Lo Que Pica el Gallo

Hablando de lo que pica el gallo…formando un arroz con mango.

Jose Marti – A tribute to my mother

Today, my daughter Lyanis posted on Facebook the first verse of one of Jose Marti’s most recognized poems “La Rosa Blanca”. I am often surprised and always pleased when one of my children quotes or acknowledges details of our culture. The fact that Lyanis felt impelled to post this verse of Marti’s gives me an insight of her feelings for the day. But I am not here to discuss Lyanis’ emotions. Instead I am here to write about Marti and why he is such an important and contributing person in my life.

Obviously, I did not know Marti personally, at least not in this life, but I have a bond with him as I am sure many of us Cubans have, as if he was a loving grandfather or uncle. My mother instilled this love for him in me. For as far back as my memory reaches, I can recall my mother’s love and admiration for our country’s martyr and I can still remember the books she treasured, and with the great sadness she donated the books to my school in Cuba a few months before we immigrated, oddly enough to Spain and then later to this great country.

In my mind’s eye there lurks a blurry memory of the first time I laid eyes on his book “Los Zapaticos de Rosa”. I think we were sitting in my sister’s room. I do not know where Mami got the book from. All I know is that there in front of me was this beautifully painted book filled with Jose Marti’s words describing a day in the life of a little rich girl named Pilar, who’s mom was to take her to the beach to “estrenar su sombrerito de plumas.” As it turned out, as it often did in Marti’s writings, it would not be such a simple thing and the beach outing would turn out to be a life changing experience, not only for Pilar, but for her mother too. I still can see the drawing of the butterfly atop the glass container which held Pilar’s pink shoes, and it was at this instant and at such an early age that I realized that all things are mortal and that even children die, and that compassion is one of the best virtues we as human beings can have. This emotion was exactly what Marti intended for us to feel. Everything he wrote, even when directed to children, had an underlying lesson of life.  That book, along with “La Edad de Oro” quickly became one of my favorite and the place where my love of reading was born.

Soon after this encounter with the author, Mami and Papi took me to his house en La Calle Leonor en La Habana Vieja and as I walked through the old home and listened to the sound of my footsteps in the hollow wooden floor, I could very well imagine, as if I had been there myself to see Marti as a child growing up in this humble home.  Marti became real. He was not just the person who wrote “Los Zapaticos de Rosa” or the newly learned poem “La Rosa Blanca.” He became part of me as he was part of my mother and father and a part of every Cuban. I can still recall my mother’s anguished words as she describe visiting the cell at el Castillo del Morro where Marti was incarcerated when he was still a teenager, and how his own handwriting was still visible in the walls of the cell. She told me about his heritage; how his father was a Spaniard and his mother a “Criolla”; how he was sent to study abroad and I suspected it was to try to keep him out of trouble and out jail; of his admiration of nature and his love for his friends, his family, his Cuba and Justice and Freedom. My mother did not just admire and love Marti, because  he was a great writer, a hero of war, and a fighter for just causes. She loved him because he loved life, he loved the palm trees, the beauty in each of the places he visited, the simple butterfly that rested in the bright colored flower, the children who played in the plaza and parks, the simplicity and complexity of the everyday, all of which he painted with his words. He was a teacher and a philosopher and a lawyer, an equalist who hated that people where labeled black or white, rich or poor, a rebel for all causes and a soldier who’s greatest weapon was his pen.  Looking back through history we can very well say that he had no reason to go out on that particular day in May to fight a battle he should of continued to fight from his desk; yet I know that when he did, he did it with honor and with the conviction that this would be the most important day of his life.  On May 19th, 1895, in Dos Rios as he rode out into the battle, Marti was shot and killed, he died “de cara al sol” as he had written. His pen fell from his hands but his words have never been silenced.

Here are a few excerpts from some of his works:

Que Quieres Tu Que Te Escriba?

Que quieres tu que te escriba,
nina de mi tierra honor?
Yo no se come se escribe
una flor en otra flor.

Yo Soy un Hombre Sincero…
Yo soy un hombre sincero
De donde crece la palma,
Y antes de morirme quiero
Echar mis versos del alma.

Iba un Niño Travieso…
Iba un niño travieso
Cazando mariposas;
Las cazaba el bribon, les daba un beso,
Y despues las soltaba entre las rosas.

Los Zapaticos de Rosa
Y dice una mariposa
Que vio desde su rosal
Guardados en un cristal
Los zapaticos de rosa.

Todo es Hermoso y Constante…
Todo es hermoso y constante
Todo es musica y razon,
Y todo, como el diamante,
Antes de luz es carbon.

Quiero, a la sombra de un ala…
Quiero, a la sombra de un ala,
Contar este cuento en flor:
La niña de Guatemala,
La que se murio de amor.

La Bailarina Española
El alma tremula y sola
Padece al anochecer:
Hay baile; vamos a ver
La bailarina espanola.

Mi verso es como un puñal…
Mi verso es de un verde claro
Y de un carmin encendido

Yo quiero salir del mundo…
Yo quiero salir del mundo
Por la puerta natural:
En un carro de hojas verdes
A morir me han de llevar.

No me pongan en lo oscuro…
No me pongan en lo oscuro
A morir como un traidor:
!Yo soy bueno, y como bueno
Morire de cara al sol!

Yo quiero, cuando me muera…
Yo quiero, cuando me muera,
sin patria, pero sin amo,
Tener en mi losa un ramo
De flores, y una bandera!

Tiene el leopardo un abrigo…
Tiene el leopardo un abrigo
En su monte seco y pardo:
Yo tengo mas que el leopardo,
Porque tengo un buen amigo.

And of course, we all know the first verse of La Rosa Blanca, but it is in his second verse where, shall we say, he brings it home:

Y  para el cruel que me arranca
El corazon con que vivo,
Cardo ni ortiga cultivo:
Cultivo una rosa blanca.

So my darling daughter this now turns back to you and the ending to your post; Don’t cultivate hate, cultivate friendship and love.


4 comments on “Jose Marti – A tribute to my mother

  1. Papa Scull
    October 23, 2010

    This poem is a clear description of Martí’s societal hopes for the homeland. Within the poem, he talks about how regardless of the person, whether kind or cruel he cultivates a white rose, meaning that he remains peaceful. This coincides with his ideology about establishing unity amongst the people, more so those of Cuba, through a common identity, with no regards to ethnic and racial differences. This doctrine could be accomplished if one treated his enemy with peace as he would treat a friend. The kindness of one person should be shared with all people, regardless of personal conflict. By following the moral that lies within “Cultivo Rosa Blanca”, Martí’s vision of Cuban solidarity could be possible, creating a more peaceful society that would emanate through future generations. Your mom has class in her writings. Excellent job!

  2. Melissa
    October 23, 2010

    This was a pleasure to read. I remember seeing a copy of La Edad de Oro for the first time, which an aunt of my mother’s brought us from Cuba when I was a little girl. My parents saw it as a kind of treasure, started talking about Marti – my mother reciting “Los Zapaticos de Rosa” from memory – and I immediately understood the emotional connection.

  3. iliu
    November 5, 2010

    I still have my Marti books 🙂

  4. Jose
    September 16, 2011

    Great thoughts, maybe us Cubans should read Jose Marti a bit more carefully…

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