Miguel Barnet: Translations by George Henson


Cuban novelist, poet and ethnographer Miguel Barnet is perhaps best known for this testimonial novel Biography of a Runaway Slave. The winner numerous national and international literary awards, including the Premio Nacional de Literatura and the Premio Juan Rulfo, Barnet is the author of a ten books of poetry and five novels, as well dozens of essays on Afro-Cuban ethnography. His work has been translated into over a dozen languages. He is the founder and executive director of the Instituto Fernando Ortiz and is president of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba. Barnet resides in Havana.

George HensonBIO

George Henson is a translator of Latin American and Spanish prose and verse. His work has previously appeared in World Literature Today, The Kenyan Review, The Literary Review, and Puerto del Sol, and include works by Miguel Barnet, Andrés Neuman, Elena Poniatowska, Alberto Chimal, and Raquel Castro. His book-length translations include Elena Poniatowska’s The Heart of the Artichoke and Luis Jorge Boone’s The Cannibal Night. He is currently translating the memoir The Art of Flight by Mexican Sergio Pitol. George lives in Dallas, where he teaches Spanish at the University of Texas at Dallas.


19 y B

Aquí, donde está ahora el mercado libre campesino,
vivió la marquesa de Pinar del Río
que se llenó los pulmones de vidrio
y se hizo un nido azul en la cabeza
El mercado huele a coles podridas
y a flores de muerto
Yo compro mis hojas de caisimón,
mis berenjenas,
y trato de pasar inadvertido
mientras dos ancianas se disputan
las bolsas de plástico
y el que ríe sin dientes
me pide una moneda
El parqueador de la chaqueta roja
me reconoce pero no entra en el juego
Las mujeres miden su suerte
unas a otras
y gritan como si la vida empezara mañana
Yo siento un hueco invisible en el pecho
mientras voy llegando a mi casa
donde Isidore Lucien Ducasse de Flers,
Conde le Lautréamont
me espera para beber unas copas de ajenjo,
y olvidarnos del mundo.


19th and B

Here, where the farmers’ free market is now,
lived the Marquesa of Pinar del Río
who filled her lungs with glass
and built a blue nest on her head
The market smells of rotten cabbage
and sympathy flowers
I buy caisimón leaves
and eggplants,
and try to go unnoticed
while two old women fight over
plastic bags
and a man with a toothless laugh
asks me for coins
The parking attendant in the red vest
recognizes me but doesn’t let on
Women gauge
each other’s luck
and shout as if life were beginning tomorrow
I feel an invisible hole in my chest
as I find my way home
where Isidore Lucien Ducasse de Flers,
Conde de Lautréamont
waits for me to have a glass or two of absinthe,
so we can forget the world.



Para Charles Bukowsky

Este cuarto está lleno de moscas,
aquí no podemos quedarnos,
pero yo vi tus muslos pulposos
y pensé que era el momento
aun con las moscas y el olor a esencia dulzona
No solo era el momento sino que te abracé
para decirte algo que no ibas a entender
y me fumé un cigarro
porque tú solo veías moscas
Algún día será diferente
y no me sentiré culpable
Algún día no habrá moscas
y será como celebrar un cumpleaños
en un jardín con una fuente de aguas iridiscentes
Algún día no habrá moscas…


For Charles Bukowski

There are flies in this room,
we can’t stay here,
but I saw your fleshy thighs
and thought it was the moment
even with the flies and the smell of sugary essence
It wasn’t just the moment, rather I embraced you
to tell you something that you wouldn’t understand
and I smoked a cigarette
because you only saw flies
Someday it will be different
and I won’t feel guilty
Someday there won’t be flies
and it will be like celebrating a birthday
in a garden with a fountain with iridescent water
Someday there won’t be flies…



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