Exiles (Penultimate Resting Place)
by Mario Benedetti, translated from the Spanish by Harry Morales
The death of a friend (and more so when one is referring to someone as dear as Luvis Pedemonte) is always a heartbreak, a rupture. But when death is the culmination of his troubles in exile, and even if that death occurs in a location as fraternal as this one, the heartbreak has other implications, some other significance.
That natural end, that final obligation that is death, is always a little about returning. A return to the nutritious land; a return to the womb of mud, of our mud, which will never be like all the other mud in the world. Death in exile is apparently the negation of returning, and perhaps this is its darkest side.
That’s why, during the long period of Luvis’ painful illness, it was very difficult for us to see him cheer himself up, complete projects, and yet more difficult, enter into the pretense, discuss futures that included him, imagine or understand that he would breathe the air of his street again, see the beach, that luminous heart of the Montevidean day, and enjoy the grapes and peaches, those luxuries of the poor.
How could we talk about the good and simple things that give life pleasure and gave meaning to his, if we knew that death was following his trail and that no one could guard him, hide him, die for him, nor even less, convince his bloodhound, or even shed a concluding tear so that he could remain alive among us.
In the early days, exile was, among other things, the harsh drudgery of living far away. Now, it’s also the drudgery of dying far away. The list already has five or six names. The solitude, sickness, or perhaps the gun shots, finished them off, and who knows how many more are now that many less in the very vast, errant country.
The misfortune is more bitter if we think that dying from exile is the sign not only to Luvis but to everyone that the supreme right to abandon the train at the station where the trip is going to begin has been temporarily taken away from us. Our domestic death has been taken away from us, simply ours, that death which knows what side we sleep on, and on what dreams our vigils feed.
That’s why when we now admit that Luvis, a dear friend like few others, is leaving without having returned, we promise him to work hard, not only to change life, but also to preserve death, that death which is womb and birth, death in our own mud.
Luvis is an excellent journalist, a revolutionary militant, a loyal friend, and a fervent admirer of the Cuban Revolution. But perhaps we can synthesize all these qualities by saying he was an exceptional man of the people, with the attributes of simplicity and modesty, of passion and generosity, capable of affection and work, happiness and courage, efficiency and responsibility, which in some way summarized the best of our city.
He had two complimentary features that don’t always coexist in an exile: On one hand, the eye and the ear unavoidably attentive to the suffering and the struggles, the buzz of voices and the images, and the distant motherland. On the other hand, the ample capability to be useful placed into service of his fertile integration into Cuba, whose revolution he understood, defended and loved as if it was his own, and knowing that in some way it was his, ours.
With all its frustrations and bitterness, his exile was never a cause, nor much less a pretext, of self-confinement and solitude. He knew that the best formula against the scourge of exile is integration in the community that welcomes the exiled, and that way, firm in his conviction, worked with boldness and joy, almost like another Cuban, but without ever not being a consummate Uruguayan.
We remember that in public places, which in the capitalist world surrounds itself with the business of death, there is frequent discussion about the “last resting place.” Nevertheless, for a friend like Luvis, the point is that today when we leave him it will only be the penultimate one, since his last resting place will always be in us, in our affection, in our memories. And it will be a resting place of open doors and window with a sky.
Only in this way will we conquer this death that seems without return. And we will conquer it because no one doubts that Luvis will return with those of us who will someday return to the motherland. He will return in our hearts, in our memories, in our lives. Hearts, memories and lives that will be considerably better because of the mere act of returning with such a decent and loyal, worthy and generous, simple and truthful, man of the people.
MARIO BENEDETTI was born on September 14, 1920 in Uruguay. He published his first book in 1945. Although a trained accountant, he went on to publish Peripecia y Novela (Literary Criticism) in 1948, and a year later, Esta Mañana, his first book of stories. In 1953, he published his first novel, Quien de Nosotros, but it was with the 1959 publication of Montevideanos: Cuentos (Stories) that the urban concept of his narrative style took shape. With the publication of La Tregua in 1960, Benedetti acquired international preeminence. While in Cuba, he founded the world famous Centro de Investigaciones Literarias at Casa de las Americas, which he directed from 1969 to 1971. Returning to Uruguay in 1971, he opposed increasing government repression through his writing and participation in the leftist coalition known as the Frente Amplio, which he helped organize. Following the coup of June 1973, his work was banned by the Uruguayan military. Between 1973 and the return of the civilian government in 1985, he lived in exile in Argentina, Peru, Cuba, and Spain. Writing for an international audience, he denounced the tragic events occurring in Uruguay at the time. From 1985 on, he lived in Montevideo, where he devoted his full time to writing. He passed away on May 17, 2009. Translator HARRY MORALES is also the author of the novel The Suit and Skirt Farm (Xlibris, 2002). He was born in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico in 1962, and was raised in New York City. He has studied literary translation under Gregory Rabassa and translated stories by the novelist Mario Bendetti from various collections including Montevideanos: Cuentos, La Muerte y Otra Sorpresas: Cuentos, Esta Ma ñana: Cuentos, and Con y Sin Nostalgia: Cuentos among others. He has also translated the work of the late Cuban poet and novelist Reinaldo Arenas as well as the works of Eugenio Maria de Hostos, Emir Rodriguez Monegal, Juan Rulfo, Cristina Peri Rossi, Julia de Burgos, Alberto Ruy-Sanchez, and Ilan Stavans, among many other Latin American writers.Harry Morales
Translator Harry Morales is also the author of The Suit and Skirt Farm, a novel.