poetryrepairs #199 v14.04:041
#13 Revolution as Export
#14 I'd like to thank...
Seeking the real Fidel versus I am the real Fidel by LEANNE HANSON
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#13 Revolution as Export
My first trip as Leader of the Revolution is to USA to address the Press Club – long before the missiles etcetera. I go from New York to Canada, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, making contacts, meeting and greeting, all the usual press the flesh while I plant my seeds. Keeping our borders overseas relieves some internal pressures. War unites us, keeps us focused, explains why there's never enough of anything. Except for special occasions like the million Chinese bicycles. A revolution is built on its past. I face constant challenges and where none exist I invent them. The past is never finished. I set up secret training camps, plant networks of operatives everywhere, bring the youth of the world to be part of Cuba's Revolution. I spread an international subversive apparatus through Africa, Asia and Latin America. My advice is keenly sought. Soon we're busy in Angola; the greatest military intervention we ever stage. The experience of war there helps in Ethiopia, where my troops go next, and force the withdrawal of the Somali President's forces. I coordinate their efforts from Havana, set up my Special Ops Command Post; from there I direct the Sandinista NLF against Somoza's National Guard in Nicaragua, victoriously. Nasser loves me, so does Mugabe. Havana becomes the capital of world revolution. Raul goes to Moscow – we're being abandoned to our fate. I step up supplies to Angola, direct a tank campaign from Havana. South Africa attacks – we stop them in their tracks. Apartheid starts to end. The last military victory of my life. I am the glory of the Revolution. My last international political victory is a young kid named Elian Gonzalez. He's one of a group of dissidents trying to reach Florida. It's actually easier to keep an eye on dissidents in Miami than it is in Havana. The rest of them die including his mother. I make the USA send him back, to his father, to me, to my beautiful Cuban revolution.

poetryrepairs #199 v14.04:041

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#14 I'd like to thank...
I never thought I would ever get this old. I'm uneasy in my soul, you could say, though I haven't given my soul any thought since I banned the Church in the 60's and was promptly excommunicated. But the Jesuits had me first. They steer the way I see the world around me even as the Church rejects me for baptism, even as my father's class rejects me socially. He dies as I plan the Revolution. Seizing his estate, burning his cane – that isn't personal. I do that to all the big land holders. Destroy the whole Agrarian set-up and start again. The story of my life is the Revolution's history. At battle sites and jails, where ever I did something, I build a monument. The Moncado Barracks, the small mud walled school in Biran, where I went when my mother was young and beautiful. Even the house I grew up in, on the sugar plantation is reconstructed, perfect in every detail, but fake. All except the crib. Raul, Raulito, beloved younger brother, yet despised for all that. Che. My throat thickens. I love that man but I know I must kill him. Celia, always there for twenty years, then gone. Dalia, my new family, five more sons. Father Valentino Father Llorente. They all dance together in my mind. I wish I could smoke just one more cigar. I used them as a prop, a way to give me time to think, at first - then they became necessary. Emphysema is a horrible death, a slow drowning. My women – none of them ever laughed at my skinny legs. I showed them all why I'm called El Caballo, The Horse. Now my balls hang down to my knees. The Revolution will never end. Society struggles within itself as one socio-economic class takes power from another. July 26. The number 13. Busy busy etcetera – schedule a meeting for 3 am. I am ordained in my mother's womb. My only mission is to save the Cuban people.

poetryrepairs #199 v14.04:041

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Leanne Hanson
Seeking the real Fidel versus I am the real Fidel

The Fidel suite of poems by Mercedes Webb-Pullman presents a fascinating insight into both the character of Fidel and the choices of the poet in her portrayal.

The most substantial change is from third to first person perspective – this is not the angst-ridden confessional I, but a return to the expository I of Browning et al, through which we are invited into a private showing of the naked persona. I am the real Fidel brings deeper character insights, but with this comes the danger of imposing too many of the writer’s assumptions – very occasionally, Webb-Pullman lapses into the “tell” that becomes the confessionist’s trap (“I admit Che is a brilliant guerrilla/ commander, men adore him” – The Argentine), although far less in the revised version than the original. To balance this, much of I am the real Fidel is economical, employing sonic techniques, analogy and a strong command of meter to enhance the bare details.

First love, first loss

I understand later that
my father has her too
and my mother finds out;
there can’t be secrets 
in a house of echoes.
Soon she vanishes
like cane into the mills
mechanically, and though
I look for her in every brothel
I visit for the rest of my life, I never see
her again.	

Love, then loss

I understand my father has her too; there can’t be secrets in a house of echoes. Soon the girl vanishes. I look for her in every brothel for the rest of my life.

The removal of extraneous detail (a self-indulgent habit of the biographer as omniscient narrator) not only gives more credit to the reader, but also rids the poem of the ambiguity I found in the first version, that of the “she” – in Seeking the real Fidel, the shift between maid and mother makes the “she who vanishes” unclear. In I am the real Fidel, we are left in no doubt.

Throughout both versions we see Fidel grow from self-centred (child, adolescent) to an adult with an expansive world view. This is demonstrated well through the shifts in perspective, from early person-first (“Ignorant land owners/ act superior to me, a bastard”, Slowly I learn about war; “Before the Revolution in Cuba they lurk/ in murky depths around Havana”, La Sia). As the suite progresses, there are fewer differences between the texts, as if Fidel is becoming more reflective and concentrating more on his nation than himself. This is consistent with the portrayal of his character and the heavy emphasis on injustice that expands from applying to Fidel and his family to Cuba and its place in the world. This is foreshadowed perfectly here:

The first one is the hardest

Still it takes years of hanging around
on the outside ready to do anything
for the cause; I’m living on a sand bar
eaten by mosquitoes, huddled
before a bonfire each night
for two months, training to be ready
before I realise
I already am the Revolution.
huddled by a bonfire each night
for two months, training

First one is the hardest

Still for years I’m hanging on the outside doing anything for the cause; I’m on a sand bar eaten by mosquitoes, hungry, before I realise I already am the Revolution.

Although the ultimate line in both versions is the same, the modality is increased in the second version by one simple change: “ready to do anything” becomes “doing anything”. The shift to active places control in Fidel’s hands and makes his realisation more natural. At this point he knows he needs only himself.

I am the real Fidel is the realisation of Mercedes Webb-Pullman’s vision of Castro and his impact on the world. By shifting to the I, it allows Fidel to be his own censor. His reminiscences in reveal a man who is confident that he is Cuba, but knows that he has become something other than himself to his people (“Even the house I grew up in/ on the sugar plantation is reconstructed,/ perfect in every detail, but fake. Except the crib.”) Only the first home he occupied, his crib, remains unaltered. He retains innocence, despite feeling that “I’m uneasy/ in my soul”. The circle completes with:

I am ordained in my mother’s womb.
My mission is to save the Cuban people.
The crib was always the truth. For the bastard that is the real Fidel, the story could end no other way.

poetryrepairs #199 v14.04:041

Poetry endangers the established order
of the soul - Plato

REPAIR: resort, frequent or habitual going; concourse or confluence of people at or in a place; making one's way; to go, betake oneself, to arrive; return to a place; to dwell; to recover, heal, or cure; to renew; to fix to original condition.
-- Oxford English Dictionary


#13 Revolution as Export
#14 I'd like to thank...
Seeking the real Fidel versus I am the real Fidel by LEANNE HANSON

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