translated by Mark Weiss
It’s a modest two-story house not far from the river on a narrow
The shop in Havana is dust
All of the shades of the house were drawn,
I was born in the house of the dying man; I no longer shake his exhausted corpse, he rests in peace now.
He is laid out, his feet face eastwards.
They are enormous; two stems of the same bloodline: from them in that far-off country the scent of camomile rises in spirals; ovoid: the oval of his shaved head withered rests as ever upon a pillow; look, they have limned on the pillowcase a fish with golden scales the arrow’s-flight of a diagonal bird: entranced, it prays on the linen of the pillowcase; it is far from the white space of the linen; its piety empowers it to soar above the fish the seamstresses have simulated an outburst: of hops.
The scales reanimated by their golden yarn.
I know them well: they sit to their embroidery on lyre-backed mahogany chairs, for each corpse a burlap robe smelling of sweat or lavender, a fish a bird for the head’s repose in the dirt: the seamstresses do their touch-up; the head of the corpse is luminous, luminous its feet: the robe silk, soft beyond softness the cloth of the pillowcase.
The corpse of an old toad.
It has not shrunk: flies nibble at an intact body. It is an intact mass of suppuration glowing from its pores, open-work cloth: all things that fly are his; the quiet chrysalis. All things that fly come forth overflowing from ever more hidden cavities: from those depths the seamstresses pull the yellow basting of the dregs, they shake the larva.
They exude a filament of glass.
Timeless concavity: a sketch. And on the bed he is not dead: they dress him. He is renewed: a red plush shirt, wide, wrinkled beige pants; they have woven garlands of leguminous flowers through the braids hanging above his chest: impartial.
He sits up; they have helped him.
His large bare feet secrete the rust of nails that ants sip in their holes; the petals that fall from his clothing amass in an insatiable empurpled wasp’s nest at his feet; birds of the dregs linen fish rush to submerge themselves: he smiles.
He sees in the shoetrees of space a door.
Levantine suns: the local silversmiths smell of cardamom, the necromancers, resuming their work, position him. And they carry to the plaza troughs abundant with ovals of sifted flour: flocks of birds peck at the crumbs refulgent between his lifted arms.
José Kozer (Havana, 1940) is the son of parents who migrated to Cuba from Poland and Czechoslovakia in the 1920s, and the grandson of a founder of Adath Israel, Cuba’s first Ashkenazi synagogue. He studied law at the University of Havana, left Cuba in 1960, and received a BA from NYU in 1965. He taught for many years at Queens College of the City University of New York, retiring as a full professor in 1997, after which he lived for two years in Spain before settling in South Florida. He is the author of over 15 collections of verse. His most recent, No buscan reflejarse (2002), a selection from past volumes, is the first poetry collection by a living Cuban exile to be published in Havana. Two small bilingual collections of his poems, The Ark Upon the Number (1982) and Prójimos / Intimates (Barcelona, 1990), both translated by Amiel Alcalay, have been published. Stet, his own far more comprehensive selection of poems, will appear, in a bilingual edition with translations by Mark Weiss, from Junction Press in early 2003. He is also coeditor, with Roberto Echavarren and Jacobo Sefamí, of Medusario Muestra De Poesia Latinoamericana/ a Sampling of Latin American Poetry (1996). “Rebirth of Kafka” appeared in Bajo este cien (1983).
Jacket 18 — August 2002
This material is copyright © José Kozer and Mark Weiss
and Jacket magazine 2002