democracy, justice, freedom—, and poets call attention to that emptiness. Words lose their value if they don’t correspond with the thing they designate. It’s nothing new. Confucius called it “rectification of names” and that’s what a poet is: someone who rectifies.”

{ Javier Rodríguez Marcos, El País, 17 October 2014 }