Morning Prose

When I sit on the front porch at night smoking, I face west looking toward at least three types of palm trees, the drawn curves of a golf course - and in recent days the moon, through rain, fog or cold waves. Tonight it's waxing and crystalline.

Visiting family in Bradenton today, my uncle gave me a novel: Miguel Otero Silva, Casas muertas (Guayaquil, Ecuador: Colección Ariel Universal, 1974). Another book dispersed from his library. My uncle's father left Germany and settled in Venezuela in the early 1930s to escape the Nazis. Two years ago, my uncle and his family left Venezuela to escape the Chavistas. This afternoon, he said: "Fascism and communism end up being the same thing. Just different approaches to the same design: complete control."

This edition is a classic 1970s paperback. The cover includes a painting of a man hallucinating that he's wandering through a dark jungle, surrounded by alligators, snakes and treacherous hands, while a beautiful woman dabs a washcloth on his forehead, a concerned look on her face. His eyes are open, looking into the distance in shock while the jungle mirage (nightmare? memory? premonition?) hovers above them. I remember seeing this type of illustrated book covers at newsstands in Caracas in the 1970s and 80s, usually for pulp fiction cowboy, detective, mystery or romance novels. In fact, my grandfather used to read these types of paperbacks all the time around the house. Like me, he was constantly reading (high and low). Unless he was watching TV with me and my cousins or playing domino with friends in the back yard.

As a child, I was always drawn to the ubiquitous newsstands in Caracas. Mainly in search of the serial adventure comic books (like Tamakún: El Vengador Errante, Los Tres Villalobos, Martín Valiente: Defensor de los Pobres y los Desamparados, Santo: El Enmascarado de Plata or Kalimán: El Hombre Increible), but also for the newspaper comics sections, the card collection books, the candy and the titillating covers of the romance novels, whose endless prose w/ out illustrations always disappointed me. But I especially looked for the serial comic books. I purchased them whenever I could and I'd read and reread them, trade them with friends for ones I hadn't read, always imagining all sorts of additional scenarios and alternate plots, rewriting them in my mind. They encompassed vast universes of adventure in dangerous and exotic locations and they were definitely my introduction to the pleasures of reading. They were more affordable than the imported editions of Tintin and Asterix & Obelix, which were also among my list of reading joys (but these could only be found at bookstores).

One of my family's Sunday rituals, when we lived in La Trinidad, was to drive to a newsstand outside a nearby strip mall to buy the day's newspapers. I clearly recall the shock and sadness in my parents' voices when they saw the headlines announcing John Lennon's death, in the car after picking up a routine Sunday's papers.

Anyways, this novel's cover reminds me of those paperbacks that were displayed in newsstands throughout Caracas. I haven't read any of Otero Silva's work yet, so I'm looking forward to this novel. It ends with this couplet (in English) sung by a Trinidadian man driving a truck:

Sofia went to Maracaibo.
¡Bye, bye, Sofia!

One of the best columnists El Nacional has had recently is the poet Luis Alberto Crespo. His column El País Ausente tended to focus on cultural matters outside of Venezuela's metropolitan center (a behemoth, Moloch, La Sucursal del Cielo) - in towns, villages and small cities in the country's vast interior, which is so often overlooked by most caraqueños. He reviewed recent publications, discussed the work of lesser known poets, musicians, historians, community leaders and painters. Always with a view to history's presence in our lives. His prose in these weekly columns was extremely dense, as precise and rich as his poetry, slowed down to a wider sonic range, a critical pastoral, maybe. But never explicitly ideological or fundamentalist - as he's been before. (Cf. This ludicrous ode to Chávez in 1999. The irony of citing Kafka's critique of bureaucracy, while endorsing a third-rate but deadly Kafka revolution, is rich.)

El País Ausente stopped appearing sometime in 2002 and Crespo rarely writes for El Nacional anymore. I imagine because of ideological differences. But in today's paper he has this great piece (in Spanish) on the guitarist Alirio Díaz.

The eventual reconciliation among Venezuelans will have to depend on certain intellectuals within Chavismo such as Crespo. In theory, at least. Crespo seems to make an attempt at maintaining lines of dialogue open between Chavista and opposition intellectuals, particularly in his efforts as the director of the Casa Nacional de las Letras Andrés Bello.

And yet, with the packet of repressive measures passed recently in the Asamblea Nacional restricting TV and radio journalism (and eventually newspapers and magazines); with the militaristic, semi-improvised, dictatorial methods of Chavismo; with that political movement's amalgamation of fascist and Stalinist tendencies; with the anti-intellectualism and populism of the current Venezuelan government; with the mounting evidence of electoral fraud in last August's infamous recall referendum; with the litany of correlations between the Nazis in the early 1930s and certain key factions within Chavismo today...

How does poetry cut through all this?

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