Sam Linstead


When I first encountered the Cuban poet José Martí at UML in an Advanced Spanish class titled Introduction to Literary Analysis, I was struggling with Spanish to the point of frustration. Every excerpt and poem and every discussion in class was exceedingly difficult for me to follow, until I read Dos patrias. It was while reading this poem that I first experienced reading at length in Spanish. Before, I had been translating and reconstructing the lines into English. I don’t know if this sudden relief came from the simplicity of Dos patrias, a simplicity, I would learn, that is only the first layer of this convoluted poem. And I don’t think it’s because I had come to understand it fully, but I know what followed were countless iterations of interpretations, and every iteration not only abandoned me deeper into the world of this poem but also encouraged me to keep working on my Spanish, because if I could find my way into and out of the labyrinth of this poem, how could I not soon find my way through normal everyday conversations in Spanish, and easily? I read the poem so much that I began to know what words were coming next, but still, somehow, as I worked with my translation more I discovered more behind each word and each line, and I slowly understood how impossible it was to truly bring something that was conceived in one language into another, but it was by trying to that I learned more than I had ever expected to about this intricate elegy.


  • Two Homelands

    I have two homelands: Cuba and the night.
    Or are the two one? As soon as the sun retires
    its majesty, with long veils
    and a carnation in hand, silent
    Cuba like a sad widow appears to me.
    I know what it is that bloody carnation
    that trembles in her hand! It is vacant
    my chest, it is destroyed and vacant in where
    used to be the heart. It is already the time
    to begin to die. The night is good
    to say goodbye. The light obstructs,
    as does the human word. The universe
    speaks better than man.

    As a flag
    that invites battle, the red flame
    of the candle flickers. I open the windows,
    already constricted within. Mute, molting
    the petals off the carnation, like a cloud
    that enshrouds the sky, Cuba, the widow, passes…

    Dos Patrias

    Dos patrias tengo yo: Cuba y la noche.
    ¿O son una las dos? No bien retira
    su majestad el sol, con largos velos
    y un clavel en la mano, silenciosa
    Cuba cual viuda triste me aparece.
    ¡Yo sé cuál es ese clavel sangriento
    que en la mano le tiembla! Está vacío
    mi pecho, destrozado está y vacío
    en donde estaba el corazón. Ya es hora
    de empezar a morir. La noche es buena
    para decir adiós. La luz estorba
    y la palabra humana. El universo
    habla mejor que el hombre.

    Cual bandera
    que invita a batallar, la llama roja
    de la vela flamea. Las ventanas
    abro, ya estrecho en mí. Muda, rompiendo
    las hojas del clavel, como una nube
    que enturbia el cielo, Cuba, viuda, pasa..

  • Sam Linstead will receive his bachelor’s degree in creative writing. He will have also completed a minor in Spanish. He plans to teach English in Colombia, as well as work with immigrants in the United States. He lives in Lowell, Massachusetts.