Magazine article World Literature Today

Negro Spiritual

Magazine article World Literature Today

Negro Spiritual

Article excerpt

You must know, Lord, who was Gabriel Valdés,

called Plácido, that solicitous and elegant mulatto,

my brother, who since then turned our old home

there in Matanzas into his abode.

You will remember as well he was clever, agile, skillful,

a chosen one, a prestidigitator endowed with an arrow's

vertiginous speed, eyes that were neither large

nor small and stirred the air around him.

Gabriel Valdés, Lord, stirred the air around him; I witnessed when he did it

while dancing in the arms of Mercedes Ayala, a woman from Havana

who delighted merely in looking at him, before kissing

his purple lips and his dionisyac bronze brow.

Plácido talked in solitude with a soul meant solely

to keep him company each afternoon when he'd come from

El León de Oro, bordering the river, to my house, but never

before stopping to see the fighting cocks at Jesús Álvarez's.

He had a daughter named Cariño.

I don't know, Lord, why I recall Plácido so vividly.

If you see him, if you embrace him, be attuned to his breathing,

his thinking, and may you welcome his lavish word

and guide his hesitant, careful steps, Lord, as if they were your own

because we need him to keep conspiring against hatred.

When they led him to the gallows, Gabriel Valdés never imagined

we would be there. …

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