Leaving Havana

Leaving Havana
By Adrián Valdés-Montalván

Leaving Havana

I don’t have a little Chinese dog
to which I can to say “goodbye.”
I don’t have a pencil, I don’t have a ballpoint pen,
my properties are few.
”Homeland is not humanity”; it is true that Marti said so,
but experience indicates the opposite.
Passports exist, borders exist.
I look at my mother’s face
I look at her wrinkles;
where I am going, a woman of her age
can even be considered young.
I am in “our house”;
finally, I can feel something like affection
when I say “our house”.
She has been witness of all our miseries,
witness of all our precarious utopias,
witness of all our useless sacrifices.
I caress the snow in my grandpa’s hair,
he has just entered his nineties;
he knows and I know
he can barely wait until my return
to see each other again:
He will leave,
I will leave,
We must leave.
I leave my familiar deeds:
I leave my heart,
It weighs too much.
I will think in English.
I will speak in French.
I will try to remember in Spanish.

My Little Homeland

It is not what they say
about your so blue sky or
the palms (those desperate and obstinate widows)
persisting under an apocalyptic sun.
It is not the folklore
nor your strange economy that is
what is good to remember.
Perhaps an irredeemable feeling to enjoy life
in spite of everything
or the ingenuous conviction
it was enough to leave.
Perhaps the friends
although most of them also have escaped
to the four corners of the world.
Or perhaps the family who supposes
you will obtain what you look for
because you are intelligent
and you have enough courage.
The world is not what was said to us.
Outside is not so bad
but neither not so good.
Anyway, to survive is so difficult
that an emigrant must send his feelings
back home, there,
to that small island,
stopped in time,
where life could be
comfortably miserable.
My homeland, I spent so much time fleeing from you
that fleeing has lost its meaning;
You are like a bad tasting bolero
that one is forced but barely finishes.

Love Letters

A long time ago when my world was an island
from which I wanted to flee
I wrote and received love letters.
I wanted to live in that world where love letters come from.
They were the black holes by which I could realize that the world
was wider than my island.
Women I loved and some of them loved me.
I sent those letters by several ways to the place
I was supposed to go someday
but these letters and I were delayed for so long
that we became strangers.
Women I loved and all of them forgot me.
In this gray landscape with McDonald’s clouds and Pepsi Cola rivers
having so many memories can be a disadvantage.

Letters I read and tear up without too much emotion.

Day After

Those peaceful days following the chaos,
those strange days in which you wake up
with the sensation that all that happened
didn’t happen to you or maybe it happened
to another who exists under your skin
and sometimes, takes your place when the door is left open by negligence
and the soul’s sewers flood us
with their so barely refined scent.
You could have done crazy things
because your feelings went further each time.
Everybody warned you but you’re as stubborn as a goat
and you decided with her you don’t need to play by the rules.
You decided. You could walk naked in the snow,
you decided to create a woman from your rib.
Yes, you now ask yourself how it could be.
However, you felt everything as real as your confusion
caused by this comfortable emptiness where you live,
as real as the awareness
that loneliness is a rent that must be paid on time.
The landlady loves you as if you were her son.
That’s why she brings you candies
and this is not part of her duties.
She is really kind and
you also have people who love you.
You could even have died and been glad to go.
But life goes on.

Never Ask

There is a girl,
little and fragile,
unlike the models, the stars and the greenhouse flowers.
This girl that I speak about
took my heart and it isn’t her fault:
She did everything she could to avoid it.
An iron serpent rescued her from my subjunctive desires.
I close my eyes and my room is once again inhabited by her savage laughter;
I cover my ears and once again her moans deafen me.

She is able to teach you how to be happy
even if you don’t want to,
but like the tides she will fold on herself if you try to retain her.
This girl with a non-definable nose and a set of beautiful imperfections
would make fun of this poem because she doesn’t believe in words,
would make fun of my anguish because the pain bores her,
would make fun of me because she loves me only if I remain peaceful
and calm like a summer landscape.

Someone told me: “If you want something serious with her, just forget it.”
That girl doesn’t want any kind of ties.
Never ask what you don’t want to hear.

In A Fountain In Montreal

In a fountain in Montreal,
close enough to the Old Port,
I threw some cents to buy my desire.
From all points of view
falling stupidly in love
is a stupid thing to do.
”I want a friendship,” she said,
”an everlasting friendship, even if we don’t have sex anymore.”
I tried so hard to build exactly what she asked me.
In those days, I was so enthusiastic
and obsessive.
I was so proud of our friendship, I was a believer of our elevated association
that even smashing my nose against the ground,
I was unable to understand the difference between the excuse of a dream and the stinky truth.
If you blindly believe in someone
you can get hurt.
I live in impermanence,
snow covers everything here.
I suffer to adapt myself,
I suffer and pay the consequences.
In a fountain in Montreal,
close enough to the Old Port
I was swindled by the God of the small miracles.


If it would be as simple as saying “this is my place”
or “that’s where I came from”
emigration wouldn’t be a serious problem.
”You’re going to begin a new life,” they say.
When you didn’t do that before
it seems as logical as your skin melting.
Between the island I carry
and the country of the children I don’t have
there’s the sea, a space
where so many unfortunate people remain,
without peace or grave, those
who didn’t reach the mainland.
I have what they didn’t have.
America let me in
finally, I already begin to be part of it.
I should feel happy for it
but in fact, it’s a burden.
I am another little grain of Diaspora
diluted in the nostalgia of a country
to which already I can’t return.
I am not a four-sided Cuban anymore,
one side belongs here or
at least, it no longer belongs there.
Wiping my little nephew’s ass
I could hear his tender voice saying “thank you.”
I understood then what is called the second generation of immigrants.
I now understand those people who kill themselves in the subway
but nobody in Cuba could ever understand
how it’s possible to commit suicide when your stomach is full.
I listen to the tourists who return satisfied.
I would be happy, too, if it were possible for me
to be there with money whenever I want.
How is it possible to flee from paradise?
I know the answers but I don’t want to get depressed.
I must go to work and smile as everybody expects.
Let’s face it:
Though I have no great ambitions,
I have a survival instinct at least.
Far away from Cuba,
far away from Havana,
far away from home
I ask myself if my house still exists
while I pay rent for a room.
Montreal is a good place under the sun
but no one will miss me if I am not here anymore.
That’s what is called rootlessness.

The Language You Speak

The language you speak talks about the heads carried as trophies by Roman legions for Trajano. The language you speak knew the Byzantine discussions, knew the merciless appearing of the Turks, knew the Soviet Big Brother and knows the deceptive calm of the Black Sea.

The language you speak has the Latin declinations Latin lost in the route of Santiago.
It never translated the new world and in the country where I come from none try to learn it except some erudite jinetero or the staff of the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

The language you speak is something I never thought to learn.


Habanidad de habanidades
todo es vanidad
y todo se desvanece
excepto ella
la ciudad, que perdura
y el tiempo,
siempre el tiempo.
La ciudad tiene un muro
similar a otros muros
pero un poco más discreto.
Al otro lado el mar
un cementerio azul e inmenso
como azul es el cielo
como azul es la esperanza
ay, perdón, me equivoqué
la esperanza es casi verde.
La ciudad lleva a Dios sobre sus hombros
y de noche abre sus piernas
al que mejor le pague
la ciudad tiene extranjeros
que caminan despacio y tiran fotos.
Ellos cuentan como es el mundo fuera
y si logras viajar puedes contarlo también
y caminar despacio y, por supuesto,
tirar fotos.
La ciudad tiene moscas
la ciudad tiene mosquitos
pero las moscas sólo acosan al turista
los mosquitos, en cambio, son muy poco selectivos.
A las moscas las multa el policía,
al mosquito lo extermina
el ejercito del humo.
Cuando pienso que toda mi existencia
ha girado y gira en torno a este
pedazo de concreto que limita la ciudad
y aparece en las postales
me pregunto si es que puede
existir algo más hermoso.

Adrián Valdés-Montalván: Born in Havana, Cuba, in 1972, Adrián Valdés-Montalván has lived for several years in Montreal, Canada, where he works as a graphic designer. Adrián is a talented visual artist and poet, who will graduate in July with his Attestation d’etudes collegiales in Graphic Design and Multimedia; he graduated from the San Alejandro Fine Arts Academy in Cuba. Adrián speaks four languages, Spanish, English, French, and Portuguese. Visit Adrián at www.aedesigns.com/adrianfvaldesm/index.htm

Leaving Havana © Adrián Valdés-Montalván 2007, 2012