Leon Retief. Glen Sorestad in Kuba



Ter inligting aan nuwe lesers van Versindaba en om moontlik ‘n paar geheues te verfris: Glen Sorestad is ‘n Saskatoonse digter en een van die leidende figure van die prêrie-digkuns. Ek is al ‘n paar jaar met hom bevriend en van sy gedigte het al op hierdie webwerf verskyn. Na ‘n onlangse besoek aan Kuba het ek die volgende van hom ontvang:

 Cuba is one of the many small islands in the Caribbean Sea lying between North and South America and as such, it is a popular tourist destination, especially for Canadians who have had an interesting historical attachment to Cuba since 1959 when Fidel Castro took over control of the island. Canada has been a supporter of the island nation, whose north shore lies only fifty miles or so south of the southern tip of Florida, a nation which has been almost peevishly blockaded by the U.S. since 1960. My wife and I have made three trips to Cuba and have come to be fascinated with the island and its people, so much so that I fear we have both fallen in love with the Cuban people. Despite the incredible hardships ordinary Cubans have faced for over 50 years as a people blockaded by the world’s most powerful nation, the Cubans have proved themselves a most remarkable people. One of the most highly educated nations in the world, Cuba and its people are also among the most talented artistically and nowhere is that more evident than in their completely remarkable musical scene. We immensely enjoy our time in Cuba with these friendly, hospitable and unusually gifted people. I hope my poems are a reflection of how highly we regard the Cuban people we’ve met and how privileged we feel to be welcomed into their midst.

Glen beplan om ten minste sommige van hierdie gedigte, heel moontlik in verwerkte vorm, in te sluit in ‘n bundel wat voorlopig die titel het van Dancing with Dinosaurs: Cuban Poems.

It All Began With 82


It’s all so utterly preposterous.

Really, just think about it.

Can anything be more brash,

more completely outrageous?

Imagine what Clint Eastwood

could do with a story like this!

Start with a small armed force —

a rag-tag army, aiming to overthrow

a firmly entrenched dictator

with an assault from the sea

in a single landing craft

(named Granma, for pity’s sake!),

an invading army of 82 men!

Look, I’m not making this up –

it’s a matter of public record.

Can you imagine an invasion

less likely to succeed? Then,

when the attacking force lacks

the element of total surprise

in the face of daunting odds,

and when the eighty-two are

summarily reduced to nineteen,

who flee to the rugged heights

of the Sierra Maestras, that fiasco

should have written finis

to such an ill-conceived scene.

Had Fidel and Raul and Che

been among the initial fallen,

the story would have ended

in the bloody streets of Santiago.

But the trio was of the nineteen

and they wrote a different ending –

one even Eastwood would

never get away with..


The Gracious Waiter


Osmani is a tall Cuban whose lineage appears rooted

in the Middle East. A most gentle, gracious soul,

he lacks the ebullience of his fellow waiters.

Quiet and efficient, Osmani glides about his job,

with neither fuss nor favour, serene, as if serving

a host of angels. How could anyone not like him?

Like most dining room servers he was here two years ago,

likely much longer. Such positions are sinecures

for Cubans.  Easy to imagine the senior waiters having

spent their entire working lives here.

Osmani, the gracious waiter, offends no one.

Wrapped in his distinct aura of silent warmth,

he returns home each night better off than when

he began the day, thankful for this tired crumbling

resort hotel and its ongoing life as winter home

for hosts of geriatric Canadian sun-seekers.


How Day Unfolds on the Playas

Each morning after the sun lights the sands,

young men who work the tourist-only beach

begin their job of hauling out of night storage

the white plastic chairs, matching tables,

large green parasols to shade the mostly white

sun-bathers from omnipotent sun. They set

everything out on the manicured sand for tourists

to loll away their day according to their desires.

Before sundown, these same young workers will

begin the process of undoing, of deconstruction.

One by one, two by two, they stack and hoist

and tote all the paraphernalia away from the sand,

back into the security of the night storage shed.

This Sisyphusan task must and will be repeated,

day after day; it is the bloodstream that feeds

daily life on the groomed sand of the Playas.


Afternoon Seminar


Around 2:00 in the afternoon a half dozen or more taxis

pull up alongside our Cuban hotel and park. They are

ready for fares, of course, but this is the slow time

at this beachfront hotel, so the cabbies all clamber out,

exchange greetings, handshakes or high fives,

then sit together on the grass to talk. They become

vociferous, animated, and though I know little Spanish,

I imagine they are chewing on the very same bones

workers on a break would be gnawing in my country,

or any other – local politics, sports, families, and sex.

Occasionally a fare shows up and one of them returns

to the reality of work, but chances are another cab arrives

and a new driver is welcomed to the ongoing deliberations.

Afternoon wanes and one by one, each cab driver leaves,

but the next day some combination of them will reassemble

alongside the hotel and the seminar of Cuban taxi drivers

will reconvene to continue their search for enlightenment.


Looking North

Here on Playas del Este, popular beaches east of Havana

on Cuba’s northern shore, from our window I look north

across the moving Gulf waters to where America,

in all its might and fervour, its zeal and self-proclaimed rightness,

is not even the faintest outline, an incomplete thought.

The most powerful nation on earth — invisible to the eye

as I gaze across this ceaseless sea, waves that crashed here

before all nations, large and small, that will in the end

outlast them all. The Gulf keeps things in perspective.

Here, its hue might even be a Cuban shade of blue.

I am just reporting to you what I see.


© Poems: Glen Sorestad. 2014

(deur Leon Retief)

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6 Kommentare op “Leon Retief. Glen Sorestad in Kuba”

  1. Gert :

    Soek ‘n bietjie op die Interent – In die vroee 60s het die Sowjet filmmaker Kalatozov ‘n unieke propaganda fliek gemaak genaamd “Ek is Kuba” – Soy Cuba.

    Dit is ‘n lang poetiese huldeblyk aan Kuba in beide Spaans en Russies. Die Russiese deel is geskryf deur Yevtushenko.

    Dit verbeeld Kuba as ‘n lewende wese wat praat met die gehoor terwyl hulle na die stories van sy mense kyk.

    Die eerste 10 min gee jou hoendervleis, wanneer die stem met Christopher Columbus praat.

    Dis in die 21ste eeu restoureer en gesamentlik deur Martin Scorsese en Francis Coppola herbekendgestel (ten spyte van die feit dat die Amerikaners natuurlik die bad guys daarin is).

  2. Desmond :

    Dankie Leon, jou inskrywing maak my skoon nostalgies… ek was in 2005 vir amper ‘n maand in Kuba. Ek onthou daardie tweedehandse boekstalletjies op die plein, soos mens in die foto sien wat jy geplaas het. Ek stem saam met Sorestad oor die eiland en die mense. Ek gaan die gedigte nou lees.

  3. Peter Christensen :

    Sorestad, ever the patient observer crafting the ordinary into the memorable. The straight forward language and conversational cadence works well to reveal the beauty and rhythm of everyday lives, their stories shaped into poetic vignettes.

    Good job my friend! Enjoyed this set of Cuban reflections.

    And wonderful that the Versindaba in interested.

  4. Love the tall, silent waiter Osmani gliding about his job graciously and efficiently, ‘wrapped in his distinct aura of gentle warmth’ offending no
    one – ‘serene, as if serving a host of angels’. He reminds me of a waiter
    on a small Greek island who, hiding behind the mask of the servant, in fact
    had a great time observing the tourist class. In winter he would travel north
    to Hamburg to put his observations to paper. (He was working on The Great
    Tourist Novel).

  5. Glen, well done my friend. These poems capture the spirit of the traveler, and your introduction to the island seems spot on to me. I’ve been a visitor to Cuba on many occasions including one or two in the company of you and your fine wife. The spirit of good will with a deep appreciation for what is best about his lovely island–the people–shines through in these poems. The taxi drivers lolling on the grass, the waiter at work, the endless waves of the ceaseless Cuban blue sea, these images remain long after I return from the journey reading your work.

  6. Leon Retief :

    Dankie Gert, ek sal gaan soek. Desmond ja, die Kanadese het al lankal ‘n liefdesverhouding met daai eiland, hulle vergeet skynbaar hoeveel Kubane al daar uitgewyk het om van die heersers te ontsnap.