Many Quakers in the English-speaking world know Jorge Luis Peña Reyes from his role as clerk of Cuba Yearly Meeting of Friends. What they may not know is that Jorge Luis is a recognized poet in his own country. Some of his more than 14 published books have won national and international prizes. In his poetry for children, Jorge Luis addresses the questions and fears children have around the wavering lines between reality and the world of popular religion in Latin America. He takes seriously their questions about life and spirit, although his responses incorporate humor.
The poems on these pages come from two collections: Mensajes de azul intenso (Messages from the Deep Blue, 2019) and El país de los miedos (The Country of Fear, 2014). They were translated from the Spanish by Friends Journal poetry editor, Nancy Thomas, with the author’s permission and approval.
Where do they come from, where?
What sea disguises these fish?
How they leap, how they
playfully catch fire!
I don’t bring them to my boat,
they simply appear.
Yet the deep waters
From the first day they arrived
I’ve had my nets ready.
But still they leap,
O how they leap,
I suspect that God lives in your neighborhood and it’s certain that you know him.
Here on earth it hasn’t been easy to see him, much less hear his sweet voice.
My grandparents left without saying goodbye, and I don’t know if they even have a house up there,
or if, on ascending, people get disguised as angels
who float before him,
or if in his kingdom there exists a carrousel like the one we play on in the plaza.
If people don’t work, as I hope they do, what do they pass the time in heaven each day?
I imagine: a tremendous uproar breaks out when people arrive in that foreign place!
(The Internet doesn’t give me answers.)
My grandparents, even before their take-off, before savoring the white cup of welcome,
begged the Lord affectionately that he would make them innocent again, like children . . .
And then . . . the children left home.
If you don’t have the sea,
where do you look
when night turns into glass?
If there are no ships,
or even sea gulls,
how can you heal your sadness?
The Old Man in the Coat
I’m the man in the coat,
the infamous grandfather;
in truth, I’m the scattered shadow
of the afternoons.
I walk bent over
by an ancient curse they call
something no magic can cure!
I’m ugly, but what can one do about that?
This old wart
I wear on my face
really can’t harm anyone.
The clothes I wear may be dirty,
faded and patched,
but it’s the outfit I put on
when I go to the farm.
I carry a few dried vegetables in my coat,
that horrid green stuff
capable of waging warfare
between appetite and spoon.
I know a thousand stories
and I’d gladly tell them to you,
in exchange for the aroma
drifting out your window.
But I walk by and everyone escapes,
I hear frightened doors closing,
terrified toys fleeing to their boxes,
and the mothers, if they see me,
take advantage of the moment, threaten ….
And so I vanish
into the dusty streets
swaying with hunger
as though I were a ghost.
Ladder to Heaven
Friend, send me a story that returns
with the waves, although it takes a long time,
and let it be white or let it change
with the changing mysteries.
Let it be both magical and real, brief and intense,
let it come like letters
and disturb my silence,
let it say something to everyone,
messages distinct but certain.
Friend, a story about a far journey through the universe,
without languages or wardrobes, and
let it serve as a roof so that no one goes without shelter
in the winter, a refuge, a little bit of sunshine, a song,
a consoling word.
A story like an embrace
that enfolds many bodies
weaving together the voices
Go Ahead, Be Invisible
It doesn’t matter
that you never respond
to my questions,
that in the starry sky
you are the black of night,
that when you try to surprise us
no one notices.
You are the friend
who is always here,
and in the silence
that names you,
a small warm
fills me to the brim.