Alberto Lauro was born in 1959 in Holguin, Cuba. Poet, writer, he has received several literary prizes in Cuba where his published collections 'Con la misma furia de la primavera' ( With the Same Fury of Spring) 1986 ; 'Los tesoros del duende', reasures of the Goblin)1987 ; 'Acuarelas' (Water Colors) 1980 ; as well as 'Parabolas y otros poemas' (Parables and other poems) published in Barcelona in 1987.
For Reinaldo Arenas
[published in RN 09 Caribbean in December 1992, unpublished original text written in Spanish-Cuba translated by Orlando Alomá]
A beautiful boy, a 15 - year - old murderer, reads your name with disgust from a urinal’ s wall.
He will climb again the stairs to your room.
There your prononce augure another void.
Suicide in the snow.
Alberto Lauro, in ’Conversations with Rimbaud’
The struggle has been hard.
The devil has been vicious to you.
You tried to whip him
off your body. You seized him
With a haircloth. It was useless.
There he was,
hurling the ashes
of bitter words
on the mire of your heart.
Lord, I pray to you for my brother.
Stand by him
in his final moments. And when he comes to you
tell him : « Let’s go. »
Like the thief
awoke in your kingdom.
Alberto Lauro, in ’Words in the Desert’
Last conversations with Reinaldo Arenas
The images that I have of Reinaldo Arenas blur and gradually he becomes more sharply defined in the impalpable kingdom of the memory. One of my last conversations with him took place in the summer of 1990. I was in a remote spot in Italy and he was in New York. I didn't record the conversation. I didn't want to preserve the voice of someone who was fully conscious of death, of his total oblivion, for Rei – that is how, we, his friends called him, – was a convinced atheist. Only a brief instant was necessary to re-establish the magic between us that his conversation, full of wisdom and biting, corrosive irony, conjured up. He played at being ’l'enfant terrible’* of Cuban literature. That fascinated him. Life, for him, was literature. And vice versa. At almost the same age as Raymond Radiguet was when he was writing ’Le Diable au corps’, he was finishing his first novel, ’Celestino antes del alba’ (The Well), which made him famous. He had previously written another that he considered simply as an exercise. ’Celestino antes del alba’ was praised by Alejo Carpentier, Virgilio Pinera, José Lezama Lima, Eliseo Diego, Cintio Vitio and all the famous names of Cuban literature. He paid a high price for his audaciousness, a price too high for his fundamentally innocent intention. His malice, even when directed against his closest friends, was only meant to entertain. He was misunderstood. This ambiguity amused him.
On the other end of the telephone, he spoke to me, delighted with this device invented by men to deceive borders. I guessed his nervousness underlying his carefully chosen words, contrary to his normal verbal quickness, similar to that of his mother. He said it amused him to read my letters to our mutual friends where I wrote about Holguin. This town, situated in the interior of the country, where we were born and where we had, at different periods, spent the first years of our childhoods and our young teenage years, was the background of his novel ’El palacio de las blanquisimas mofetas’ (The Palace of the very white skunks). In this book, as in his collections’Comienza el desfile’ (The parade begins) or ’Bestial entre las flores’ (Bestial parmi les fleurs)**, figure those friends he has described with incomparable grace. As I knew both the reality and the literary fiction, I could enjoy his talent with delicious complicity.
He asked me for news of those still in Cuba – the son of the painter Ponce de Léon, the painter Armando Gomez, Delfin Prats, the painter Clara Morera... – and others, amongst whom figured some who would have deserved to receive a certificate like those he had sent ’officially’ and according to the rules and by which he indicated to his correspondants their exclusion from his circle of friends ; he had sent one of these certificates to the poet Nicolas Guillén. He recounted from beginning to end, a novel that he wanted to write about Clara. She was finally surprised by the police plagiarizing the paintings of Heironymous Bosch so well that the critics even doubted the existence of the painter. Before being imprisoned, she transformed her house and her paintings into a huge funeral-pyre. It is an ending similar to that of his story ’La vieja Rosa’ (La vieille Rosa)**, one of his most remarkable literary writings, I believe. To this, he answered that for Clara, in such a context, he could see no other issue.
He asked me to visit his mother. She had become a creature helpless confronted with her solitude. At the wake of the writer Virgilio Pinera, I remember a young playwright with very blue eyes, who came up to Reinaldo. He told him that the dead man had thought that no writer of his stature had been born since Lezama Lima and Cabrera Infante. I do not know his reaction. Someone assured me that he cried. What is certain, is that he left. The embalmers had not replaced the corpse when the funeral began. Reinaldo reappeared. We thought you had left – someone said. No – he replied, parodying the famous poem of Césaire – I went to celebrate with a cup of coffee the return of the dead man to his native country.
He spoke to me of those people who had been essential to him in those last years : the film-maker Néstor Almendros, the writer Roberto Valero, the Cuban painter, living in Paris, Jorge Camacho and his wife... Afterwards he spoke to me again of his mother, the person preferred. And finally, he came to one of his favorite subjects : Havana. It was his source of inspiration, as was the Cuban colonial novel ’Cecilia Valdés’ by Cirilio Villaverde for the writing of ’La Loma del Angel’ (The Hill of the Angel), one of the most acid and ruthless visions in the history of Cuba. He wandered through Havana, by day seeking elusive nourishment and by night, in the hope of finding some furtive love. He wanted his ashes to be scattered from the jetty so that beautiful young men, half naked, like gods or Greek ephebes, held in the arms of the foam of the waves, should dive into them.
He insisted that I photocopy all my notes, poems and manuscripts of my journeys in Switzerland and Italy, at the same time as I was replying to the invitations from the Universities of Fribourg and Neuchâtel. He read me passages from the book of his memoiries ’Antes que anochezca’ (Before the night), which had just been published in Paris. I was moved by the passage of the meeting with other Cuban writers who, like officials - hindered his career and made his life unbearable on the island. Rei contacted them again and forgave them. His pity wiped out every trace of hatred.
He started to talk to me again about the photocopies and the manuscripts. He had become completely paranoid, for several of his texts had never been found. Whenever he finished a text, he copied it and distributed it to his friends. I promised him to do the same. And I did. Shortly afterwards, I returned to Havana. I had to submit to a rigorous investigation by the police at Cuba airport. I was questioned and arrested. I was made to undress. They found the addresses of Arenas, Gaston Baquero, Eugenio Florit and other Cuban writers in exile. They searched in my diary. The Customs police officer, transformed into an enquiring reader, found the proof that I had spoken to Reinaldo. From that moment on, he became particularly brutal. They found only a little money (in dollars), brought from Switzerland and destined for the Cuban painter Manero, already very ill with a brain tumor, from which, later he died.
That money was the pretext for a trial and I was obliged to pay a fine. The money was confiscated. My manuscripts too.
When you go to Florence, write your names on a wall somewhere ; that was his last wish. His life was a devastating chaos thirsting after passions, as if he had been one more character in his novel ’El mundo alucinante’ (The hallucinating world), which received in Paris, the Prix Médicis for the best foreign novel while he was living in Cuba as a beggar. He loathed the idea of aging. He always spoke of suicide as the only possible way out. Premonitory words. His contempt for life was, at the same time of loving it and of laughing at death.
Before returning to Havana, I sent him, from Switzerland, a photo of the painter Clara Morera and myself, together with one of our friend, Francine Rosenbaum whom he had christened ’the Helvetic fairy’. With the photos, I posted two poems I had dedicated to him in two unpublished collections. ’Conversaciones con Rimbaud’ (Conversations with Rimbaud) and ’Palabras en el desierto’ (Words in the desert). If he liked these poems he was to telephone me at Francine's where I was staying in an old windmill, full of charm and mystery, right in the middle of an Italian countryside devastated by drought, near Andorra. The telephone was to ring three times. I fixed an hour and a day.
The illness which undermined him progressed inexorably. At the agreed time, the telephone rang. Three long rings in the early hours in the countryside, drowned by the song of the crickets, the ocean of stars and the soft, peaceful breathing of the friend who lay not far from me. I did not answer, so as not to say goodbye. I still hope to see him again one day.
* In French in the text
** Ed: in 'Termina el desfile' (End of Parade)