“Identity, in the end, is a well-founded illusion, desire more than reality,” writes Víctor Rodríguez Núñez, an acclaimed poet who travels regularly to his native Cuba. “Am I someone from Cuba living in the United States or, after twenty years, someone from the United States visiting Cuba? What’s important is that I don’t always write about Cuba or in Cuba, but always from Cuba.” The Bulletin asked Rodríguez Núñez to reflect, in poetry, about this question of identity. He responded with three poems from his most recent book that spring from the experience of flying back to Ohio from Cuba, arriving at the airport and returning home — evocative expressions of personal journey.

[Ohio River Valley]

ya viene el horizonte
puedo escuchar su luz
                                         que tropieza con todo
y me deja la piel con sabor a jengibre

ya se deja empuñar
la z materna del río Ohio
sus fábricas de noche electoral
sus almacenes de desasosiego

ya las casas en mí
como remaches sobre el fuselaje
de un avión en el iris de un tornado

y el descenso hacia ti
                                     sonrisa izquierda
y el abrigo que me empieza a extrañar


[Ohio River Valley]

now comes the horizon
I can hear its light
                               trip on everything
it leaves my skin with a taste of ginger

now letting itself be gripped
the Ohio River’s maternal z
its election night factories
its anxiety warehouses

now the homes in me
like rivets on the fuselage
of a plane in the iris of a tornado

and the descent toward you
                                                leftist smile
and the winter coat beginning to miss me


[27 Mallard Pointe]

de súbito en tu casa
                                   que ya no reconoces
ni te reconoce peor aún
aunque has dejado fibras de ADN

en todas sus aristas
y has cargado contigo varios cielos
algún fondo de mar
ya ves no te será dado volver

a orillas de este lago imaginado
se olvidará tu lengua
se dirán cosas con letras inútiles

no te quites esa sombra arrugada
ni la mirada zurda
aquí también eres un extranjero


[27 Mallard Pointe]

suddenly at the home
                                      you no longer recognize
and worse still doesn’t recognize you
though you’ve left DNA fibers

on all its edges
and you’ve lugged with you various skies
some sea bottoms
now you know no return for you

at the shores of this imagined lake
your language will be forgotten
things with useless letters uttered

don’t shake off that wrinkled shadow
or the leftist gaze
here you’re a stranger too


[Port Columbus]

hace una eternidad
que te espero
                         aquí y en todas partes
en este instante y nunca

yo no puedo acudir donde tú esperas
he perdido el compás
soy norte impreciso
                                   reloj de luna 

como el avión inmóvil
en el añil con otra dirección
vadeo las tormentas los tormentos

en el punto de origen y final
pese a la renuncia a la puntuación
juego este solitario consonante


[Port Columbus] 

it’s been an eternity
waiting for you
                           here and everywhere
this instant and never

I can’t get to where you’re waiting
I’ve missed a beat
I’m imprecise north

like the motionless plane
in the indigo with another direction
I wade through the tempests the torments

at the point of origin and end
despite giving up punctuation
I play this consonant solitaire


Professor of Spanish Víctor Rodríguez Núñez has won numerous awards for his poetry, most recently the Loewe Foundation International Poetry Prize for despegue [departure] (Madrid: Visor, 2016). Much of his work has been translated by Professor of Spanish Katherine M. Hedeen, whom he describes as his “partner in work and life.” Both joined Kenyon’s faculty in 2001.

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