Exchange between Two Cuban Poets

By Lynn Cruz

HAVANA TIMES — In the same way that news traveled in old times, from hand to hand, Rafael Alcides received the criticism that writer Nestor Diaz de Villegas, another Cuban poet but in exile in the United States, leveled against him in a review of the documentary Nadie (Nobody) directed by Miguel Coyula, where Alcides plays the lead character.

In spite of Nestor attacking him because he once believed in the system and I quote: “Alcides doesn’t admit that a death wish, a desire to destroy, and not only joy, had to exist, inside himself.”

However, Alcides never seemed to be offended by any of this, on the contrary, he admired it: “He’s a poet,” he said, “even when he hurts somebody’s feelings he does so in an elegant manner… an agitator, he has the vision of somebody on the other side of the Florida Strait.”

“Maybe, Alcides and his generation are more reprehensible after they confessed,” Nestor refers to him in another part of his article.

Rafael Alcides and Nestor Diaz de Villegas

Mystery enshrouds the figure of the critic, who loved and hated Alcides the character, who he only knew from the screen.

In the end, director Coyula began to communicate with Nestor, and a month later, on May 13th, a memorable event took place between the two poets at Alcides’ house. A moment captured for all eternity.

Alcides calls him: “The last great friend.” Nestor returns this assessment.

While listening to them speak, I think about the fact that it was a movie which has brought them together, or maybe not.

Nestor was a radical whose youth was cut short in the euphoria of the revolutionary process. He went to prison for five years because of his poems, when he was still a teenager.

Alcides, a romantic, never emigrated, but is a ghost among writers of his generation and all choked up he says: “You know Nestor, I feel responsible, I contributed to building this prison.”

With Nestor’s sentence to prison, his parents were stigmatized in an era where being considered a counter-revolutionary was repudiated by the majority. His father was kicked out of the ranks of the Cuban Communist Party, his son was a “rotten apple”.

In this present moment of solitude, they recognize each other, they shudder… two poetic souls come together. It’s not that their pain has stopped; it’s just become poetry instead.

“The Revolution is incapable of creating enthusiasm, of reviving people’s faith and transforming it into art,” Nestor also writes, referring to the discourse in the film Nadie.

Seeing them together, listening to them together, helped me unveil a part of the mystery. I had thought about them in different circumstances and from different generations, but standing together for the same cause, they suffer from ostracism on the island.

I asked myself, what would have become of them, if Cuban artists and intellectuals hadn’t approved Fidel Castro’s words to intellectuals speech in 1961? Twelve years before Nestor received his sentence, they had signed his death sentence. It was never clear what being on the “inside” or “outside” of the Revolution was supposed to mean or even what exactly the “revolution” was was never specified.

Nestor Diaz de Villegas, el director Miguel Coyula y Rafael Alcides.

It was as subjective as art itself, susceptible to any kind of interpretation.

Time has joined them together in the final judgement, in the face of the death of an ideology which isn’t precisely the death of ideas as such.

In the late evening, Alcides asked angrily: And why do you keep coming back to this country Nestor, after everything it has done to you?

And just like Odysseus who returns to Ithaca, he replies: “because I feel the other Nestors multiplied across the island.”

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