- Ángel Escobar and the other shipwrecks
The Spanish-language version of this essay by Efraín Rodríguez Santana is entitled "Ángel Escobar y los otros naufragios." It appears in the anthology Ángel Escobar: Poesía completa (Havana: UNIÓN, 2006). Translated by Kristin Dykstra with the author's permission.
These are some notes of introduction to the voice of a great poet. The poet is named Ángel Escobar, and he died in 1997. One afternoon when he was about to turn forty, he decided to sit on the rail of the balcony at his apartment, then let himself fall. The abyss received him, but Ángel's abyss had a concrete horizon and his head struck hard against its surface. At last tranquility came, the rest that he had sought through valiant struggles and by pursuing hundreds of paths. Through his poetry Ángel seemed to arrive at some beneficial moments of relief; his poems served to unload furies and torments, and they gave him space to breathe. Mouthfuls of air and cigar smoke that he would inhale while his right leg kicked at the imagined pitch of a soccer field or the riot of grass on some unknown prairie. Some minutes before his death he spoke to his sister, Luz Marina, and urged her to prepare the savory rice of eastern Cuba; she went off to the kitchen smiling. He rose from the armchair where he was resting and placed a white, typewritten paper on top of the piano. There was his final poem, written one day earlier and directed to a friend —a painter along the lines of Picasso, a man of good faith and strong work ethic. In that poem Ángel attempts to explain the modern reasons for the continuity of images, be those pictorial or verbal: "each has a mode for comprehending himself." Through that mode the privilege of colors and forms established over time asserts itself, although something else that can also result is the wreckage, always poorly understood and repudiated by viewers and readers: "A shipwrecked man is never calm. / He monitors not one, not two, not three, but all ocean waves, / their motions and oscillations —/ he holds only a timber in his grasp, / and doesn't know if he's coming or going: / doesn't know where the coast might be / or what is better, or worse. / The shipwrecked man is simply that. Wrecked."1
Ángel was music and shipwreck, and both events are molded in his texts within an atmosphere of profound tension and agility, with unusual grace and a taste for ruptures. Where his poetry is most discomforting, he generates an enduring melody. His work is copious and convulsive, and it deals with voices in disparate forms of accompaniment: [End Page 122] voices for the breaths of air and voices for the fits, voices anchored in the hell of his family history, voices lofting through groves and rivers of love. Voices that pause their journey for the last breath of the dead mother, who comes looking for him. He decides to go away, leaving behind many signs to interpret, much poetry to admire. And the doors open, and in the room where he arrives is Raúl Hernández Novás, replete with silence. In the end they'll compose a collaborative poem for four hands. Ángel had once said to him, "I have my scar and remember Novás."2
Ancestry, mestizaje, and contamination are other classifications that fit his work, which rebukes and questions with equal vehemence. He wants to know himself escaped from his most torturous redoubt. He wants to flee the memory of the pain, the persecution, and the fear. He detests normality but simultaneously longs for it, as if it were a unique discovery that could be recreated at the knife edge of the water. But he knows that certain operations of existence are closed to him and so he writes: "I can't escape the knowledge. / I am my single memory, without surprises: / The intended splendor: not the extension or the Other: / The other was the me awaiting me. I go back to writing: / Dana...