From Havana to Reykjavik

Cuban poet Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo was forced to leave his home country in 2013 after having been denounced as a “traitor” to his country and accused of carrying out “counter-revolutionary” activities due to his poetry. Reykjavik, Iceland became his new refuge in September 2015. We here publish two of his poems about exile and the new city.

March 10 2016 Text: Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo Translation from Spanish: Hillary Gulley

Brownian movement

afternoons in early spring at brown
the sky up north, the most sky-like of skies

the calm in the US is almost
a country made overnight of universities
country with no students
e pluribus solum

march in rhode island with no driver's license
means happiness is proclaiming: that was happiness

“egsactly,” as the north americans say,
between one word and another
in a residual language called english
mistaken from silence to silence
for the noise of classrooms

that din of the victors
that beautiful barbarity of truth
that instant and finite transparency

academic credit cards slide like knives
to buy smiles and something passing for coffee
the sun is precise, humble, tolerable
the light, the least cuban in the world
the sea, never warm
cemeteries, still unthinkable
on no corner is the corner
where that girl interrupted your childhood

providence looks something like my country
its patios
new england translates into cuban
as brave new havana

winter lingers in the spittle of frost
and the punctual taxis you hail online
there's no exile
but your uber exile
it all comes down to semantics

everything will go so fast
yesterday was october and tomorrow is april
your parents will die on the phone
your cats will forget you
your neighbors will become strangers
they won't even remember
that you went away without ever leaving them

but today
legs and window shades are opening
it smells of human dampness
you awake to a cartoon life
where there's no trace of malice,
not even in desire

you're in danger, my orlando luis
of becoming a virtuoso
that is, a visionary
that is, an executioner
that is, a saint escaped from the gospel
of the revolution

afternoons in early spring at brown
the sky up north, the most sky-like of skies

and god saw that we cubans don't exist here
and it was good
and god saw that we cubans don't exist
and it was good
and god saw that none of us exist
and, behold, it was very good
but then what did god see?


The Last Equinox of Reykjavík

saturdays don't reach us here

at latitudes so high
the week has two or three days
seldom four

there's no weekend
at the world's end
no beginning of the week
where the world begins

present and repetition
the mechanisms of our infancy
a memory we'd left for dead

like good cubans
we are the children who can't remember
so much as the last fearsome lullaby
our half-nordic mother sang to us
before we fell asleep

nightmare and repetition
in the polar circle everything is a pendulum
everything depends
on the magma running back over its own
silent feet

the churches sound their digital bells
every two or three minutes
seldom four

the cathedral of reykjavík on google images is
not even remotely
the cathedral of reykjavík

confusion and repetition
not even the compass knows the way
north vanishes at the north pole

it's the triumph of the fragile
with the fragility of the fire
that transforms your most ancient map
into an ashtray
a fault line
a volcano

geysers that wheeze like stranded whales
every two or three minutes
seldom four

like time, they're eternal
but now and then
like islands
they tire of gasping

there's no weekend
at the world's end
no beginning of the week
where the world begins

to start over again
as if it were the most natural thing
to start over again
as if it had really been

at latitudes so high
tuesday arrives before Saturday
two or three times
and even four

the rest is myth
that is, the world below
for those who grew up believing
the aurora borealis was
a natural phenomenon

the fleeting seasons
the incessant year
the light that's scarce in summer
but not in winter
when it's more immanent
than minimal

physical light
like the rain in reykjavík
like the steam off the bay
like sacred ruins

fatherland of stone
words pronounced to be unpronounceable
eldfjall þögn eilífð 
for those who grew up believing
the aurora borealis was
a phenomenal natural force

the hours are human here
it was just the opposite
of the way they wrote it down for us so neatly
in script that many from afar still call a revolution

they wrote it so neatly
so we wouldn't wish to read in any other language
at least not
until we were sufficiently
out in the elements

there's no weekend
where the world begins
no beginning of the week
at the world’s end

i wander into squares and cafes
i'm a political dream
a drifting statue
a literally invisible being in plain sight
a son whose cuban mother hid him not from god
but from the state

my aloneness alone could destroy
families dating back millennia
parliaments that leave no trace on the lava
the beauty in resisting is
the truth grips me at the edges of ponds
or at the edges of the cathedral of reykjavík
that is not the cathedral of reykjavík
on google images

a coat of arms from any city could not fight
this sickness that is resisting exile again
from this place

at least not
before the thousand years of tuesdays that remain
until the next week that reaches saturday
that is,
that reaches flowers, tears, chills,
eitt eilífðar smáblóm með titrandi tár,
among other untranslatable

i won't hide my euphoria at my instant citizenship
i won't hide the unimaginable mineral of my madness
from island to island
i am the only icelander
who has given birth to himself at the last equinox
of reykjavík