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Tobacco Worker

A tobacco worker wrote
a poem to death. Amid the smoke
and the dry and twisted leaves of the plains
she said she saw the world in Cuba.
It was the year 1999…In her poem
she said she touched the flowers
that formed a magic carpet
flying circles round the Plaza of the Revolution.
In her poem, this worker
grasped tomorrow’s days.
In her poem there were no half shadows, just energetic lamps.
In her poem, friends, there was no Miami, no claims being made;
there was no begging,
there were no acts of malice,
no violations of the labor law;
there was no interest in the Stock Exchange, there was no profit.
Her poem was full of militant cunning, languid intelligence.
Her poem was full of discipline and meetings.
Her poem was full of guts and heart.
Her poem was a treatise on popular economy.
Her poem was full of the desires and anxieties
of a revolutionary, her contemporary.
A tobacco worker wrote
a poem to the death throes of capitalism. Yes, sir.
But not even her brothers, not even her neighbors
guessed at the essence of her life. And they never learned of the poem.
She had kept it, tenaciously and delicately,
together with some leaves of hemp and caña santa,
in a clothbound book
of José Martí.

Nancy Morejón’s mother was a tobacco worker; her father worked on the Havana docks and was a merchant seaman. She is a direct beneficiary of the Cuban revolution, holding a degree in French literature from the University of Havana. The author of twelve volumes of poetry and numerous books and articles on Cuban and Caribbean culture, she has also been director of the Caribbean Studies Center at Casa de las Americas, the premier Latin American cultural institution. Morejón’s work has been translated into many languages, including, in English, Looking Within (Wayne State University Press, 2003) and With Eyes and Soul, with photographs by Milton Rogovin (White Pine Press, 2004, http://www.whitepine.org) from which this poem is reprinted. Copyright © 2004 by Nancy Morejón; Translation copyright © 2004 by David Frye. Used by permission.

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