El color del verano (The Color of Summer)

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The Color of Summer, Arenas's finest comic achievement, is also the fulfillment of his life's work, the Pentagonia, a five-volume cycle of autobiographical novels he began writing in his early twenties. Although it is the penultimate installment in his "secret history of Cuba," it was, in fact, the last book Arenas wrote before his death in 1990. A tale of survival by wits and wit, The Color of Summer is ultimately a powerful and passionate story about the triumph of the human spirit over the forces of political and sexual repression.
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Editorial Reviews

Washinton Post Book World
The Color of Summer is as far as one can get from a flawless novel, and as close as one can hope to get, in our literary climate, to a visionary work of incomparable genius.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Reinaldo Arenas was the cursed visionary of late 20th-century Cuban literature, imprisoned by Castro and shunned by pro-Cuba leftist intellectuals in this country after he came over in the Mariel boatlift. His open queerness shocked his contemporaries. This novel is the fourth in a cycle of five novels, dubbed the Pentagonia (the fifth in the series, The Assault, was published in 1994). It operates on a number of levels, like a noisy and particularly chaotic party. The most straightforward segment of the plot concerns the tyrant Fifo's 50th-anniversary celebration. It is typical of the grandiose, bloated Fifo that it is actually the 40th anniversary of the revolution--Fifo even lies about arithmetic. The island over which Fifo presides is a vast, groaning prison, dotted by real prisons, like El Morro, where Arenas was actually imprisoned. Fifo keeps control with an army of midgets and a flotilla of sharks that circle the island and prevent anyone from escaping. However, the island queens (mercilessly hunted by Fifo's minions, although Fifo and most of his court have dabbled in men) have been nibbling away at the base of the island, trying to unmoor it. On another level, this is Arenas's autobiography. His character has three names: Skunk in a Funk, his queer nom de guerre; Gabriel, the writer; and Reinaldo, the real person. The tripartite division of his character, and of others, entails dizzying changes of gender and jumps between levels of reality. Arenas has a nice vaudevillian touch, scattering scabrous reference to recent events and people as he bounces from skit to skit. A chapter entitled "The Confession of H. Puntilla" is modeled on the real recantation of Heberto Padilla in 1971, with anatomically impossible flourishes. Unfortunately, the flood of Cuban marginalia makes this book, at times, almost indecipherable for the non-Cuban reader. (July) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
The fourth of Arenas s five-novel cycle (begun with Singing from the Well) and the last piece of fiction he wrote before his suicide in 1990, this is a magnificent roman clef. Lamentably, the vagaries of publishing and the translator s own timetable delayed publication of this shattering testimonial novel until after the 1999 it foretells. In honor of his 50th year in power, a Caribbean dictator named Fifo engineers a grand cultural gala featuring the greatest stars of Cuban literature. Gertrudis GUmez de Avellaneda, whose verse Cuban schoolchildren learn by heart, is resurrected from the dead but, refusing to take part in the charade, makes a run for Key West. Fifo repudiates her by having a procession of characters intone doggerel testimonials that Arenas refashions for them from the greatest lines of their prose and verse. Homosexuality, the tragicomedy of Cuban politics, the church, the mother-son relationship, salaried work, and even the weather are metaphors the author uses to portray the larger, all-inclusive struggle of power vs. freedom. The human spirit, Arenas argues, is capable of irreverent humor in even the worst situations and indeed must be given free rein if beauty is to be brought into the world. Hilarious and savagely sarcastic, this is a requisite addition to collections of Hispanic, Cuban, and gay literature. Jack Shreve, Allegany Coll. of Maryland, Cumberland Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
The Color of Summer is a horrible book -- monumentally, brilliantly and exquisitely horrible. ''I have suffered not only my own horror,'' Arenas writes in the foreword, ''but also the horror of all those who have not even been able to publish their horror. Not to mention that I myself will soon be dying.''...Writing, understood as simultaneously an erotic activity and a political endeavor, promised Arenas a means of transmuting humiliation into beatitude. In writing The Color of Summer, by completing it for the very last time, Reinaldo Arenas took revenge on death.
New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
Fourth volume of the late (1943-90) Cuban writer's semiautobiographical "pentagony" (Arenas's word), written in 1991 as part of a five-volume sequence (The Palace of White Skunks, 1990, etc.). The rambling, free-form fantasy begins—smashingly—with a 50-page verse play, "The Flight of Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda." The premise of this hilariously obscene set piece is the attempted escape to Miami of its eponymous heroine, a politically suspect poet, from the clutches of an island dictator named "Fifo"—who's celebrating the 40th anniversary of his reign (declared the 50th, because that "round number" pleases the vainglorious tyrant). Fifo orders all his late political enemies recalled to life (for publicity purposes, but also for the pleasure of murdering them again)—and Arenas is off to the races: sketching the literary and (homo)sexual adventures of several locally famous "queens" and also his own several alter egos (Gabriel, "Skunk in a Funk," et al); tossing off miscellaneous metafictional inventions ("Pensées," "Tongue-Twisters," interpolated satirical broadsides); reinventing traditional structure (the novel's Foreword appears in its midsection)—all the while subjecting Fifo's megalomaniacal posturing to elegant and devastating abuse. Examples: upon being informed that California apples can't be grown on his island, Fifo declares this agricultural injustice is another illustration of capitalist aggression; a specially bred "Bloodthirsty Shark" patrols nearby waters, sniffing out would-be emigrants; a saint (Nelly) reputed to havebeen gayis marked for "decanonization"; the assassinations of rival heads of state are accomplished via anal intercourse, with that ultimate sexual weapon, "The Electric Venus": on and on the scurrilous merriment goes. Yet beneath the grotesqueries, it's plaintively clear that the story offers (as do all Arenas's books, in some measure) "a detailed history of the horrors to which queer men of all stripes . . . [have] been subjected" through the ages, and especially in Fidel Castro's Cuba. Excessive, redundant, chaotic, and absolutely necessary. And if Fifo ever gets hold of a copy, he'll be swallowing his cigars.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9788483100820
  • Publisher: Tusquets Editores
  • Publication date: 7/24/2002
  • Language: Spanish
  • Series: Pentagonia Series, #4
  • Edition description: Spanish-language Edition
  • Pages: 358
  • Product dimensions: 5.98 (w) x 8.80 (h) x 1.17 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Flight of Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda

A light comedy in one act
(of repudiation)

* * *

SETTINGS: The Antilles and their surrounding waters (the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea) Key West The Malecón in Havana.

TIME: July 1999.


On the sea: Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda José Martí
On the Malecón: (In order of appearance)
Halisia Jalonzo
Virgilio Piñera
Fifo (played by a double)
Delfín Proust (also in Key West)
Nicolás Guillotina
Dulce María Leynaz
Tina Parecía Mirruz
Karilda Olivar Lubricious
H. Puntilla (also on the sea and in Key West)
José Zacarias Talet
A chorus of rehabilitated prostitutes
Rita Tonga
Paula Amanda, a.k.a. Luisa Fernanda
Odiseo Ruego (also in Key West)
Endinio Valliegas
José Lezama Lima
Julián del Casal
Chorus on the Malecón in Havana: Made up of minor poets such as Cynthio Métier, Retamal, José Martínez Mata, Pablo Amando, Miguel Barniz, and a hundred or so others; also including members of the Comité para la Defensa de la Revolución (a.k.a. the Watchdog Committee), midgets, high-ranking military officers, and anybody else that's on the Malecón at the time.
In Key West: (In order of appearance)
José María Heredia
Raúl Kastro (also on the Malecón)
Fernando González Esteva
Zebro Sardoya
An announcer
Primigenio Florido
A chorus of children
Bastón Dacuero
Chorus of poetesses: Angel Gastaluz (This character possesses, by papal bull, the gift
of omnipresence, so throughout the work s/he is able to be in several
places at the same time if s/he so desires.)
The Mayor of Miami
The President of the United States
A leading politician
The female editor of a fashion magazine
Kilo Abierto Montamier
A prizewinning poetess
A congressman from the state of Ohio
The Attorney General
The Bishop of Miami
Ye-Ye, a.k.a. PornoPop, The Only Remaining Go-Go Fairy
Queen in Cuba (who also possesses the gift of omnipresence, bestowed
by St. Nelly)
Mariano Brull
A society lady from Miami
An old woman
A priest
A nun
A female professor of literature
Another poetess (who's awarded herself her own prize)
An astrologer
Alta Grave de Peralta
A woman wearing a great deal of jewelry
A university type
The director of a Cuban museum (in exile)
Andrés Reynaldo
Chorus in Key West: Three thousand poetesses, professors of Latin, hundreds of aspirants to the office of the presidency of Cuba, and other notable politicians; sometimes includes the entire population of Key West, sometimes subdivided into small choruses.

Credits, Havana location:

Director: Fifo

Makeup and Choreography: Raúl Kastro
Resurrections: Oscar Horcayés
Music: Cuban National Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Manuel Gracia Markoff, a.k.a. Yechface and the Marquesa de Macondo.

Key West location:

Director: Moscoso

Makeup and choreography: Kilo Abierto Montamier
Resurrections: Alta Grave de Peralta
Music: The Guadalajara Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Octavio Plá, a.k.a. (according to lies told by Tomás Borge) Fray Nobel.

    The action begins in Havana, and as the curtain rises Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, who has been brought back to life on Fifo's orders so that she will be able to take part in the festivities honoring Fifo's fiftieth year in power, escapes in a little fishing boat and heads for Florida. Learning instantly about the escape, Fifo sends out orders for her arrest, but realizing almost in the same breath that an arrest would cause an international scandal, he orders the people of Cuba to stage an act of repudiation against the poetess, while secretly ordering his trained sharks and diligent midgets to do everything in their power to block her flight. The act of repudiation begins with the appearance of a group of eminent poets who are still on the Island, some of whom have been brought back to life especially for this event. The idea is that all these poets will be able to persuade Avellaneda not to leave the country. On Fifo's orders, they will throw at the fleeing poetess large quantities of rotten eggs, which thousands of midgets have piled along the edge of the ocean. Meanwhile, although at first it isn't clear where Avellaneda is headed (the part about "headed for Florida" was a taunt flung by Radio Aguado), the Cuban poets in exile, including some brought back to life for this event, decide to have a huge demonstration on the southernmost tip of the United States (i.e., Key West) in order to encourage Avellaneda and show their moral support for her. In addition to reciting a great number of poems dedicated to her, they shower her with candy bars, California apples, bonbons, and even fake pearls.

Avellaneda: (On the Malecón in Havana, throwing a small, frail boat into the water) Pearl of the ocean/Star of the West! Once glorious isle, now pain in the ass! I've had it up to here with you! Farewell! I mean, Adios! And a thousand times adios, for tell me, how is one supposed to put up with this mess? See these big ugly bags under my eyes? I haven't slept for days, because this brilliant sky of yours, no longer does Night cover with her sable veil—and so I'm off! Don't try to stop me! The ubiquitous mob has forced me to flee my native land. Adios, once happy homeland, beloved Eden where even Numero Uno, the head hoodlum, has to keep one eye on his behind. No more of this for me; I've made up my mind! (Plus—however far and wide I searched, however hard I tried I never found the man to make me bride.) Into the boat! Hope swells my ample breast! Florida awaits. Next stop—Key West!

    She clambers into the dinghy and begins to row quickly away. Avellaneda is a heavyset woman swathed in a long black nineteenth-century gown and wearing an equally black veil that covers her face. Upon seeing this bizarre figure, all the sharks swim away, howling piteously. The midgets also recoil in fright, and then whirl around and head back toward the coast. Fifo has no choice but to trust that the act of repudiation, which he orders to begin at once, will work.

    Halisia Jalonzo, entering Stage Left, inaugurates the act of repudiation. She is carrying a huge ostrich egg. The truth is, Jalonzo ought not to be in the part of the ceremony devoted to poets, but once she gets something in her head, honey, nobody can do a thing with her—plus, we mustn't forget that she just had her hundredth birthday, or so they say. Still, it's not right—and we'll be sure René Tavernier (R.I.P.), the president of the PEN Club, hears about this.

    Halisia Jalonzo:

Go then, witch! Good riddance to bad rubbish! And don't come back, ingrate Gertrudis! (No way this flight is her idea. Behind it all, I know, is Plizescaya— my nemesis, the cunning Plizescaya.) Go—we'll all be better off without ya!

    She raises the huge ostrich egg and throws it into the sea, making an enormous splash (for the first time in years, honey!) and raising columns of water that drench Avellaneda.

Avellaneda: (dripping wet, but still rowing; to Halisia)

The show you make makes crystal clear
that you're in Fifo's pay, my dear—
whoring, as always, for that "art" of yours.
Some art! You haven't really danced in years.
Farewell, I leave you in Fifo's keeping,
in lands of misery and weeping,
while I depart to seek my freedom.
Before I go, though, I just want to say:
it breaks my heart to see you sell yourself this way—
(though at your age, and in the shape you're in, you kind of have to
stay ...)
but good luck, Halisia, anyway—
and as they say in show biz, sweetie, break a leg!
Oh, and thank you for the egg.

    Halisia Jalonzo, an expression of defeat on her face, takes out a huge magnifying glass and peers through it at Avellaneda's bosom, which swells to ENORMOUS proportions. Unable to control herself but to herself alone, she speaks these lines:

Halisia Jalonzo:

Go on—paddle off, you decrepit old hag, leave me here to hold the bag, an old, blind, crippled, washed-up prima ballerina that can't work up the nerve to say what's really in her....

    Just then, one of the muscular midgets gives Virgilio Piñera a nudge (a shove) so he'll get on with his part of the act of repudiation. The poet, trembling miserably, climbs up on the wall on the Malecón and, looking seaward, quietly muses:

Virgilio Piñera:

The dratted circumstance of water, water everywhere
exhorts you, dear friend, to flee, to fly—get out of here.
Oh, I wish that I could join you! But this double-crossing queer
(Miss Coco Salas) has been assigned to keep an eye on me, for fear
that I might try it.
So woe is me! I cannot fly! I cannot flee!
And to top it off, they say tonight
Fifo's thugs are going to take my life.
The order's out, the die is cast, the time is ripe.
And so—
spied upon, spat upon, and hooted,
malnourished, impoverished, barefooted,
watching you sail into the west
while I wait to greet my death,
I raise my glass in tribute to you—
We who are about to die salute you.
(Avellaneda looks back in concern, hesitates.)
No, Gertrudis, don't look back. Forget I said that, dear—
Don't let the dratted circumstance of water, water everywhere
get to you. Be you, be free, be all that you can be—
Flee this horrid Island! Flee!—Godspeed!

Fifo: (enraged)

    What's that old faggot that I'm going to screw tonight muttering?

Virgilio Piñera: (desperately raising his voice to a shout, and changing his tune)

Don't go, Avellaneda—take my advice.
You're better off here by far.
If you go North you'll pay the price:
here, at least you're a star.
I beg you—reconsider, dear;
the Island's awfully nice.
Turn back now—there'll be no harm to you;
These dwarves will open their arms to you.
(To himself)
God, how could I write such awful lines!
I can't believe they're really mine!
But if I don't try as hard as I can
to lure Avellaneda back again
I'll never see tomorrow.
But hold on!
—Didn't Fifo put out a contract on yours truly?
That's what I was told, so surely
I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't!
And then when I'm dead and they've buried me,
that horrid Olga Andreu will pray for me
and Arrufat will grab my dictionary
and who knows what they'll say about me—
but screw 'em all—
I'll be vindicated by History, they'll see!

    Virgilio halfheartedly throws a little-betty kestrel egg, but as luck would have it, it hits Avellaneda right in the eye. Avellaneda, enraged, turns like the basilisk whose glance is fatal and picks up the anchor out of the bottom of her boat and throws it at the crowd on the Malecón, killing a midget—some say a hundred-headed one.

Fifo: (more enraged yet)

No more delay! Do what I say—
torpedo Avellaneda!
Brought back from the grave for this special day,
this is how she repays us!
No more mercy, no more pleas—
blast her out of the waves!
The broadest spot is the best spot to aim—
do it! Bombs away!
Be sure to shoot for the backside, boys! Death to every traitor!


No, not the backside, seat of inspiration!
Take aim at the fore!
All who read me know my slogan:
I wish all to enter through the front door.
All the participants in the act of repudiation throw rotten eggs at Avellaneda


No more mercy, no more pleas—
blast her out of the waves!
The backside's the best spot to aim,
so do it! Bombs away!


If that's the way it's going to be,
if that's the way they're going to treat me,
then I'm glad I decided not to stay.
Clearly, here there's no home for me,
so I'll make my getaway ...
But if I ever get my hands on that Horcayés
that brought me back from the dead,
when I get through with him he'll need
the finest seamstress in Key West,
to sew back on his head.
Meanwhile, on my rowing let me concentrate—
I think I'm going to have to paddle with both arms and both feet!

Virgilio Piñera: (moving away)

Well done! Bravo! Bravo!
You've got bi-i-ig feet
and one heel's crooked on your shoe
Go—there's nothing for you here.

    Suddenly, seeing that Coco Salas is right behind him with a tape recorder, he
turns toward the sea and shouts at the top of his lungs:

Virgilio Piñera:

Where are you going, you ingrate!
Come back—we'll forgive you! It's not too late!

Avellaneda: (growing farther and farther away from the Malecón and the harbor)

Ingrate! Ungrateful for what?
That parting shot
to my vulnerable backside?
No thanks, you snot—
I'll take my chances
in New York or Florida or Kansas.

Chorus: (standing on the wall of the Malecón)

No more mercy, no more pleas—
blast her out of the waves!
The backside's the best spot to aim,
so do it! Bombs away!
A new barrage of rotten eggs is launched.

Avellaneda: (now pulling into the open sea in a hail of rotten eggs)

What ineffable light, what strange happiness!
Night's mourning is banished from the skies.

The hour's come round, the artillery thunders;
fire, fire, fire, you murderers,
fire at this trembling bosom!

    Meanwhile, back on shore, Delfín Proust arrives. After first making a quick check of himself in a portable mirror that opens like a huge fan, he makes a grand pirouette and leaps up onto the Malecón. He whirls about several times, hops like a frog, opens and closes his arms. Prancing about, he begins his poetic discourse:

Delfín Proust:

Where it should be you that grows
a mahogany tree spreads its wide boughs
I grow old ...
No longer am I the master of my fear and of the city;
I do as I am told.
Conquered are we all; a baleful light claims victory.
And we all grow old.
Of course, to console me there's always this:
all that you are giving up, I can enjoy on the Hill of the Cross
where it should be you that grows.
Come back, and I'll take you personally to Tina Parecía Mirruz.

    Delfín Proust tosses a mahogany-tree seed to Avellaneda, and it falls between her breasts. Avellaneda picks out the seed, gazes upon it sadly, and throws it into the sea. Immediately she becomes animated again.


From Betis harbor
along the shore
my little ship
sails free
Rotten eggs
and mahogany seeds
shall never, ever
deflect me
from my chosen course.
So row, row, kindly oarsman,
for the morning
sun doth rise
And I hie me to other shores.

    The sound of barking is heard. A bulldog appears, walking on its two hind legs with the aid of a huge walking stick. This is the famous Nicolás Guillotina, poet laureate of Cuba, who flaps his enormous ears and shakes his walking stick threateningly at the fleeing poetess.

Nicolas Guillotina: (to a tune from Gilbert and Sullivan)

Flee this Island thou shalt not!
The Party, Miss Smarty, calls the shots,
and the Party has decided
that here with us thou shalt abide!
Ta-ra-ra, thou shalt not!
For the Party calls the shots.
Flee this land thou surely shalt not.
Here with us thou must remain.
Thou'rt a woman old and vain
and death on the high seas surely fear,
so let me whisper in thy ear:
Ta-ra-ra, thou shalt not!
For the Party calls the shots.
Flee this land thou surely shalt not.
If I must bide here and flee not
because the Party calls the shots,
what makes you think that you're so grand, eh?
What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander!
Ta-ra-ra, thou shalt not!
For the Party calls the shots!
Flee this !and thou most surely, most su-u-u-re-ly—shalt NOT!

    But then, while the symphony orchestra, in great confusion, plays El son entero, Guillotine, belying his own words, throws down his walking stick and dives into the ocean, trying to overtake the boat in which Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda is fleeing. His ears row like huge outlandish paddle wheels.

Chorus: (giving the alarm)

    Sensemayá the serpent—he's getting away!

    Fifo orders Guillotina pulled from the ocean. IMMEDIATELY. The poet laureate of Cuba, dripping water, is led into Fifo's presence.

Fifo (sarcastic, to Guillotina)

Sometimes I think that you've forgotten Just exactly who I am. You know, Guillotina, you need a lesson.
Midgets—cut off that man's gams! The diligent midgets pull out a saw and perform the operation. The poet bleeds all over the Malecón and dies of gangrene. The symphony orchestra plays taps and then a death knell. By order of Fifo, the crowd observes a moment of silence in honor of the deceased poet laureate. Then the orchestra plays a few typically Cuban dances while, on a stage near the Malecón, Halisia dances The Death of the Black Swan.

Raúl Kastro: (while a hundred diligent midgets bear away Guillotina's mortal remains)

What hullabaloo!
What a racket!
I'll tell you, with all this whoop-de-doo,
I'll never find a man to string my racket!
(Winks lasciviously.)

    The whole army, thinking perhaps that this is a farewell lament for Nicolás Guillotina, repeats, over and over, the lines that Raúl has just spoken—until Fifo orders silence by pulling his finger slowly across his throat. Everyone gets the idea.


That'll be enough of that, you nance.
No more of this campy fairy shit.
This is a repudiation, not a dance.
The Carnival hasn't even started yet!
Besides, they're watching us live on satellite in France—
so cut out the horseplay—quit, I tell you, quit!
Hey, speaking of France, I wish we still had Sartre
to turn our firing squads into art.
But we'll make do the best we can—
Let's get this started—Lights, camera, achtung!
Bring on Dulce María Leynaz,
bring on Tina Parecía Mirruz—
this is gonna be delicious!
Oh, and don't forget Karilda Olivar Lubricious.

    Enter Dulce María Leynaz. She climbs the improvised steps that lead up onto the Malecón. She is wearing a long silk gown, white gloves, and a wide-brimmed straw hat to which she has tied a live vulture—the last one on the entire island.

Dulce María Leynaz:

Oh, how the water sparkles in the moonlight!
If I could squeeze it into a fountain streaming
and toss a little strychnine in—
that'd teach Avellaneda to take flight!
Remember that I am of the aristocracy,
so I love Fifo's bureaucracy
and consider royal purple very dressy—
appearances, my dear, do truly matter;
why, I even serve my guests cocaine on a lovely silver platter.

    Leynaz offers a bag of cocaine to Tina Parecía Mirruz, who steps up onto the Malecón on the arm of Cynthio Métier, who's steadying her. Tina, with the exquisite humility of a campesina, starts to take the cocaine, but Cynthio stops her.

Cynthio Méstier:

Stop! You gotta be loca,
girl—that stuff is coca!
Haven't you learned to just say no?


Sure, I know how to say no,
and I knew that it was coca,
but I wasn't taking it for moi
it was for Paquito Métier, papá ...
Now standing on top of the Malecón, Tina begins her poem:

Tina Parecía Mirruz:

If you don't mind my saying so, sweet girl of mine,
you are somewhat past your prime
in making love and making rhyme—
I saw you, in Lenin Park, watching the men come and go,
Wishing for one more hunky gigolo.
I, too, have somewhat lost my touch.
Now the old poetry doesn't seem to flow as much
as once it did.
We're sisters, you and I, under the skin—
come back, and I will take you in,
comfort you in my thatched cottage,
warm you, make you a lovely pottage
(whatever the hell that is),
and we'll grow old together,
through fair and stormy weather,
like two aging twins!
Once you had soft, silky clothes, my pet—
although at the moment I see they're soaking wet;
if you return you shall have them again,
clothes sewn for you by fairy hands—
for there are lots of fairies on this island.
Come back—you can live with me,
and we'll have cookies with our tea!

    Karilda Olivar Lubricious sweeps upon the scene. She is wearing a red evening gown—very décolleté. In her mouth, a rose as red as her dress. Once she has wriggled up onto the Malecón, she makes a grand gesture with one of her long arms and tosses the rose to Fifo.

Karilda Olivar Lubricious:

It's not love that that Miss Country Mouse,
Miss Prissy Hausfrau's talking about.
Real love makes you want to twist and shout.
Love is a kiss of flesh, a taste of the hereafter,
and that, my dear, is the kind of love I'm after—
and it's that kind of love that Tula's after, too, I vow.

Tula, you professional fire-starter, now sputtered out,
I know for you it's been three strikes at love, and you've struck out.
That's why I'm here today, to call you to my side—
come on, Gertrudis, come back, and I'll make you my bride—
for when I see your heaving, swelling bosom
I fear I'll lose my senses, lose my reason.
I feel my pulse race, feel my breathing quicken,
feel my blood and vaginal secretions thicken—
Oh, I am about to swo-o-o-oooon!

Tell me—how many men have you slept with?
How many soldiers have you bivouacked with?
How many innocents have you corrupted?
And how many of those coituses have been interrupted?
You don't need a man, you need a woman!
And tell the truth—the idea kind of turns you on ...
You know that I have always yearned to give you pleasure—
yearned to probe between your thighs for buried treasure.
My oft-tilled flesh awaits your tickling plow—
come, and plant your mahogany seed in me now!
Don't deprive me, dear Gertrudis, of that bliss.
Bestow on me—if only once—a netherlabial French kiss.

You who once struck fire to matchless fuses,
come—engage me in sweet sexual abuses.
Turn your boat around, come back, come back,
and you and I will embark on another tack;
we may be getting on in years—
(taken a good look in the mirror lately, dear?)—
but there's still time to make a little hay—
"gather ye rosebuds," Tula, "while ye may!"

Oh, slay me with spittle, kill me with sweet pain—
"whatever turns you on" is my favorite saying!
My arms yearn to wrap themselves about your body,
my tongue longs to lick you and talk dirty—
and if you cannot break that bourgeois habit
of having a man in bed, then we'll cohabit
with a man, or centaur, or, like the President, a rabbit.
Though I myself prefer a centaur, hung like a horse—
oh, turn around, Tula, change your course,
and paddle your dinghy back to me—
I fall upon the thorns of life, I bleed!

Toss me a line, and I'll even haul you in. Come, live with me, wallow with me in sin— but come back now, or I promise you—Fifo will have your skin!

    When she has completed her declamation, Karilda checks to see what effect her plea has had on Avellaneda. Seeing that the old poetess is not turning back, Karilda walks over to one of the cannons that the diligent midgets have set on the wall of the Malecón, pulls out (as tight as that dress is, honey, lord knows from where!) a huge papaya, rolls it like a cannonball into the mouth of the cannon, and lights the fuse. The huge papaya shoots out of the cannon and explodes smack in the middle of Avellaneda's chest, knocking her over—her black dress is RUINED. The boat tips, bobbles, and begins to fill with water. Avellaneda eats a few handfuls of the fruit and tosses the rest of it back to her enemies. Then, with her hands and a mantilla, she starts bailing out the boat.

    Fifo gives H. Puntilla a kick in the rear to signal him to get on with his poetical declamation. H. Puntilla rubs his bruised backside gingerly and, still staggering forward from the kick, stumbles up onto the Malecón.

H. Puntilla:

There she goes, like a wounded seagull
wallowing in the waves.
There she goes, like some ominous seafowl
clouding our sunny days.

Avast, begone! foul albatross—
augury of misery and horror.
Avast, begone! foul albatross,
besmirching our island's honor.
(Softly) There I go, the heavy again!
I hate this role they make me play,
I'm sick of being the villain—
When do I get to just be me?
Baka! Grab those wings that Coco's got on—
I'm going to fly away!

    While the Chorus dances in a ring to El condor pasa, sung by Miriam Acebedo, H. Puntilla pulls on a huge pair of owl's wings and, in the midst of the confusion, flies off.

    He disappears into the distant sky. Spotlights are trained on Avellaneda, who is still being pelted by rotten eggs as she attempts to keep her boat afloat. Now, bailing with the aid of a veil, she looks up at the sky and fans herself with a lotus flower.


No ties any longer hold me, all are rent.
Heaven wills it thus, and so—amen!

This frail bark, I fear, is going under;
this tidal wave is ripping it asunder.
And yet— the bitter cup I gladly quaff, my self expires, my soul finds peace at last, and naught more desires.

    When she finishes speaking these lines, Avellaneda begins to masturbate frenziedly with the lotus flower. Reaching orgasm, she falls in a faint into the boat, which continues driving, threatening at any moment to sink.

    Suddenly lights come up on the other side of the stage, on Key West. In a large pool of light, José María Heredia appears. He is dressed in the clothing characteristic of the early nineteenth century. Kilo Abierto Montamier approaches him with a makeup brush and paints great bags under the poet's eyes. Heredia now stands alone in the spotlight. He turns away photographers and journalists, but he can't keep an enormous electric fan behind him from ruffling his hair. With the fan always trained on him, Heredia climbs up onto the stage that has been set up in Key West for this event.

Heredia: (trying to make Avellaneda hear him)

Soft rules the sun the peaceful waves
as the proud ship cuts through the deep.
A broad track of white it leaves in its wake,
bright foam in the endless sea

Anxiously we scan the horizon,
eagerly we wait to spread the welcome!
Be courageous, Gertrudis, and stay the course.
A golden destiny awaits you on this shore.

Come—life in America has its perks.
Girl, they're republishing your Collected Works!

    The lights of Key West go down. We see Avellaneda in the middle of the ocean. Heredia's little white lies give new spirit to the poetess, who, filled with enthusiasm, begins to clean all the trash out of her boat while she declaims:


How much more thrilling to me is that virile voice
than some vulgar (no doubt pirated) new edition.
Fear not, Heredia, I have made my choice
to join you and my compatriots—that is my mission.

For you, old poet, I would brave
winds, tempests, rotten eggs, the waves,
and more—if beside you I might stand
and share a second belovèd Eden, happy homeland.

Who gives a fig about Key West, Florída?
We will journey on to Iberia,
and when our traveling days are done,
stroll together under the palms.

    Darkness. We hear the rumble of the ocean and then the Guadalajara Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Octavio Plá, playing La Bayamesa. The lights come up once more. In the sky appears H. Puntilla. Beating his huge wings, he hovers over Avellaneda's boat. He pulls out a thick manuscript. It is titled Herod Is Grazing in My Garden.

H. Puntilla:

Tula, I can't take it anymore. Nobody can stand living there, not even Chelo, who works for State Security. I'll just leave this with you if you don't mind—would you see that J. J. Armas Maquiavelo gets it? Tell him that's half of it. They say that Ufano's supposed to come soon, but I can't wait any longer ...

    H. Puntilla continues his flight, arrives in Key West, and approaches José Martí, who is among the crowd, but incognito; he has come back to life of his own volition. H. Puntilla embraces him familiarly and then from his jacket he pulls out a bottle of gin, which he immediately drinks down. Martí walks away disgusted, to a spot beside the ocean.

    We now see a huge crowd of people in Key West. In an act of welcome they are throwing chocolate bars, pieces of fruit, and all sorts of trinkets and gewgaws at Avellaneda. All this stuff splashes water on her, and anything that falls outside the boat is devoured by the sharks. Avellaneda, making a desperate effort, struggles to lift H. Puntilla's heavy manuscript. Finally she lifts it enough to tumble it overboard. A shark passes by (Pedro Ramón Lapa) and swallows it in one gulp, then gives a death-leap in the water and expires. Avellaneda now paddles at full speed.

Key West Chorus:

Row faster, faster! as fast as you can!
Come, be with your friends—
Oh, how we want you here beside us,
Here where the streets are invariably golden
and the Welcome Wagon's open
serving milk and honey, fruits and nuts!

    Countless poetesses, carrying their books dedicated to "La Franca India," "La Peregrina," "Tula," and other pseudonyms used at one time or another by Avellaneda, continue to arrive in Key West. Standing on a huge stage, Martha Pérez sings the zarzuela "Cecilia Valdés." Buses full of senators, mayors, and notables from the world of religion arrive on the key. Somebody announces that in a few moments the presidential helicopter will be making its arrival. Now the poetesses, approaching the water, toss (hurl, pitch, etc.) their books to Avellaneda. Under the avalanche of paper falling into her boat, she almost capsizes. But "La Franca India" dumps their cargo into the sea and continues onward. The sharks swim away, whining piteously....

    Amid the confusion that reigns in Key West, Raúl Kastro, sent as a spy, is swishing around disguised as Olga Guillot.

Raúl Kastro: (looking hungrily at the American sailors)

What hullabaloo!
What a racket!
I'll tell you, with all this whoop-de-doo,
I'll never find a man to string my racket!

    Raúl Kastro strips off the Olga Guillot drag, asks to borrow the wings firm H. Puntilla (who is delighted to hand them over), and flies off toward the Malecón in Havana. But he doesn't find his longed-for buttstuffer there, either. Enraged, he calls Abrantes, the Minister of the Interior, and sentences him to death for dereliction of duty. "You let the man of my dreams escape!" he shouts as he pummels the minister. Abrantes, along with other high-ranking military officers, is led away by an escort of midgets. We hear a volley of shots off to one side of La Cabaña Prison.

Fifo: (enraged)

What are you doing, you halfwit pansy!
Did you forget the silencer?!


Don't worry, the Carnival has started—
People will think it's a skyrocket.

Fifo: (irate)

I told you there'll be no Carnival, you twit,
till we bring back that Avellaneda bitch.
So out with it—tell me what you spotted, eh?
up there in Key West, Florid-ay.


Oh, it was terrible—my stomach almost turned!
The island is covered with filthy Cuban worms,
all waiting to welcome her with open arms—
like she was some kind of heroine! The gall!
I'll tell you, bro, it was enough to make your skin crawl.


We mustn't allow her to reach Key West!
Did you see my other spies, by any chance?


Sure. I even saw the president.
Now, if you'll excuse me ... (winks lasciviously again)


    Hold on. I'm working on a plan.

    At a gesture from Fifo, the "spontaneous" demonstrations against Avellaneda continue. The orchestra, conducted by Manuel Gracia Markoff, plays a guaracha. While everyone dances, Silvo Rodríguez sings "They're Even Being Killed for Love."


Strangle that man this instant!
Shut him up any way you can—
I have to get my thoughts together,
and besides, I prefer "Stormy Weather."
(To Raúl)
Is it true that Puntilla swiped those wings of yours
and headed north?
Raúl: 'Fraid so. Although for what it's worth I don't think he'll stay.
Fifo: Oh, he'll be back—and this time he'll really pay!

    Suddenly a huge zeppelin, sent by the BBC in London, appears above the ocean. A voice from the blimp announces that it is over international waters and that its purpose is to broadcast impartially to the world at large. The Cuban community in exile has invoked the "equal time" doctrine, and so there is to be a mano-a-mano between the poets of Key West and those on the Malecón in Havana.

    The spotlights in Key West come on with a boom. The poet Fernando González Esteva appears, wearing a guayabera and carrying a pair of maracas. (From this point on, the program can be seen on television, so I challenge you to keep reading.)

González Esteva:

She threw herself
on the mercy of the seas
in a leaky ship;
as old as she is,
and frail as can be,
it's a wonder she didn't break her hip!
But with Gertrudis' grand arrival
Poetry incarnate will grace our proud nation
I've come all the way from Calle Ocho
to express to the poetess our deep admiration.

Key West Chorus:

Come, Avellaneda, come on, dear—
there are ever so many nice things here,
things you've never seen before,
like traffic jams, and Disneyworld,
mamey milkshakes, the Internet,
and thousands of kick-boxing poets.

    Acting out the words of the Chorus, thousands of poets (and poetesses, naturally) begin to kick at each other. While this is going on, Olga Guillot sings "I've got you under my skin." Key West goes dark. Now it's the Malecón's turn. From the zeppelin, a voice announces: "Now we will hear from an old horse thief and chameleon—can anybody guess who that might be? It's none other than—José Zacartas Talet!" José Zacarias Talet, who has just turned a hundred and one, climbs laboriously up onto the Malecón wall. The cheery voice of the color announcer is heard: "This old fellow, who's still so full of spirit, has just received the José Martí Order of Merit." The lights in Key West come up. José Martí is waving his hand, trying to say Oh, please—leave my name out of it! Key West goes dark and the Malecón comes up.

José Zacarias Talet:

Heavens, Tula, is this some kind of joke?
Turn your boat around and come back home!
You big overgrown goateed old biddy,
can't you just once show some pity?
Don't turn a deaf ear, or pretend you're blind—
have you no feeling for us who've stayed behind?
Why, for you I feel nothing but tremendous love
(though not unmixed with lingering remorse)

I wish I'd shown you this before—
Look at this prick,
look how it's still kickin'.
I might be a hundred and seven,
but this takes a licking and keeps on ticking!

    When he finishes his speech, Talet stumbles and falls flat on his back on the Malecón, allowing us to see that he is sporting a monster erection. We hear his raspy voice shouting "Nobody can take it all!" But two militia recruits carry him off on a stretcher.

Chorus of Rehabilitated Prostitutes: (wriggling and writhing as they look out at the sea)

Avellaneda, go away,
and don't come back another day.
If you do, we'll make your pay—
sticks and stones your bones will break.

Nyah! Nyah! And what's more— you're a dirty fat old whore!

    As the dance continues, Elena Burke (with that potbelly and outsized head of hers!) sings "Sentimental Me." Her bellowing and honking ends in a long moo-oo-oo. Now the light in the lighthouse of El Morro comes on. We see Avellaneda, whose boat is still being swamped by the rotten eggs thrown at her from Cuba and the chocolate bars from Key West. It has started to get dark, and night is coming on, but the spotlights of the helicopter and the lighthouse at El Morro make the glimmering ocean as bright as day. Even so, as Avellaneda rows, she begins to recite her famous poem "Night of sleeplessness and the light of morning."

Avellaneda: (tossing eggs and chocolate bars overboard)

now attired
in air
land ...

    Suddenly a huge screen is lowered at the back of the stage. On it we see a fat transvestite with long fake eyelashes and long curls, like Avellaneda's. S/he is wearing a crown of laurel. This is Zebro Sardoya (a.k.a. Chelo), who, wriggling her backside laboriously, begins to address the audience. While in the foreground we see Zebro Sardoya's face, behind it, on the ocean, we see Avellaneda's lips moving, but the sound has been cut off.

Zebro Sardoya: (looking quickly back at Avellaneda, then addressing the audience)

We're very sorry, but neither the BBC in London nor France-Radio nor any other news organization in the world can possibly carry that whole poem. I mean, it would totally spoil the show and turn it into a long lyrical bore! Oh, Gertrudis hon, forgive me, but I'm from Camagüey, and we have an old saying—"time is not poetry, it's golden." (And speaking of gold, that's what that sable-skinned hunk I was with last night was worth his weight in!) But anyway, folks—before returning to the escape that has us all sitting on the edge of our seats—look at me, I'm so tense I'm about to have a spasm, but they tell me there's not room for another single fairy in the hospitals!—let's pause for some very appealing commercials, which I understand have some information that is extremely important for your delicate health.... So-o-o-o, pay attention, everyone, please!

    Zebro Sardoya fades out and the screen is filled by a well-known Miami announcer. He has long sideburns and a huge moustache.

Announcer: (his voice hysterical and his eyes bugging out of their sockets)

Ladies and gentlemen, tonight for the first time we are proud to introduce Avellanela—a new milk shake that'll make your taste buds shake it! This all-natural product is made with (and I know you Cuban-American friends of mine out there will know what I'm talking about) avena, avellana, canela, and Vanilla!—Sure to become a habit! A taste-treat for your palate! Poetry for the taste buds! And lots tastier than Milwaukee suds!—So drink Avellanela! Made from the pure pulp and squeezing of that peerless poetess, our own Gertrudis! Don't make your stomach grovel for this gruel, this dietary poetry—give it Avellanela! And don't forget—it's got avena, avellana, canela, and Vanilla! Made by Goya for goys and gays and guys and dolls, for young pissers and old farts alike! And Avellanela comes in plastic or glass bottles— whichever you prefer. Goya—good foi ya!

    The announcer raises his arm, milk shake in hand. He takes a big swig and falls over dead. The movie screen is immediately lifted away and Key West lights up. Aerial shot of the key, from which the white shafts of arc lights, as though at a big movie premiere, swing back and forth across the sky. Hollywood stars begin to arrive, and they immediately try to steal the show or at least promote their latest pictures. Among the stars are Elizabeth Taylor (who says she supports Avellaneda's escape), Jane Fonda (who's opposed), and Joan Fontaine (neutral). There are also sports stars and an entire basketball team, which spontaneously begins to play a pickup game with some of the crowd. Among the sports figures is José Canseco, who declares that he's going to give a demonstration, right there, of his power as a homerun hitter. And sure enough, Canseco hits one so hard that the ball sails out of Key West and heads out to sea, where it hits Avellaneda in the chest, knocking her unconscious for a few seconds. While rumors fly that the presidential helicopter is about to land at any moment, there arrive, to the sound of snare drums, a delegation of radical feminist lesbians. On a broad lawn alongside the harbor of Key West, they give a demonstration of self-defense techniques, while the Guadalajara Symphony Orchestra accompanies them. When they complete their demonstration of martial arts (perfectly executed), the great poet Primigenio Florido steps up onto the stage.


Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

The Flight of Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda 3
A Tongue Twister (1) 62
"HM, top, seeking same..." 63
In the Monster Men's Room 69
A Tongue Twister (2) 73
Painting 74
The Seven Major Categories of Queenhood 78
Fairies on the Beach 80
A Prayer 83
A Letter 84
A Walking Tour Through Old Havana in the Company of Alejo Sholekhov 88
Buses or Turtles? 92
Oscar Flies by Night 100
A Journey to Holguin 102
A Journey to the Moon 108
A Tongue Twister (3) 109
Before Undertaking a Long Journey 110
Hell Hath No Fury Like a Fairy Spurned 115
A Journey by Train 116
The Story 125
A Tongue Twister (4) 129
Virgilio Pinera Reads His Evanescent Poems 130
For Bosch, She Noshes 136
Some Unsettling Questions 137
A Tongue Twister (5) 139
In the Monster Men's Room 140
A Tour of Inspection 144
Rosa's Little Pink Slippers, the Magic Ring, and the Seven-League Swim Fins 155
The Story 167
A Tongue Twister (6) 169
A Letter 170
Medicinal Immersions 176
A Tongue Twister (7) 179
The Party Begins 180
The Lock Queen 183
A Tongue Twister (8) 186
Nouveaux Pensees de Pascal, ou Pensees d'Enfer 187
The Super-Skewer 191
The Three Weird Sisters, Plus One 194
The Guest in Distress 197
The Death of Lezama 200
A Tongue Twister (9) 202
St. Nelly 203
The Story 209
A Tongue Twister (10) 211
The Four Major Categories of Tops 212
A Dying Mother 215
Crucifuckingfixion 219
The Anglo-Campesina 222
The Key to the Gulf 225
The Electric Venus 231
Coco Salas' Secret 232
A Tongue Twister (11) 236
The Seven Wonders of Cuban Socialism 237
In the Library 239
A Clarification by the Three Weird Sisters 240
A Scream in the Night (Though It Was Bright as Day) 241
A Tongue Twister (12) 249
Stool Pigeons 250
Foreword 252
A Tongue Twister (13) 257
The Condesa de Merlin 258
Impossible Dreams 270
At the Exit to El Morro Castle 272
Farewell to the Sea 280
Jose Lezama Lima's Lecture 281
A Tongue Twister (14) 293
A Letter 294
The Areopagite 298
A Tongue Twister (15) 307
Forbidden Costumes 308
The Areopagite's Story 309
A Tongue Twister (16) 313
A Fugitive's Toccata and Fugue 314
A Journey to the Moon 320
A Tongue Twister (17) 323
Monkeyshines 324
In El Morro Castle 327
The Story 334
A Tongue Twister (18) 335
The Confession of H. Puntilla 336
Skunk in a Funk 341
A Tongue Twister (19) 342
That Earthshaking Coupling 343
A Tongue Twister (20) 350
A Letter 351
The Death of Virgilio Pinera 354
A Tongue Twister (21) 358
The Trials and Tribulations of Young Teodoro Tampon 359
A Tongue Twister (22) 366
A Portrait of Luisa Perez de Zambrana 367
A Tongue Twister (23) 373
Clara's Hole 374
A Tongue Twister (24) 391
The Grand Oneirical Theological Political Philosophical Satirical Conference 392
A Prayer 407
A Tongue Twister (25) 409
The Garden of Computers 410
A Tongue Twister (26) 416
Ass-Wiggling and Backside-Swinging 417
A Tongue Twister (27) 421
The Dual Nature of the [Genius, Tyrant] 422
In the Monster Men's Room 425
A Tongue Twister (28) 431
The Lady of the Veil 432
Ass-Wiggling 436
A Tongue Twister (29) 438
The Elevation of the Holy Hammer 439
The Burial of Virgilio Pinera 443
The Departure 445
A Tongue Twister (The Last One) 446
Clara in Flames 447
Pandemonium 449
Message in a Bottle 453
The Story 455
Afterword 456
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