Reduced to Poetry • 25 June 2007

Been thinking my hermit-thoughts, of empty rooms and silence. But then they were reading Guantanamo detainees’ poetry on the radio, as I shuttled between the beautiful quarters where my days play out—the gorgeous little shala in Santa Monica and my Bel-Aire-adjacent campus idyll. Poetry about the insides of prison cells, the taunting of the sea, and us free rich Americans who let them waste away down there without protesting. Even though it’s such an easy, obvious thing to call out. God, who am I not to protest every fucking day; and who am I to live in this beauty while wishing hermitlike for a cell of my own?

The poems reminded me of something I read randomly in a bookstore in Havana’s university district at the height of the Clinton-Dole campaign with a hurricaine blowing in. The first poem below is from current Gitmo prisoner Osama Abu Kabir, and the second is a twisted anticipation, written some 50 years earlier by the Cuban poet Pablo Armando Fernandez. Reading these two against each other opens up space, and questions.

Is It True?

Is it true that the grass grows again after rain?
Is it true that the flowers will rise up again in the Spring?
Is it true that birds will migrate home again?
Is it true that the salmon swim back up their streams?
It is true. This is true. These are all miracles.
But is it true that one day we’ll leave GuantanamoBay?
Is it true that one day we’ll go back to our homes?
I sail in my dreams. I am dreaming of home.
To be with my children, each one part of me;
To be with my wife and the ones that I love;
To be with my parents, my world’s tenderest hearts.
I dream to be home, to be free from this cage.
But do you hear me, oh Judge, do you hear me at all?
We are innocent, here, we’ve committed no crime.
Set me free, set us free, if anywhere still
Justice and compassion remain in this world!

To a Young Freedom Fighter in Prison

You already know it:
it’s as if you’d awakened free.
Those walls don’t isolate you,
they concentrate
all the world within you,
in your body which alone
without looking for itself, finds itself
resisting, living.
It’s what matters.
Rumors from the world arrive
(never so many)
and they break the silence
of your brave solitude.
Torture, mockery,
do not degrade or humiliate you:
they’ve left your body transparent
and today, you see
your inner self more clearly.
You already know it,
you know what you don’t want.
You don’t want for yourself the freedom
of the commissioner, the district attorney, and the priest;
you don’t want for yourself the freedom
of the bankers, the industrialists
and the landowners;
you don’t want for yourself the freedom
that day by day brings you to the Parliament,
to the Army Generals, to the Academy, to the Stock Exchange;
you don’t want that power, you don’t envy that force.
You have no desire for adulation, for pampering, or obedience.
While your name is paraded in the press:
hero, bandit, sane one, crazy one,
adventurer, apostle, and many other things
that you didn’t want to be, that you aren’t,
you really know
because of you and for you, what brought you to yourself
to those four walls
where you resist without fear now.
That’s what matters.

(0v0) isn’t sure about Fernandez, the second time around. But Kabir has immediacy–more is than ought.

The first book is Poems from Guantanamo: The Detainees Speak.

The second book I think was called Aprendiendo Morir, and does not seem to be in print in English. If I remember right, it’s beautiful–equal parts ideology and art. Translation by Daniela Gioseffi, retrieved here.