Monday, February 12, 2007


Before leaving the La Bloga stage for our guest writer, Jorge Corral, I wanted to let you know that on Friday, February 16, I will be one of the two featured poets at the Eccentric Moon Poetry Series held at the Sunland-Tujunga Library, 7771 Foothill Blvd., Tujunga, CA 91042. I will be sharing the podium with James D. Babwe. The reading starts at 7:00 p.m. with an open mic and then James and I will follow with our readings. Due to my work and family commitments, I haven’t been doing many appearances in the last year so please try to come by particularly if you have any poetry to share for the open mic portion of the evening. Hasta...Daniel Olivas

GUEST WRITER: Jorge Corral, born in Los Angeles, attended Loyola University for both his undergraduate and law degrees. He is an attorney in private practice in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Corral attended the MFA International Program in Creative Writing at UNLV until his son, Gabriel el huracan, was born. He is currently working on a novel about the zapatistas, the 2001 Zapatour, Cuba, and jumping the Tijuana border. Corral participated in the 2001 Zapatour, and provides translation for – and of himself, he says: “Soy adherente a la Sexta.” Corral can be reached at We’ve been treated before to an excerpt from his novel-in-progress, Zapata Vive, Dude! Below is another excerpt. Enjoy.


Yanelis Ferrer was born in Centro Habana, where she lived with her lovely grandmother, Flora Cortes. After Fidel's Revolution, Flora was assigned a narrow two-storey unit on Avenida Infanta, a wide, busy avenue. Her front door opened to a bus stop, a natural point of loitering for chulos, guapos and jineteros, all eager to separate dollars from tourists.

Yanelis slept through her grandmother's gentle coaxing from downstairs. Flora no longer climbed the winding, unsteady stairwell and no one had ever bothered to build a rail for her support. For many years, she'd slept on her antique Spanish couch; sturdy, elegant and dusty from the constant foot and car traffic on Infanta.

The roar of a bus encouraged Flora to pull herself from the couch. She put water to boil for tea and began toasting a piece of bread over the stove. Her steel pan hissed and an egg broke over it. It was Monday, December 17th; Yanelis's 18th birthday. Flora dabbed extra oil on the bread.

Yanelis worked as a dancer for the Havana Night Dance Company and was a student at the Escuela Tropicana. Soon she'd decide between Havana Night and the world-famous Cabaret Tropicana. Havana Night was new, managed by a German woman, and traveled often, while the Tropicana was more prestigious. Yanelis was also a member of her neighborhood's Comite de Defensa de la Revolucion and the Union de Jovenes Comunistas.

Flora stirred chocolate powder and milk powder in a tall plastic glass filled with water, then returned the silver can of chocolate to its secret place in her kitchen. The fried egg was pushed off the steel pan and onto the center of a small blue dish. Flora banged her pan against the concrete kitchen counter. Roaches flinched, then scrambled, most up to the three rows of wooden shelves above the sink, while others retreated inside the portable gas stovetop, defying the pot of boiling water above them.

Flora's couch was two small steps from her kitchen and four long steps from the bathroom. She very seldom walked out of her home. She was often heard talking to herself, disillusioned, that there was nothing outside worth watching anymore. She did, however, spend her days on her couch, her gaze oscillating between the television and the sinners outside. At least once a day, she stepped into her kitchen and performed a small delicious miracle. Her cinammon skin, long delicate nose, and coarse straight hair revealed some Taino ancestry. She had haunting, beautiful gray-blue eyes, and bore Spanish and French surnames -- but insisted she was una negra.

Her bad temperament had worsened over the years, similar to the deterioration of her home. Her six sons had failed to perform their duties of bleaching her walls and fumigating her rooms. Now, the walls held gray handprints and roaches roamed, mostly unimpeded, from the kitchen to Avenida Infanta.

Upstairs was a large room with a concrete floor and brick walls. A bed occupied each corner, and an old brown bureau and two short tables stacked with empty shoe boxes, old school books, and neglected photo albums acted as barriers in the middle of the room, simulating privacy.

Most nights, Yanelis slept with her little sister, Yayi. Their older half-brother, Vladimir Inocencio, and his girlfriend, Isvel, stayed over whenever. Their mother, Malena, usually lived with her husbands, but spent a lot of time at Flora's home. This morning it was quiet, just Yayi, Flora and Yanelis.

Malena was not good with words, so she beat her children. She raised her son to be a hustler and to aspire to marry a tourist. At night, he and Isvel patrolled the Malecon, the long seawall and boulevard running along the ocean, satisfying needs of tourists. Resolviendo.

Yayi was fourteen years old and wiry, almost invisible sometimes. She had long black hair, usually in ponytails because of the dust, and she was several shades darker than Yanelis but insisted she was una tremenda mulata.

Yayi was up first and dressed in a red plaid skirt and white school shirt. She pulled Yanelis out of bed. Yayi knew Yanelis worked until midnight, then took a bus home, but she liked being walked to school by her big sister.

Yanelis kept her clothes in a large suitcase, which had a tiny lock for security, as her things occasionally disappeared. She put on yesterday's white capri pants and a mint green top, which she rolled up, exposing ripped abs and a perfect navel over a faint trail of peach fuzz.

Downstairs, Flora had prepared bread with oil for them, and a fried egg, chocolate milk and a birthday song for Yanelis, sung softly and with love. Yanelis made Yayi eat the egg and they shared the chocolate milk. Moments later, the Ferrer sisters bounced out onto Infanta, out of Flora's sight, and melted into La Habana.

"Why do you look so pretty today?" Yayi noticed Yanelis wore her white Nikes with the red swoosh, which were reserved for Fidel's marches and anti-imperialist demonstrations.

"I have a meeting this morning," said Yanelis.

"At the Tropicana?"

"No." Yanelis turned to the heavy traffic on Infanta, found a gap between cars, and pulled Yayi across the street.

"Your skirt is too high," said Yanelis.

"Where is your meeting?"

"At the University."

"With the Young Communists? Malena will beat you," said Yayi.

"Nobody is beating me anymore and Malena won't know about it."

"She hears everything, you know someone will see you near San Lazaro and nine or ten people later, the crazy old woman that sells bird seeds on the corner will be telling Malena that someone saw you near the University and she will beat you and I don't want her to beat you." Yayi fought back tears. "Can't you just dance? Sometimes I think you go to meetings and marches just to make Malena angry. Why do you want to fight with her?"

Yanelis looked at her watch and accelerated along 23rd, past E street. She put her arm around Yayi and wiped away her tears. Yayi had her sister's features, a high forehead, long face, strong pout, sad eyes, and a reluctant smile, but many said she was prettier than Yanelis.

"Can you spend the night at aunt Mayra's tonight?" asked Yanelis.

"Why! What happened?"

"Stop asking questions."

"What are you going to tell Malena? You're quitting Havana Night! A woman who has a neighbor with a nephew that works as a waiter at 1830 Restaurant told Malena that Havana Night is going to Las Vegas soon."

"That is just a rumor." Yanelis squeezed her fingers into a pocket of her capri pants and pulled out a dollar for her sister.

"It doesn't matter, Malena heard it," said Yayi.

They were in front of Escuela Saul Delgado. Yayi accepted the faded bill, hugged her sister with all her strength and reached up to kiss her.

"I will be home this afternoon, I have the night off and Livan is coming by to take me out for my birthday."

"Livan the mulatto?" asked Yayi.


"He can't come over!"

"Why not?"

"You know why! Because he's Cuban and he's Black. Do you want to start a war with Malena?" Yayi placed her hands on her hip with authority.

Yanelis spanked Yayi, smiled, pushed her into the schoolyard, and waited until her little sister walked inside. Yanelis wandered through Vedado, her favorite neighborhood, and sat on a bench in Don Quijote de La Mancha park. Across from her were three elderly gentlemen in fedora hats, clean ironed wife-beaters, suspenders, and smoking thick cigars. Old men's cigars seemed to burn especially long. Yanelis hated the smell of cigars but liked old people.

Tonight she had a date. Everyone knew Malena was violent and chased away local admirers but Livan Campoverde was a man and said he wasn't afraid of her. He had been modeling for several years, dressed like a star, and had invited Yanelis to the Habana Libre Hotel for dinner. Yanelis had walked by the Habana Libre's restaurant a million times and the idea of dining there had never occurred to her.

A bead of sweat ran down her honey-colored face and long muscular neck, and disappeared into her light-brown cleavage. Yanelis was lost in thought: Havana NIght or Tropicana? Havana Night paid better and worked less. Cabaret Tropicana was a dream since childhood.

Yanelis had to choose carefully because her mother made bad decisions for her. At age four, Malena made her a gymnast. By nine, Yanelis nearly qualified for an international gymnastics competition. Malena accused her of sabotage and beat her accordingly. Later Yanelis enrolled at Escuela Antonio Guiteras, an accounting school, forging her mother's signature because Malena prohibited careers that paid in national currency. Halfway into the semester, Malena discovered the fraud while waiting in line for bread, then promptly pulled her daughter out of Marxism class and beat her all the way home.

The wind shifted and cigar smoke blew in her direction. She smiled at the old men and walked out of Don Quijote park under a sun that had begun to punish the young mulatta. It was almost 9:00 a.m., an hour and a half to kill. Yanelis walked toward the Universidad de La Habana, anyway.

The university sat on a hill in Vedado, overlooking Centro Habana, along a street named San Lazaro. Her gait was quick and boyish as she crossed busy streets, dodging vehicles like a rodeo clown. She was an easy mark in a crowd -- tall and lean, strong thighs, thick buttocks, the kind that made the Tropicana famous.

As a dancer under the lights with full make-up, hair extensions, high heels, and inviting smile, she was, as the Italian spectators would say, Magnifica! This morning, her hair in a bun, a clean face, wearing old Nikes scrubbed white to its core, she was simply spectacular.

Yanelis walked past the long clean rows of steps leading to the university, thinking about strawberry ice cream. Down the hill, just a few streets away, Coppelia's opened at 10:00 a.m.; even at that hour there would be a line.

Yanelis noticed a man lift himself from the steps as she walked by, then felt him behind her. His steps sounded heavy, like wood being chopped, then faded. It was Martin Saucedo. She looked back, identified him as a tourist, and instantly increased her speed; it had been her experience that foreigners did not like to work so hard. American vintage cars slowed next to her, offering rides, but Yanelis ignored them. Would-be passengers, women of all ages and colors, scattered along edges of sidewalks and corners, waited for a botella, a
gratuitous ride, and stared at the proud mulatta.

An old bus, too full to stop, was ambushed by young boys in tattered school uniforms. Many of them climbed through open windows, while others held tight grips, supported from inside by good citizens. A space opened on San Lazaro so Yanelis stepped into a hole between vehicles and moved along the faded median like a ballerina on a tightrope. Martin watched her negotiate the loud hot vehicles with the skill and timing of a matador. They walked almost parallel on opposite sides of San Lazaro. After a block and a half uphill, near the entrance to the Habana Libre Hotel, her long strides turned into a trot, then a gallop across Rampa on a yellow light. Martin stood at the intersection of 23rd and L, famously known as la Rampa, his favorite corner in the world. Five young women, dressed provocatively and communicating in sign language, came up behind Martin and stood next to him, waiting for a green light. They checked out his blue Dodger cap and black cowboy boots. One, a blonde in a turquoise mini-skirt, laughed and fanned herself. On the green light they all walked across the street. He tried keeping the sexy deaf-mute girls in front of him, but they meandered.

Coppelia's wasn't open yet, but Yanelis stood in line.

"Hola," it began.

"Hola." Yanelis refused to turn around.

Her taut slender frame was wrapped tightly in her arms and she tapped her white Nike against the pavement.

"Hola," repeated Martin.

She ignored him.

"I'm from Mexico and ..."

Yanelis left the line.

"I'd like to ask you something."

She walked across the street, through teens congregated in front of Cine Yara, and into Dino's Pizza. A slice of pizza was better for breakfast, anyway.

Three girls, two peroxide blondes and a true redhead, sat a table with a half-eaten cheese pizza. They were from around the way, Infanta y San Rafael, and knew Yanelis but ignored her. Most neighbors and loiterers on Infanta hated Yanelis for her job, because she was too poor to be so arrogant, and she was a good communist.

A hot slice of pizza with ham was served on a paper plate. No napkins. Yanelis took it to go.

At 23rd and L, officers of the peace occupied three of the corners of the intersection. Despite police presence, illicit commerce on Rampa was good. She stepped off the curb, wiped grease from the pizza and smeared it on the paper plate.

"Excuse me, could I ask you a question?" Martin stood on the curb behind her.

"What!" Yanelis turned to face him.

"Where did you purchase that pizza?"

She pointed back at Dino's and continued downhill. She did not look back.

At the corner of San Lazaro and San Miguel, Yanelis considered visiting her aunt Odalys, who lived nearby on the fifth floor of an elegant, deteriorated colonial building. Every floor was partitioned into several dwellings and the doorway leading to the stairwell was where Nana, Centro Habana's premier dopeman, did business; one U.S. dollar per Cuban joint. Yanelis slowed her pace, looked at the yellow cheese detaching from the crust of her pizza, then at Nana's customers going in and out of the doorway like conscientious ants. Grease dripped from her pizza and the tomato paste looked more orange than usual. A layer of sweat covered her neck and back and she felt dizzy. Her pizza had wilted under the magnificence of the sun. She looked back at San Lazaro. No Mexicans. Yanelis handed off her slice to a small child running by. She entered the dark stairwell and took three steps at a time, as she'd done since the age of six, always stepping on the corners, the sturdiest part of the rotting stairs. Today the stairwell seemed more like a tunnel. She intensified her march to the fifth floor and pushed the door without knocking, anxious to stand in the balcony.

Yanelis interrupted a spiritual mass. Odalys was also her godmother and a popular santera. Several santeros and godchildren sat in a circle in the living room, around a short wooden table with seven goblets of clear water. Nobody looked up as Yanelis walked to the balcony. Her godmother was in a trance, chanelling the dead. A client had sought the services of Odalys for the removal of a harmful spirit, allegedly cast upon her by her estranged common-law husband. The distraught woman sat at the end of the table, near a goblet with bits of white rock resting at the bottom. Underneath the table was a bowl of holy water.

Two years earlier, Malena and Odalys had decided Yanelis was much too thin, sickly and sad, and would therefore never find a tourist boyfriend, and was thus similarly cleansed of malevolent beings. Shortly after, she was admitted to Escuela Tropicana, then hired at the Havana Night Dance Company.

The balcony was narrow and had a view of Infanta falling into the sea, a strip of the Malecon, a piece of Rampa, the steps leading to the University -- the Mexican. Yanelis turned toward the ocean, contemplated its vastness, and said a prayer to Yemaya, the maternal force residing in the sea. Her prayer included, as it often did, a wish that she could disappear.

A voluptuous black woman dipped the tips of her fingers in the bowl of holy water, then swung her hand around her head, like a cowboy with his lariat, and brought it down like a whip, snapping her fingers at the end of it. She made a cross with alcohol on the floor near the front door. Participants mumbled "Our Fathers" and "Hail Marys," sang in Yoruba, urging Odalys's orisha to mount her, eliciting the aid of Chango. Odalys's tall thin frame was covered in a long flowing white dress and her mellifluous jet-black hair was tied in a bun atop her head, which was always held high and back, so that her chin pointed at visitors. She began breathing deeply, tilting her head, shaking and swinging her shoulders, and her speech became gutteral in broken archaic Spanish, interspersed with African words. The black woman lit a cigar, then touched the cross of alcohol on the floor with it and handed Odalys a bottle of rum and the burning cigar. The cross of fire came to life as Odalys became possessed by her santo. The rum went down like water and the fire on the floor grew higher and higher, almost touching the celing. Odalys sucked on the cigar and was handed another bottle of rum.

Yanelis focused on the part of the horizon where the blue sky touched the bluer ocean. She thought she could hear the crackle of the fire amid the praying, singing, and screaming. In a voice not her own, Odalys shouted repeatedly, "You! You! You!" and looked to the balcony.

Yanelis stepped back, trying to move from her godmother's line of sight.

"You! Daughter of Oshun! You will leave us soon, you will fly away and go to many worlds, a green world from the past, a distant island with millions of light, a world of the future, and you will witness grand marvels and a man will take you there..."

Odalys smoked, drank and distributed prophecies around the room. The front door was three or four steps from the balcony. Odalys tipped back the bottle of rum and Yanelis was gone. In a moment or two, Odalys would be her usual self -- sober and mean.

A salty wind came up from San Miguel and traveled west on San Lazaro, sweeping over Yanelis as she came out of the tunnel of stairs. She was really hungry now. She sprinted across San Lazaro with minimal effort. Martin stood near a wall along the steps in dark shades, holding two heavy slices of pizza, like a sandwich, over a greasy paper plate. He held the slices, squeezed some grease off, and paused to watch Yanelis climb the long white steps in a flurry of sharp elbows and knees pumping high.

Yanelis reached the top of the stairs at 10:15 a.m., per instructions, and waited for fellow Young Communist and best friend, Kenia Portuondo. They'd been told to make contact with Irish nationals at the top of the stairs of the university.

"Hola." Martin wiped his hand on his blue jeans, preparing for a handshake.

Yanelis crossed her arms.

"I'm supposed to meet people from the Union of Young Communists today at the top of the stairs and you're the only person here," he said.

"Where are you from?" she asked.

"My name is Martin and I came from Chiapas, that's in Mexico."

"I know."

"But I was born in Las Vegas, that's on the other side."

"I know, the empire."

"The what?"

"The empire, the United States."

"I've never heard anyone call it 'the empire.'" Martin smiled and stepped closer to her.

"Maybe you've only been associating with worms and prostitutes."


"Traitors." She uncrossed her arms and looked for back-up.

"Oh, okay...prostitute is such an ugly word," he said.

"What do you call them?"

"Sex workers."

"And you like the company of sex workers?"

"No, not me...not that there's anything wrong with it," he said.

Yanelis elevated on the tips of her toes, showing off years of ballet training, trying to look over him. A young woman walked up behind Martin, gave Yanelis a kiss, and turned to take in the foreigner, who didn't look Irish.

"Kenia, this is Martin, he's from the empire," said Yanelis.

"I was born in the United States but my mother is from Oaaa--"

"Where in the empire do you live?" asked Kenia.

"Las Vegas."

Kenia looked him over, then at Yanelis and raised an eyebrow. Yanelis rolled her eyes.

"He says he's here to meet with the Union of Young Communists. Were you told anything about an American from Mexico or a Mexican from the empire?" asked Yanelis.

Kenia didn't answer, she was still observing Martin. Yanelis grabbed Kenia's wrist and pulled her away.

"I was sent here by the zapatistas to help translate between the Irish and the Cubans," he said, in pursuit.

"Some Cubans speak English very well," said Yanelis without turning around.

"What are zapatistas?" Kenia yanked Yanelis to a stop.

"The Zapatista Army of National Liberation," he said.

The pretty young communists looked blankly at him.

"The indigenous movement in Chiapas...led by Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos," he said.

Kenia and Yanelis looked at each other.

"The guy with the mask and the pipe," he said.

"Oh, Marcos! Yes, we know about Marcos," said Yanelis.

"Well, he sent me here to facilitate the meeting between the Irish and the --"

"You know Marcos? And what makes you think we can't speak English?" asked Yanelis.

"What? I don't know..."

"You don't know Marcos?" Yanelis took Kenia's arm and turned to walk away.

"Well yes - no, not personally - but a captain from the Zapatista Army told me that the Irish asked Marcos to send an interpreter to Cuba and I'm an instructor in English in the rebel zone in Chiapas and I had asked for more work within the operations of the zapatistas so a lieutenant in La Realidad - where I teach - told this captain, a friend of mine, that I had been to Cuba and that I was interested in working as an intepreter so I was selected to come here to work with you."

"That all sounds very strange," said Yanelis.

"It does?" Martin began to perspire.

"Maybe you should talk to one of our leaders, wait here." Yanelis dragged Kenia. "And if you see some Irish that look lost, tell them we will return shortly."

Martin sighed deeply, and for the first time in a long time it was not about Lupita.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

you are the best por eso vas a alcanzar esto y mucho mas ,pero me gustaria q algun dia terminaras esta historia q es tan interesante como la otra y sigue asi q yo se q pronto encontraras a alguien q quiera ayudarte a publicar tus obras
sin palabra el huracan y la habanerita