Poet's Sampler: Mairym Cruz-Bernal
In the last years of the Twentieth Century it seems to me that poetry
has become fearful, poets will not come out from behind their work. Some
of us wear the masks of dead gods. We lean against monuments and with
our fingers trace the epitaphs, piece together fragments and call them
poems. Those of us who are obliged to be political rant and rant, but
this can be another form of hiding. And oh, the tired third person, ourselves
cast as others! I am grateful to writers like Mairym Cruz-Bernal whose
magical lyric opens, full-faced, on a life entire. Cruz-Bernal is a young
Puerto Rican poet and translator who writes in English and Spanish. Her
authority lives in passionate disclosure, vulnerability, rebellion, lives
in an outrageous insistence on parting company with her readers in order
to make art.
Poems by Mairym Cruz-Bernal
Cutting Pablo's Hair
The Silver Woman
The Pain of Pleasure
Cutting Pablo's Hair
What must I do? I see nothing but obscurities
on every side. Shall I believe I am nothing?
Shall I believe I am God?
Pablo's long hair seems like pieces of rope.
He has not bathed for months, and for a year
he has been heaping trash. Says that God talks to him,
that he is the chosen son that will save the world.
But Pablo doesn't want to be the chosen son
when he can be God. He knows that ministers don't want
to just preach. They want to own their people's soul.
That's why they speak differently.
Pablo speaks with a sophisticated accent.
I wonder what language God speaks. Pablo says:
"When the Spirit enters a body, that body
becomes someone and speaks in different tongues
that no one can understand, like God." I can't understand
people either. Pablo has been quiet.
People ignore quiet people.
Pablo has spent half his life asleep. When he was awake
the people he loved died. He was six years old
when his younger and only sister died. A cocktail of sadness
and anger navigates within him. He cries.
He has been left without his other person. Since that time
his father started drinking and hitting his mother.
Pablo wanted to kill his father.
When Pablo turned ten his father was killed by a car.
Pablo's father was twenty-six, his own age now.
He was sad but he did not cry. A father turns into
an alcoholic by the immense sadness of losing
his only daughter. A son who thinks that the one
who father loved was sister. "What about me?"
What am I hear for? I imagine Pablo's thoughts.
But he remembers he wanted to kill his father.
Pablo is a person who is not a person.
He needs to invent a person to be someone, God.
He wants to be isolated from people,
to meditate like Jesus in the desert and like
Jesus in the desert he is tempted. A voice
orders him to throw himself from a precipice.
Another voice tells him that he is elected by God
to save the world. But Pablo believes he is God.
He keeps his shit in his pants.
Suppose, that just for a day someone could get
Christ's feces and keep it. Everything that comes out
of Pablo's body is holy. He won't clean his sweat.
He won't flush his sperm. Like Christ,
he will stay without a woman. He won't shave.
He won't cut his nails. Pablo will not comb his hair,
nor speak right. But when I ask him
if he knows what elements are important
for vegetation to live, he says: "Solar light, water
and oxygen." When I ask him why it gets cooler at nights,
he says: "Because the sun is turned off."
I wanted to do the impossible for Pablo,
but the impossible can not be done.
I wanted to tell Pablo's life in the past tense,
to make these happenings history.
"Can you cut these voices demanding me to have a someone
inside," Pablo asks me, "I want my thoughts
to belong to me. Can you cut my hair."
I can cut your hair, Pablo. Let me cut your hair now.
Drawing sketches of your eyes I imagined them
inside the holes of the eyes of the fish
bones I saw in the soup I was making last
afternoon. The holes were so perfectly round
and empty I imagined your eyes filling them -
your eyes so abruptly awakening inside
the holes of the bones of your eyes. Your face
so full of bones. Once we were on the most western
side of this island, it was there
you wanted to eat fish and I was pregnant.
And pregnant women's desires are highly respected
in this country. So I said I wanted
fish to the people that had already
said they didn't have any. They pointed to
the fishermen's boats arriving at the beach.
They had fresh countless fish in a sea full of dead
Dominicans, who run out of their country,
barefoot, on the same colorful little
boats, to die, drowning in these waters.
We bought half a dozen and they were pink.
We ate them all. I took a picture with one
of your eyes looking through the hole of a
fish's eye-bone. Oh! Your eyes, always wide
open, wider, your eyes that see too much
even in the places there's not much to see,
your eyes that hear, even through the stories
that seem superfluous, your eyes that have
materialized me making me a woman.
I am writing sketches of your skin, the color
of the wood we built our house with. You are
so much part of the nature I admire,
always searching, moving,
restless, around the square section of
your earth. We sleep with each other, we talk
on the phone at mid-morning and at mid-day -
snack times for conversation, but I miss you.
Eating dinner tonight, our son to my left,
our sleeping daughter to my right and you,
all the way across the long round table
I could hardly hear you. I said I am
going to marry again. You round your eyes,
scared, I guess, threatening to our
so called stability. And I said yes,
marry you to have another time for us
alone. Work, children, meetings, tear me apart.
We sleep together but I miss you.
Playmates in the Bathtub
On Fridays the maid comes to clean this house
in the woods. These floors have no shine, made out of wood,
they get dirty easily. I'm so careless.
The kitchen has an old white sink
with twin faucets: one for the woman in the house,
the other for the same woman in the house.
The bathroom has an old toilet that flushes by pulling
a chain, a bidet, and right in the middle of it,
an enormous tub with golden legs.
The tub has a round plaque that reads "Birthday Bath."
I used to give myself long round baths, take the soap
and round it all over my round eight months' pregnant belly.
I used to lay back and splash roughly
till the water jumped out of the half-full tub.
My legs pulling up my pelvic bones, pressing my uterus.
I laugh to myself feeling the baby swimming inside,
knowing I could not have her come out of me, never.
Knowing she would never break my perineum and pass
through the narrow me. I laugh feeling a certain relief.
I go up again, making my legs push strongly my body high,
feeling the strain in the veins of my thighs.
The maid complains I leave my bras everywhere.
I hang them on a hook the carpenter made for the bathroom.
She thinks underwear is supposed to be hidden.
But everybody can see them, they are sold in ordinary stores.
The truth is I only hide my panties, not my panties,
but the smell of my panties. I choose them pretty,
with french laces, all colors except white.
White is the color of my mothers'. I hate bras.
They press too hard. I take them off all the time,
any place around the house. I hang them wide open
and she comes, complaining with her lowered voice,
folds them, hangs them again and puts a hat on top of them.
"You should not leave them like that, people can come in
and might see them, especially men." This is just a piece
of cloth, what is the matter with men's heads?
I can't believe she believes what she says. I try
not to be too hard on her and I just smile. I'll keep on
hanging them wherever I please. She knows that.
She knows I'll do whatever I want in this house
I've been pregnant for too long now. I can get pregnant
in this house if I wish. But I can't give birth.
I can't give birth anywhere. It hurts. Both hurt:
giving birth and not being able to give birth.
I have to give myself completely to this man
in a white gown. I have to put on a paper-dress opened
in the back. I can't even wear a bra.
Everyone will want to see me. They want to shave
my pubic hair. I tell them no.
Don't touch my parts. I can't even feel them,
I'm all asleep. I've been dispersed.
I just feel half of my chest and arms.
I look to the left and there's another man looking at me
as if I and my body were a curiosity. I've never seen him
but I hold both his hands and press them. I am afraid.
I don't trust the equipment. I wonder what if the electric
power goes out. What if there's an earthquake right now.
I try to see the opening in my womb through the crystals
of the doctor's eyeglasses. They have little drops of blood.
I want to explode. Maybe I am exploding.
My heart begins to feel the pressure. I have no God
to protect me. I have been dismembered.
At the moment of my daughter's birth
I am rehearsing the moment of death.
I don't feel her body. She is out now.
A man is cleaning her body. A man is penetrating
her mouth, pulling her tongue out, opening her openings.
I can't explain her hands, the force of her muscles
stretching. I can't explain her legs hitting the man
with anger. I can't explain how she's breathing,
rhythmically, out of my body. I surrender
to her and to her beauty. She is taken away from me.
A schedule is set to see her, to feed her.
She will be one year soon. We call her the "Savage Girl."
She knows me already. I know who she is.
We both know our desire, to be fighting against each other,
like I am with my mother and my mother with her mother:
women against women of their own blood. I treat her
with respect. It's been weeks now that she's walking.
She looks at me from the corners of her eyes.
We have a secret. She ignores me often.
And I close my eyes. I try to make love to my body,
I become pregnant again, and I am again
in my white "Birthday Bath" pulling my pelvis up,
feeling the touch of clean water caressing my body,
feeling fresh. I take my time in the tub.
I hear no one crying yet.
The Silver Woman
I remind myself I am in the city where civilization started,
that I am a woman and that I have a name. I remember
my name. Remembering does not stop my dance.
I raise my head and round my lips
opening all the mouths of the silver woman's body
till she is no longer in front of me, till I swallow her
into my own body. The mirror is broken.
I know now I carry a woman inside me,
someone who was thrown into a mirror.
I don't know if I should act as if I were crazy.
Swing, maybe. I grasp my knees, move my body
back and forth. I feel the dizziness of a wild dance.
I press my head to my knees and smell even the intimate
odors of my body. The woman is beautiful.
How can a beautiful woman suffer so much imprisoned
in that mirror? She looks at me while I dance,
touches the corners of the mirror to touch me.
I had to be scared, but I don't remember.
I surrendered all my senses of logic to be calm
in front of her. I want to give her space to exist.
In the obscurity of the hallway, in the midst
of a strange cloud of dust, I sit like a student
on the rug looking up to the tall woman
in front of me. But she inclines her body
to resemble my height. I am motionless,
legs crossed, hands poised on my knees, each side
with each side and I look at her eyes and think
what would I do if I were crazy.
I walk slowly. Nothing to do yet I find no rest.
My own voice coming from the outside says Mira.
In front of me, mirrors. As my body quiets,
a woman is forming her body out of smoke: her contours,
her wide hips, her long arms stretching
as if she had been bent for ages. A silver woman
moving her petrified soundless lips.
I start to walk down the narrow hallway
of this cheap hotel when I feel my head bending,
my eyes facing the navy-blue rug. I start counting
the dots of dirt like fat in an open skin.
I think, how would I act if I were crazy.
The Pain of Pleasure
I didn't take notes to remember.
I forget to take notes. I forget
my tape recorder. I don't keep memories.
Everything is lost, every memory hidden
in the depth of my dreams. But my dreams
are always too far, and I forget them.
It was only last night that my daughter
woke up with a strange kind of cough
and when I went back to my bed,
closed my eyes, I saw I was trying
to close a door
but the bolt was stuck.
I called someone, a man, to help me
fix the bolt. Our hands touched
by chance, not by wish.
It felt dirty, like something sticky
was left on my hands after each rub,
something sticky in my hands I don't
want there. A door I can not close
to keep my son from knowing what happens
in my bed, to know my ambivalence,
my yes I want and my yes I don't want.
I don't want him to know
I give my love to another man.
The other night he heard my noises.
He thought it was pain and not pleasure.
I thought he was sleeping and not listening.
And maybe I feel guilty
because I can't share this pleasure with him,
the person I love most.