Letter to José Lezama Lima

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O apostle of our tropical baroque, so lush your verse, so snarled, crusted, curdled, mottled, & spirally— it was you who taught me that excess (the more extravagant the holier) is our island’s sacrament & the creed of spareness just a heresy bound to the northern mind. Ay Lezama mío, poeta de poetas, I heard your call in the rummed rivulets of jasmine nights, annona days— seek out our splurging sun, heed our fecund heat, soak in the placental rains that bless our Antilles with a reckless greenness, & only then can you see habaneras as okra-fingered, tamarind-toed, ackee- eyed, with little guava mouths that froth meringue when the sun goes down & hummingbirds swarm. They stroll with danzón shimmies those long esplanades of soursop foam along a coconut bay. They twirl banana-skin parasols that sieve sunlight into aureoles. Their little cinnamon dogs chew on marzipan bones. How absurd, the penny-pinching realist might say, she who reads poetry like an actuary table and commands that I be true as a T-square or a compass. She hates dreams, idylls, curves, the ampersand. She is the Angel of Order in a world graced by disorder. She haunts us as judge, inquisitor, reason’s enforcer who demands that all paradoxes be seized at the border then put into stocks beneath the syllogistic tree— that every carefree trope be corralled into dungeons of dogma because the imagination when unrestrained leads to chaos. I hear you murmur in sea-cadenced agony, What is reality but the tyrant that torments our art, the cudgel & lash that beat out whim & reverie. Blessèd Lezama, I believe in your gospel of the baroque, the fire of your candle tree when the wind is wet, the blood of your banana blossom at break of dawn.