Screams of Pain and Pride: The World According to GH
Georgina Herrera, on her balcony in Alamar
Georgina Herrera, or GH, as she is frequently called by her fans, is not someone that you can keep quiet. And that’s a good thing, if you ask me–and you kind of did, if you are reading my blog entry.
Born into poverty, “isolated and misunderstood” by her family (as Paula Sanmartín says), given no opportunity for education but plenty of discrimination because of the color of her skin, she has plenty to scream about. So she does. The bilingual collection of poetry Always Rebellious/ Cimarroneando, with beautiful translations by Juanamaria Cordones – Cook, gives loud and strong expression to the world according to GH.
A self-taught poet philosopher, GH contemplates the rigors of the Middle Passage of her forbears, the suffering inherent in being a black woman, and how she has broken out of her own metaphorical shackles to find a true voice that can’t be ignored. By the force of her poetry, she draws me, a white woman, in to comprehend just a little bit more what my family was spared, what I am spared on a daily basis, even though many of her verses resonate for me, as a woman from a working class home.
Still I can’t overlook my shared guilt in centuries of inequities, and I must strive to understand as much as possible my own privilege, to respect just how much a woman like GH has had to struggle maintaining the ferocity of her pride amid so much pain.
“On those ramparts
Still damp, on the walls
Which the rain and sobs from long ago
Wore down and also
Made eternal, I lay my hands.
Though my fingers, I hear
Moans, curses, swearing
From those who quietly resisted for centuries
The fangs of the whip on their flesh.” (From “The Slave Quarters”)
Of your favorite pendants
Are drops of blood, taken from the veins
Of Oweni and many,
Many more.” (From “Messages Arrive at the Royal Palace”)
GH shows that the pain of her history is great, but does not overshadow the suffering of today:
“Who will hand me, on loan,
His feet, his heart,
His entire body and both his arms,
This long journey of return?
And then, once
I’m in place, who
Will lend me his hands,
His handkerchiefs, all
The vessels in the world
So many old tears
Will offer me their wholesome welcome?” (“Doubt”)
As moving as is her scream of pain, her masterful shout of pride and empowerment is what truly makes this reader’s heart soar. Here I find hope for myself, inspiration to move beyond blame, to dig deep within my gut for the strength to change myself, my little corner of the world. She left home young, made it to the city of Havana, where soon her promise was nurtured, her value measured, by a few key people–like Nancy Morejón. And despite ongoing difficulties, people in high places who didn’t appreciate her blunt honesty, she flowered into a generous, compassionate and passionate woman.
“It begins with you
The unusual task (almost magic)
Of growing toward love
Like a dark, strong stem
From. Rare wheat…” (From “Last Tribute as a Little Girl”)
Her poetry gives her a way to grow spiritually, intellectually, “earning my place, defending my glory and my right.” (From “The Bright Day”) she comes to believe that her past can not be a ball and chain for ever, keeping her down. Instead, she sees:
“A risky and grand legacy.
I go for it.” (From “Turmoil”)
“Oh, you body of ancestral wood
My faith and my heart: Iya!
You are the one who gives me true life
I cry your name as if a queen, and I free myself.” (From “Iya”)
Even at 80 years old in fulsome glory and self-confidence, thus, she leaves her own legacy of self-knowledge and power, for her own children, and for all of us who can see even a shred of ourselves within her:
“The portrait of what I am
Remains fixed between my eyes.
It scares me, then later, I accept myself.
Intact in my body
Remains a time
Of distant splendor.
Where there was glory
Nothing will be defeated, and, thus,
My hands reconcile
With what they feel, when
Grateful, I touch myself.” (From “Second Time Before a Mirror”)
Always Rebellious/Cimarroneando is available at http://www.csuchico.edu/Cubanabooks, at your local independent bookstore, or on Amazon. Georgina
Herrera will be on tour in the USA spring 2015–contact firstname.lastname@example.org about booking an appearance.