You and I.
Shall begin at zero.
Here is neither you nor I;
and yet we’ll crisscross
these lines together.
Like hands on a clock,
in two separate times we will live
night and day.
I rely on you, I invent you
as I invent myself,
an Other in my own shadow and in yours.
I call you myself. You call yourself me.
Your name is my tongue.
I pronounce you in each word.
Akkadian, Hittite, Elamite, I learn
to write upslope in the dark;
earthbound the oxen teach
how to read with padlocked eyes.
Chasms on the surface,
heaving pores, volcanoes
where invisible Hades breathes,
words look like furrows.
The hand you follow is not there.
You stalk trampled seeds, wedges,
Footprints that trace the path.
My breath hesitates in offering
words that will be alien,
perhaps more yours than mine.
To reach a border only to
trace again the same turn,
carve once again the same furrow,
to dream my own fullness with no harness,
to mount the low land, to inseminate it,
flooding the margins
with festoons of seminal streams.
I was here on 24 October 2014.
I carved some lines to leave trails behind.
I don’t know what I have said.
I don’t know what I keep to myself.
I felt ancient
and now perhaps I am.
Oxen of the low land,
fishes from a turbulent river,
alone side by side,
only two syllables,
you and I.
II: “The Destruction of the Present”
There is in us something immortal
that wishes it could die with all that is mortal.
Taste, sound, image.
They absorb, contain, seize.
The sensation intensifies, it plumbs the depths. The immediate is prolonged until it annuls itself.
The present stands still, turns sparse, disappears into other pasts that do not pass, that happen right now, and continue and shall continue to happen, as a dream or remembrance.
To awake inwardly where I myself linger, as if I wanted to halt it, recall it, trying to recover its curves and rotations so as to remain there, reconstructing another and yet another past, penetrating its here and now like a page entering an envelope in order to head toward the light or to the street’s clamor, until step by step I reach my own body, where suddenly I feel anchored, where perhaps I will dissolve like a handful of salt in the words that will let me rest right here, below, surrounded not by light and din but by algae and coral reefs, between gills that breathe, reducing me, sifting me, foreseeing drop by drop the turbulent whirl.
The sensation of weight at the bottom of the page, where I have fallen, and where I lounge in a deep surface after I have paused on a remembrance that rolls on itself, turning me away from my starting point that is the present, or was the present, since for some time it has remained still, like the point of a compass that turns and spins, drawing countless circles of radii that stretch or contract from one and the same center.
Thus I have no other way out but to make a notation, scribbles on strips of paper left on a drawer that by chance I discover months or years afterward only to yet again lose myself in the web of words and syllables with the hope that they will set sail, begin on a clean page, to leave port toward no known direction.
Meanwhile, here I am.
Did you see it? Just now it leaped
from that verse to this one.
You don’t see it? It’s there,
In what you have just read.
You mean you don’t hear it?
You don’t hear it either?
What a pity. It’s gone.
Translated by Roberto Cantú
Born in Guantánamo, Cuba, in May of 1946, in the heart of a family that had suffered two exiles, nine months of dictatorship under Bautista and, as the bolero goes, an entire lifetime of dictatorship under Castro, Octavio Armand has known the snow dreamed of by Casal as well as the entropic tropic where, according to Albemarle, everything rots. He lived for years in New York–there founding and directing the journal escandalar–and now he resides in Caracas. In Mexico, Calygramma has compiled his essays and poetry: Contra la página (2015) and Canto rodado (2017). In Bokeh, various books of his have been republished. Efory Atocha of Madrid and El Estilete of Caracas have embraced the matter of Cuba in El ocho cubano (2012) and Escribir es cubrir (2017). Refractions, a selection of paired poems and essays translated by Carol Maier, was published by Lumen Books in New York in 1994. Two Argentine friends, who he regrets never having met, commented on his work: Juan Antonio Vasco in Conversación con la esfinge and Luis Justo in Octavio Armand y el espejo o América como ucronía. Octavio Armand contra sí mismo, by Venezuelan writer Johan Gotera, was published by Efory Atocha.
Roberto Cantú was born in Guadalajara, Mexico. He is Professor Emeritus of Chicana/o and Latina/o Studies, and Professor Emeritus of English at California State University, Los Angeles. He teaches courses on the European novel (Cervantes to Balzac), literary theory, and on Latin American, Mexican, and Chicana/o literature. He has numerous publications in his areas of interest, and is the editor of Border Folk Balladeers: Critical Studies on Américo Paredes (2018); The Forked Juniper: Critical Perspectives on Rudolfo Anaya (2016); Equestrian Rebels: Critical Perspectives on Mariano Azuela and the Novel of the Mexican Revolution (2016); The Reptant Eagle: Essays on Carlos Fuentes and the Art of the Novel (2015); The Willow and the Spiral: Essays on Octavio Paz and the Poetic Imagination (2014); An Insatiable Dialectic: Essays on Critique, Modernity, and Humanism (2013), and Tradition and Innovation in Mesoamerican Cultural History (2011). Cantú also edited the following: Piel menos mía, by Octavio Armand, in a special issue of the literary journal Escolios: Revista de literatura, 1976); the bilingual edition (English/Spanish) of La raza cόsmica/The Cosmic Race, by José Vasconcelos (1979), and translated José Antonio Villarreal’s novel Pocho from English to Spanish (1994). In 1990 he received the Outstanding Professor Award at Cal State LA. In 2010 he was recognized at his campus with the President’s Distinguished Professor Award. He is currently editing a book on Mexican poet and essayist Alfonso Reyes, to be titled A Scholiast's Quill: New Critical Essays on Alfonso Reyes (forthcoming).
The eighth issue of Latin American Literature pays homage to Nicaraguan writer and politician Sergio Ramírez, winner of the 2017 Cervantes Prize and an important voice in a country currently gripped by crisis. We also feature poetry from Octavio Armand, as well as special sections dedicated to four indigenous writers of Mexico and Guatemala, bilingual sci-fi from Worldcon 76, and the poetry of Marosa di Giorgio, Olga Orozco, and Elena Garro.