Aug 28, 2015
This month we are delighted to feature Chilean-American poet and writer Marjorie Agosín on our blog. The blog is primarily a platform for Cuban voices, but now and then we want to make room for other voices that speak to issues of immigration, exile, loss of home, and the search for home, issues that Cubans share with other Latinas and Latinos, as well as the displaced of many nations around the world. As Cubans now work to heal a rift of more than fifty years, we need to place our experience in a broader context of immigration and ask ourselves what it means to be at home in our globalized society today. Marjorie’s narrative and poem, “The House,” offers a home for all of us who feel homeless at times. “La casa entre el cielo y el agua/The house between the sky and the sea,” the poem begins, and takes us on a journey through the figurative and literal meanings of home with its luxurious, evocative language. We hope you enjoy the journey and look forward to hearing from you.
Ruth and Richard
Cuba, for me, has long formed part of both my social and my emotional history. Moisés, my father, a medical research doctor in Chile, worked with Cuban scientists beginning in the 1950s, and he continued this collaborative research into the 1970s. The research carried out at his lab in the University of Chile focused on a wide gamut of tropical diseases and on how those diseases were transmitted by insects found on the island. I remember, and this memory still inspires me, the time he brought me back a beautiful collection of Cuban insects from one of his trips to Havana. I felt so happy with that gift, and especially happy to be perhaps the only girl in Chile who had such a collection.
My father also used to tell me how cheerful Cubans were. He said they had the gifts of laughter and joy. One of my memories is of a visit by the members of a Cuban delegation who improvised a wonderful orchestra from a few spoons and forks. I will never forget that night in Santiago when I felt we were in Havana, creating music.
Social and political history brought enormous changes for us in Chile. My family left Chile and became exiles. I spent my teenage years away from Chile, and then I came to understand more and more what it means to live far from your country. So I felt a lot of affinity with the Cuban people and so many other peoples of the Diaspora. People marked by turbulent political histories.
This poem, “The House,” has been part of my poetic quest for a long time. I’ve tried to tell in lyric form the story of our ancestral home, my childhood home. I’m the editor of a collection of poems entitled Home, and this poem was born when I began to edit the essays in that collection, written by women who tell us what having to leave home has meant to them. My second motivation was the reopening of diplomatic relations between the USA and Cuba. As I wrote it, I felt that this new beginning would be something extraordinary, opening up possibilities for many other cultural projects in these two countries as they come together now in a fuller, more human way. This poem arose from my deep conviction that we all need a home to shelter our histories.
[translated from the Spanish by David Frye]
The house between the sky and the sea,
We called her the wing of the wind.
There we conjured secrets,
Stories shared at night, when silence became song.
Within her I discovered poetry has the face of a river,
And I learned not to fear ghosts,
But to mingle with them in the mist.
The house had blue doors
To scare away evil spirits,
And from within her, at night,
My mother would gaze out at the sea.
The house between the sky and the sea,
The house with a wing of wind.
Within her I penned my first thoughts,
I pressed my face against her stone walls,
I rejoiced in the plenitude of my happiness
In that house where I received my first notebook
In which to record my dreams.
One day we fled our country.
One day we fled our house.
We feared they would demolish her as well.
Existence was so fragile then,
Everything was like broken glass,
And hands were coated in blood.
We were afraid.
Secrets became curses,
Neighbors became informants,
Happiness turned to silence.
I was a girl when we fled.
I shed a tear the size of a rose petal
When we left our house.
We did not close the door,
We did not believe in locks,
But I knew the dead would return to dwell there.
We went to another country.
We learned a foreign language.
We lived in an unfamiliar house
With an enormous kitchen
That lacked the aromas of home…
And the house with the wing of wind
Revisited my dreams.
I waited for her as Penelope
Entwined in the wonder of first love.
I always dreamed about her,
And I kept her close like someone safeguarding a secret or a kiss,
That small and munificent house
Where my parents lit fires in the hearth
And regaled us with beguiling stories.
I have lived in other houses
And I have travelled to countless places.
I have loved in other rooms,
But it is in her, in the house with the wing of wind,
Where I return to live and grow old.
It is the house with the wing of the wind, the country of my childhood.
In her, with her blue door,
My memory awaits.
She knows my name,
She wraps me in her wing of wind.
I return to her to discover
Who I was and who I am.
House of sky and sea,
House rich with sounds,
House of rain, house of light,
House where I learned,
Perhaps now, to say farewell.
[translated from the Spanish by Alison Ridley]
Marjorie Agosín is a Chilean poet and human rights activist. She is the author of numerous books of poetry, memoirs, and essays. An award-winning poet, among these distinctions, she is the recipient of the Gabriela Mistral Medal of Honor granted by the Chilean government and the Pura Belpre Award for best young adult novel I Lived in Butterfly Hill given by the American Library Association. She is a professor of Latin American Literature at Wellesley College.