COWBOY POET Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo
It’s called Street Sense, which is sort of like El Sentido de la Calle in Spanish, which is a much better title than any Cuban magazine or newspaper has got; and that obviously includes the ones published abroad.
It comes out fortnightly in Washington D.C., which isn’t just the capital of the empire, but it’s also North America’s Homelessness Central. I have never seen so many homeless as I have here. Mostly, they are in the subway stations, where they take up residence according to some kind of timetable, and where, according to Wikipedia, they have the world’s longest escalators. But I also see them out in the open, exposed to the dreadfully cold springtime rain. And, before that, out in the worst of this city’s infinite winter.
You never come across the same homeless people, not even if you pass by the same place two thousand times. They have either moved, or they have died. No other possibility.
Many of these humble homeless guys get published in Street Sense. Those of them who have not been eaten up by hate, crime or illness. Those who have retained enough mental clarity and nobility of spirit. Those who are trying, as best they can, to get back into the machine that once vomited them out, or who were crushed by it, possibly because they tried to resist the hypocritical mediocrity which comes with any kind of success.
I have kept one of those newspapers dating from the month of March 2013. That was the month and year in which I arrived, stunned by the sleepless early mornings of Washington D.C., in the mercenary luxury of the Hotel Dupont. I had just got off a Megabus when I bought it from a street vendor who turned out to be an author published on page 9. A roofless poet, like me. Who had nothing else apart from his words. Like me. A shabby-looking old boy, who had a proud and absolutely not despondent appearance. The opposite of me. He was outside Union Station. He thought I looked like a friend, and he came over to me. He said:
“I’m published here. Wanna buy it?”
It was true. It turned out his name, or literary pseudonym, was Chris Shaw, The Cowboy Poet. My colleague’s poem, which was illustrated with ice crystals, was called The End of Winter. And that’s what it’s still called, I presume. My poet and promoter was afraid of winter. In barely 11 single word verses, and in spite of the opinions of the global warming experts, Shaw complained alas I fear it will be back!
A very terrible poem, which was appropriate, just as awful as the return of another winter at the end of the following year, 2013, although DC didn’t experience then the murky version it had gone through in 2012. The one I largely missed. When I had to put up overnight in a homeless shelter, I was able to feel in my bones the sense of the street in Shaw’s poetry. Or next to the unbearably thick walls of a subway station, it’s possible to cover yourself with the newspapers you couldn’t sell. Apart from me, nobody bought one, while we were both waiting for them to come and collect just me (because in March 2013 I was a Cuban counter-revolutionary from Cuba and I qualified for a visa and a temporary resident permit).
I paid the two dollars which is the amount recommended on the first page. I then discovered that the majority of the contributors to Street Sense sign their articles as Vendors. They are vendors of these desperate printed sheets. They sell their poor words, printed in a newspaper, just as others do at every level all over the United States, but these people sell them for a negligible ridiculous amount: the amount which is their hope, which nearly got a second chance. Nearly.
Now I am someone without a home. And, more than that, without a country. I know that one day I am going to decide to sell these sheets to strangers going into or out of railway stations. El sentido de la calle in the United States of Nothing America.
I came from Cuba without wanting to, swept away by too many people being bumped off while the world looked on, and consumed, in secret, by love. The academy of the left filled me with friendly disgust. I was bored by earning money. The right wing is a delusion of the academy. But I am never going to go back to my island, the island that we love, which is intact in our most personal and most aggressive imagination.
My dear Cubans, I am not going to return, even in the event of God or Google restoring democracy there, whether it is with or without the destruction of the corpses of the dictators. I would find it impossible to see my home without me in it, or my mother left to die alone on the hundred year old boards of 125 Fonts and Beales, or my loves dying of my indifference and desperation, although never because I have forgotten, to realise back in Cuba that the United States was an acceptable nightmare and that Cuban exile is an evanescent eternity, and to then live in my ever-present homelessness, in my arrogant foolishness as a free healthy man in the only city I understood while I was alive, and also after that, when I died spitting fuck-words in the face of the tyranny in power: Havana.
Because that’s all totalitarianism is: a sick relay race. And, you know what? I am going to hold onto the baton, because it suits my hatred, or my crime, or my sickness. I am not going to pass it on to any other Cuban. I’m sorry, but you people and me are no longer contemporaries.
Translated by GH
2 July 2014