Maria Matienzo Puerto

Ernesto Cardenal..photo: smith.edu

With a long cut on her face, she seemed to have nothing to do with me; nevertheless the two of us were entering the church. Maybe she’d pray for her husband who beats her. I was going to make devotions for my partner who left me without leaving a trace.

I lost interest in prayer and stopped to contemplate her, wearing clothes that I’d never wear, and a gesture that unwittingly came off as disdainful or looked dirty. She knelt too close to me, so I got up and left.

Once home and inside my house I sought solace in my books, though I didn’t stop thinking about that woman. I randomly opened a book that I identified at that moment. It read, “Every woman is a woman at the well. The well is deep. And at the mouth of the well sits Jesus.” Ernesto Cardenal made me calm down.

I wondered: What do my eyes have in common with the “police and the clerk and the adventurer and the murderer and the revolutionary and the dictator and the saint…” and with that woman at the church. Is it that I too am longing to get to heaven?

But I didn’t try to understand. Cardenal is like when a child wonders about what will happen after the earth or the universe, or what’s in that black hole you see when they show you the film at the planetarium and you always end up feeling sorry for yourself for having asked the first question.

Reading him means going through a complex mental state. His writing is feeling that within all of this you’re small, and suddenly — as if you’ve bitten one of Alice’s pies — you’ll begin to grow and all the rest will end up being small. At first it’s something like hysteria; then it’s like leaning out of a window and going out and interacting with the landscape that touches you, but at the same time doesn’t.

It’s being aware that you can be dragged into being sensitive, into the mystical — no matter what it is — and that you’ll believe it. He relies on forms and feelings that make people and nature seem better than they really are.

Although his language is clear (he makes understanding more complicated processes simple), like things that are omitted you can’t stop thinking about how much is in his dark, mysterious and hermetic message.

What he transmits is a burst of spirituality: a void full of things. That is the greatness of the man who drives you to doubt whether God really exists. “And when the lover says that the eyes of his beloved shine brighter than the stars, he’s not speaking a hyperbaton (…) because in those eyes appears the light of intelligence and love, that the Golden Sigma or Alpha Lyrae or Antares don’t have.”

And if “trees, the rocks, lizards and rabbits, meteors and the comets and stars are holy for us,” then is God really God for us?

But in unison there is so much of the greatness of God that it shows that it’s impossible not to also believe in his existence, which is so broad that the poet doesn’t limit his image to the likeness of humans: “It’s such that we’re made of stars, or rather the whole cosmos is made of our own flesh. (…) And it’s also in the mystical body of Christ, which is all of us and that in reality is the entire creation.”

This God transcends everything, forming a part of us. “He’s like a movie that doesn’t begin to be seen on the screen until you close the doors and turn off the lights”; he is to look inward and, like in antiquity, to categorize the deeply sensitive soul and the rational entity that acquires immediate knowledge of the divine reality only if it exceeds any experience of the senses.

It is an inner feeling that we can obtain through meditation, ecstasy or intuition. It is a state located “between perception and reality.” It is the negation of oneself to find self-definition, the divine discovery.

I think his greatness lies in believing both in the unlimited power of God as in that of the person who leads to human self-sufficiency: Are we really so large that a star is made from our flesh? I don’t dare to doubt it.

So not only Eve, but also the land that was created for Adam, the man, was flesh of his flesh and bone of his bones. Cardenal is a summary of universal breath that includes all mysticism no matter under what name it appears “because the arms of the human soul have been created to embrace the infinite and nothing more…”

The thing is to flow with his poetry, with nature and ourselves, “discovering this pattern, the drawing unit that runs through all creation, and seeing how the most different things are also the same…” Succeeding at seeing the truth that tells us it’s here, there, somewhere, and we can’t see it.

Then I felt sorry for the woman in the church who was perhaps seeking a God who she would never find where she was looking. And I felt doubly sorry for me: firstly for my not having tolerated her presence, and secondly for believing that that with knowledge I could find him and be saved.

And if “smoking might also be a prayer, or painting a picture, or looking at the sky or drinking water,” then I hope this reading has made a prayer for both of us.


Maria Matienzo

Maria Matienzo Puerto: I dreamed once that I was a butterfly who had come from Africa and discovered that I had been alive for thirty years. From that time on, I constructed my world while I was sleeping: I was born in a magic city like Havana; I dedicated myself to journalism; I wrote and edited books for children; I met to discuss art with wonderful people; I fell in love with a woman. Of course, there are certain points of coincidence with the reality of my waking life and it’s that I prefer the silence of reading and the pleasure of a good movie.

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