THE SWEET NAME OF THE DEAD MARÍA
For MT and MJ
Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo
In the nineties, there were the great gay birds and they respected her mystical magical aura, as if she were a diva on Cuban television, a marionette of Marie Antoinette. They even went to her mansion in El Vedado to daydream together in that aviary in ruins at the edge of the Revolution, imperial eagle and all. They went without reading her or they scanned her lightly (gracing the text with a snobbish glance), dazzled without cause, homeless dilettantes, with their applause of illiterates who are the worst ostracism for an author. They went, also, to steal a luxury rag worn by her, to scratch some anecdote playing off her cachet, to get an autograph marketable in dollars, geriatric fetishism with the rheumatic remains of the Republic. Me, no, I wanted to but never went to the non-existent house of Dulce Maria Loynaz.
In fact, I had confused this mansion. As a boy, my father showed me a farmhouse very near to the sea, and I don’t know why, in reading her I assumed that she still lived locked up there (to complete the phantasmagoria, it was in effect the decrepit mansion from her novel Garden). As a teenager, my mother Maria liked the Nameless Poems of the elderly Dulce Maria: enjoyed her soft religiosity, her rash fear of God, her desolation as a childless mother under the proletarian Cuban skies. As an adult I’ve never returned to her verses, I’m only interested in what Cubans say in prose now.
When I studied Biochemistry at the University of Havana, Dulce Maria Loynez del Castillo, at the height of her powers, was passed over for a Cervantes Prize between the crown of Spain and the post-Marxist hand of Lisandro Otero. Her little poems, previously branded decadent and bourgeois, a ridiculous throwback** according to the Communist critique (including its Catholic counterpart in the Survivor in Chief of the group Origins***), reissued or brought to light for the first time in the country. They shot the worst documentaries, but with two or three close-ups where her tears crystalized the face of eternity, her equable desperation, her fortitude before the horror of a flesh now lacking hormones, her unspeakable sadness on being the final witness of a family from another world, another Cuba. Letters appeared shamelessly, as is the custom postmortem. And also some pertinent relatives. Plus the Historian, or perhaps the Hoarder, of the City. And in passing a moving autobiography came to light, and came to nothing, by the greatness of the faith with which she addressed her own debacle, and by the loyalty with which she knew how to be silent about the dirty laundry of those close to her (eccentricities, homosexualities, elitism, adultery, exiles and other et ceteras with ideological problems).
The big house at 19th and E is now a bastion smoothed down by the plane of governmental culture, including my readings and publications there, when OLPL was a writer palatable to the Talibans of the Ministry of Culture and the Cuban Book Institute. Had it not been remodeled/seized, today it would be a tenement vandalized by a mob of pánfilos who would auction even its bricks to the illustrious in exile (it is known, however, that some sacred manuscripts fled, together with certain statuary beyond any inventory). In any event, what does it matter, after all, Dulce Maria will never again be there. Her death has the gift of being an unmythic death. Her glory will pass through mummifying the memory of some little bones that were born and died with the century. What’s written (for her and for me), is written, now and until the geopolitical end of our Island.
My mother Mary snores sweetly in her emphysema. She also writes, guajira decimas that are pure platitude (and that is why I feel so much pity and so much compassion; I know I will never forget them). My Maria today, Friday, April 27, has survived by writing fifteen years to our other Maria. The two sleepers, one like the other. Toothless mouths, puckered lips like lilies, Cubanitas plunged in that nightmarish anguish of old age, where we, their children, will not come because we have been kidnapped by the unjust human season of our nation. The perplexed eyelids, the silver hair (obligatory metaphor), the emaciated body seeking its measure in a box, with or without the national tricolor shroud (that heroic rag).
And it is night out there again, with its noises of smokestacks, alarms, barking. Morning in the 21st century with its stones and stars. With its Almendares River a meek sewer. With its gay birds of no omen at this point in a histology-less history. The inconceivable Cuban night. Sisters turned into cadavers, unnamed now, undated: motherless, womanless, deathless.
Changes in this text relative to the original were made in consultation with the author.
*Dulce Maria Loynaz lived from 1902-1997; Orlando is referring to the period since her death.
**The original word in spanish is torremarfilismo which has been defined as follows: “Variously called torremarfilismo, cosmopolitismo, or decadentismo, the movement of modernismo has been criticized as an aberrant faction of escapist writers who would not accept their immediate environment nor reflect it in their poetry.”
***Published from 1944 to 1956, Orígenes was an influential Cuban cultural magazine.
April 27 2012