What Do I Have?

Illustration by Carlos

Well, Poet, and now what? Let’s see: Do I have? … What I had to have?

HAVANA TIMES – Each stanza, each line of this poem by the Cuban poet Nicolas Guillen, whose relevance today leaves us speechless, is worth dedicating a program of the nightly TV Round Table show to analyze it and discuss it with the breadth, depth and detail that it merits.

I Have

by Nicolás Guillén

Translated by J.A. Sierra

When I see and touch myself,
I, Juan with Nothing only yesterday,
and Juan with Everything today,
and today with everything, 
I turn my eyes and look,
I see and touch myself,
and ask myself, how this could have been.

I have, let’s see,
I have the pleasure of going about my country,
owner of all there is in it,
looking closely at what
I did not or could not have before.
I can say cane,
I can say mountain,
I can say city,
say army,
now forever mine and yours, ours,
and the vast splendor of
the sunbeam, star, flower.

I have, let’s see,
I have the pleasure of going,
me, a farmer, a worker, a simple man,
I have the pleasure of going
(just an example)
to a bank and speak to the manager,
not in English,
not in “Sir,”but in compañero as we say in Spanish.

I have, let’s see,
that being Black
no one can stop me at the door of a dance hall or bar.
Or even on the rug of a hotel
scream at me that there are no rooms,
a small room and not a colossal one,
a tiny room where I can rest.

I have, let’s see,
that there are no rural police
to seize me and lock me in a precinct jail,
or tear me from my land and cast me
in the middle of the highway.

I have that having the land I have the sea,
no country clubs,
no high life,
no tennis and no yachts,
but, from beach to beach and wave on wave, 
gigantic blue open democratic:
in short, the sea.

I have, let’s see, 
that I have learned to read, 
to count, 
I have that I have learned to write,
and to think,
and to laugh.
I have… that now I have
a place to work
and earn
what I have to eat.
I have, let’s see,
I have what I had to have.

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2 thoughts on “What Do I Have?

  • This poem was written by Guillen many decades ago. I remember being a child when he first read it next to Fidel Castro. Guillen was talking of the supposed discrimination he felt before Castro took power to implement socialism.
    Ironically every word of this poem today is a reality in Cuba. Generalized Poverty, discrimination, police brutality, racism, xenophobia, hunger, lack of all freedoms, violation of human rights are the daily routine on the island of Cuba.
    Guillen was a privileged citizen protected by the Castro regimen who by the way he was also a well known pedophile of 14 year old boys and the government knew it but as long as you’re unconditional to the communist cuban government you can get away with murder.

  • The people of Cuba only have repression and poverty. 60 tears of dictatorship and nothing works, free education Just Like everywhere else in Latino America , but the difference is in Cuba the government who teaches how to read and write to its people tells the ppl What to read and what to Write. 20% of Cuban population lives in exile, and Cuba that in 1958 had the third high standard of living in Latino America today is competing with Haiti.

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