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Poem CI

Recording of sections I and III

To my sister Flor
And he who had been dead came forth,
his hands and feet rolled in bandages,
and his face was wrapped in a shroud.
John 8:44


You come to me at last, just as you were, with your ancient emotion and your unspoiled rose, Lazarus the straggler, a stranger to the fire of hope, forgetting disintegration even as it burned to dust, ashes, nothing more.

You return to me, in one piece and not even out of breath, with your great dream immune to the cold of the tomb, when already Martha and Mary, weary of waiting for miracles and plucking the leaves of twilight, have slowly descended the slope of all the Bethanies in silence.

You come, relying on no more hope than your own hope, no more miracle than your own miracle. Impatient and sure of finding me still yoked to the last kiss.

You come all flowers and new moon, quick to wrap me in your pent-up tides, in your stormy clouds, in your confused fragrances which I begin to recognize one by one.

You come still yourself, safe from time and distance, safe from silence, and bring me like a wedding gift the already-savored secret of death.

But here I am, a bride again, not knowing whether I rejoice or weep at your return, over the terrifying gift you give me, even over the joy which strikes me like a blow. I don't know whether it is late or early to be glad. Truly, I don't know; I no longer remember the color of your eyes.





You say it's not late; that death has no more taste than water. You say it was barely a month ago when we left you behind the terrible stone of the sepulcher, and they haven't even harvested the wheat which was green the morning you and I went out to gather honeycomb, and we kissed for the last time.

I never kept track of time then, you know that. I only began counting after you left, began to die under the numbers and the hours and the days which grew infinite in my count, the way infinite anguishes fit into each instant of a bad dream.

Why do you want me to count well now, to hurry now, when I have ground my teeth blunt on the edges of haste? I waited a century hoping for nothing. And you can't wait a minute hoping for everything?

Tell me, Lazarus: could it have been harder to come back to life than it would have been to stay here, where my soul embraced yours, struggling with death until bled dry?

Come now, rein in the horses of your newborn blood and sit with me, begin to know me again.

I am new now, too, from being so old: from the millennia I aged while the wheat ripened toward the same harvest, while yours was just the nap of a young child, innocent and brief.

And don't be impatient, my beloved, that I learned patience a letter at a time, with blood, and welcomed it.





It's no mystery to me that happiness isn't willing to wait. It's time to be happy now, or it will never be. The good which I gave up as lost has been returned to me, the love, the sweetness around the hearth, children, vigils by the lamp in winter; beneath the twining vines in summer, one sweet thing after another, trivial, but each one reaching to the boundaries of time.

All this begins to take shape, to place itself newly within reach of my hand and my small feminine capacity to imagine my good fortune.

But even though I understand, it's not my fault that this good fortune takes me by surprise, catches me unprepared like guests at a party who arrive before the house is ready.

Time was needed to arrange everything, and in truth I did, many times...Until I couldn't any more, and the dust continued to fall, settling over the masterless house.

Don't get started, my Lazarus, spinning me stories about dust: I am an old bride who needs to be forgiven her clumsiness, her withered skin and eyes still closed to miracles.

I am an old bride, and this dawn you arrive in, wherever you come from, a place no one has ever come from before, is either a new daybreak or else much too old; as old as the first daybreak of the world. All of life, all of Creation, all of you yourself, lie before it.

I alone am left behind. Still in the wheatfields of that morning, still in the kiss lost among the wheatfields. Still standing in everything that has ceased to be or that never was.





Like the first dawn of the world... That's what this is, and I must get used to it. But adjusting my heart takes time, and there's no point in hurrying.

I had a long night. Don't you understand? You also had one, and I don't deny it. But you were dead and I was alive; you were dead and floating in your death like a lake without shores, like a child before birth in the harbor of its mother's blood.

But I stayed alive, my eyes wanting to pierce your darkness, my bones refusing to hold me up, my flesh chewed, tortured by black angels in rebellion against God.

You were dead and I stayed alive, feeling the pace, the weight, the persistence of the night, and I had to bear it, unable either to die or to push it away.

To push death away... That's what I tried to do. To move the Immovable, the Blind, the Deaf, the Mute...

But someone else did it. He came and the night became dawn, death became play, the world became a child again.

He came and time stopped, parted before his smile as the waters of the Red Sea did for our ancestors.

Nothing more was needed, just to cry a little, smile a little and then everything was as it should be. Sweetly. Simply. Lazily.





Now you are his work, born again of his miraculous word.

From now on, any words you say to me will only be an echo of his, overwhelming, victorious over death. They'll be words that don't know how to tear themselves from your breast, living or dead, or take victory from his hand, or drink from my thirst. They'll penetrate my punctured soul through hope, like strange flowers sprouting in a well.

Would it be right for you to use those words to swear love to me at my window; to soothe me like a sick calf, to sing to the sound of the lute as you liked to do, late afternoons, coming home from the fields?

I don't know, and you can't know it either, now. I know you are here, still pale, still glowing with your dazzling daybreak, your mouth giving back kisses that you didn't have time to give before.

But I also know that something ineffable has happened between you and me, and although I am here as you are, I'm still outside the prodigy, a stranger to what was done to your lips, to your body, to your soul, to everything that once was mine.

True, life is urgent, and we need not ask for more miracles than that Miracle; life is urgent and your lips are near, the rosy half-moon of your face.

I could kiss them if I wished, and I will want to soon, my love... But what fear like leprosy, what eternal doubt, whether I am kissing now what I kissed before, and anyway, whether it was worth bringing it back to life.





I will learn again the flight of your herons, the tiny rivers of your blood, the intimacy of your bright beacons.

We will erase the scrapes left by death's wingtips, the little scars, light or shadow, in your ransomed flesh.

I will find everything lost, the honey that pleased you, the song that made you smile and the one which once earned your tears. And once more I will tie a ribbon to my braid, pretend to be a bride at my window.

But what if you were the one who couldn't find me? What if you searched in vain for what you had abandoned behind this window, bedecked in vain; if you couldn't recognize your bees in the honey, and in my offering of myself you got only my phantom?

What if it was you who, in your turn, talked to me and I was deaf, kissed me and I was cold, shook me and I was rigid... You who were shocked to see me dead, dead, yes, inexorably dead, even my smile already liberated from whatever glory or tragedy could have been our destiny...

Ah, you tremble, Lazarus, because up to now you've only wanted to go on being yourself, and you haven¡¦t asked yourself whether I would come along with you.

Maybe I died before your eyes, which still see me alive. Maybe I died an instant after we met, of the shock of your lost face striking every corner of my bones... The collision of your presence and my memory, your reality and my dream, your new ephemeral life and the other to which I had already given you, where you floated perfect, marvelous, immutable, madly defended...

Yes, I am the one who has died and no one knows it. Go and tell the one who passed by, the one who might return, who might raise me, too....and command me to walk.

From the book Poemas naúfragos (1991).

Translation by Judith Kerman. First published in Dulce María Loynaz: A Woman in Her Garden (Selected Poems), White Pine Press, 2002.



Water Play