Carolina Hospital.
Texas: Arte Publico
Press, 2004

Carolina Hospital comes of age as a poet and as a woman in THE CHILD
OFEXILE. The author is a Cuban American poet, novelist and essayist who
has published two groundbreaking anthologies of Cuban American literature,
as well as the novel A LITTLE LOVE, under the pen name of C. C. Medina.
THE CHILD OF EXILE, her first collection of poetry, which spans twenty
years of her life, is divided into sections
that deal with political exile, cultural identity, relationships, motherhood,
nature as transcendence and finally spirituality.

"Gestation," the first section of the collection, presents politics from a very
personal perspective. In "Hell's Kitchen," for example, the poet writes about
two very different poets imprisoned in Castro's jail: Angel Cuadra faces his
incarceration with forgiveness and  love, Reinaldo Arenas, on the other hand,
is the rebellious soul who never found peace:

For 15 years, Angel forgave his youth
as it abandoned him, piece by piece.
He gave away his intimacy...

The words flew on the wings of angels
And carried away his anger with his passion...

Reinaldo found no angels,
only humans addicted to desire
looking for the sum of all delights
in a place where no delights are possible.

Without trite denunciations and with beautiful economy of
words, the harsh reality of life in Cuba's prisons comes through. Most
importantly, the poet gives us a glimpse of her Cuban roots and captures  the
essence of the two poets, their suffering and their different personalities.
The idea of duality, of opposing sides as part of the whole, is
pervasive in the first two sections of the book.

Hospital's denunciation of Cuba's oppressive regime and her solidarity
with a Cuban rafter who drowned shines through in "A Daughter for

I never met her, nor heard of her before,
yet her story unraveled mine...
This moat that delighted tourists
left no strip of shore unguarded
with a channel so wide, it swallowed
her screams with my restless dream.

In the "Gestation" poems, the poet further explores the theme of duality.   The
poems include contrasting lives, attitudes, and shores both physical and
psychological.  If she establishes her Cuban roots in"Gestation," she defines
herself as "The Child of Exile" and a Cuban-American in "Sorting Home," the
second section of the book.
Although "The Hyphenated Man" drives home the theme in a humorous
manner, it is most beautifully expressed in "Dear Tia" where Cuba is "aland so
familiarly foreign." and in "Sorting Miami," the  city where:

A Jeep pulls up
to buy its share
of the tropics.

I understand their voices,
and the silhouette of the vendor
could easily be that of my uncle, dead in Havana.

But in minutes,
I drive across a deep fissure
in the asphalt.
I wonder, how long will I be able
to step into this mirror of a city
and return home in one piece?

In "Finding Home," she travels north and finds it more familiar than "the clatter
of politicos at the corner, or the palm fronds falling by the highway."  In
"Geography Jazz," however, she looks  south to Miami Beach and Cuba:

Those glass doors
edged with flamingos
take us
to another city

The Cuban musicians and the city come together " and water sets no
boundaries, and time poses no obstacles."  In "The Gardener": " For an
instant, I exist in three spaces... I realize it doesn't matter." She has sorted out
that home is Cuba and the United States, north and south.Miami and Havana.
There is no anguish in the hyphenation.

Humor in "Sorting Home," is replaced by pathos in "Sitting Still." "The Lost
Hammock" depicts a woman whose husband took her to these shores but
who longs for her life in Cuba.   In "Morning" she searches for clarity and in
"Whale Harbor Inn at Dusk" she shares a private family moment and a sad
discovery that leaves her husband feeling like "an old jacket that no longer
fit."  There is also pain and suffering in "For a Sister Here."  At the end of this
section, the poet finds God, and the love of God for the child (the prodigal
daughter) is reaffirmed through the love between man and woman. In "On the
Last Stretch of the Journey" she writes:

This is a moment of grace said Father.
He held my hands and smiled
as if my return after 18 years
was a gift I had delivered him.
A spoiled child had abandoned
the stained-glass windows...

And later on in the same poem she speaks of "embracing the void" and:

We made love.
You were surprised
by the child in my eyes.

Other poems in this section speak of love, passion and discovery. In
"Twenty Springs," she writes:
After twenty years, I have
discovered what you knew all along,
that love is what brings us
to the edge of the sea...

But through the stumbling discoveries,
I know now that love, real love,
is sitting still

"Communion" is devoted to family life. The poet's love for her daughters is
likened to the Eucharist in the poem that gives title to the section:

All actions combined into one.
Taking the bread, he said
"This is my body given to you."
Now, I offer her my body,
food to nurture her
gift of the spirit
consecrated in the flesh.

"Monarchs in Flight" and  "Clinging" are the last two sections of the book and
the most philosophical ones. Her reflections about nature in "Monarchs"
conjure images of bliss, as the poet feels connected to the world around her:
"as the leaves float around me like brocade/I am filled with color."

"Clinging" is the poet's brief but soulful conclusion to her personal
journey. The poems speak of renewal,  "Modern Faith," death, life, and
God.  The final poem dedicated to her husband, Carlos, is a "Poem of
Thanks, " but it is also a love poem.  She is healed, a cancer survivor. The
poem tells us of the news on the phone, the light that
he lit and his love:

slowly combs the knots out of my tangled hands,
cleanses the scar across my broken breast.
My body grows limp like a dying child.
I bind myself to him.
I invoke his name.
I find my reflection restored in his eyes
and I understand.
Human love cannot be measured
but in the depth of God.

The author's choice of art ("La distancia del sonido," 1994 by Albertina
Delgado) for the cover of THE CHILD OF EXILE is an interesting depiction
of a vase, in the shape of an urn, submerged in the ocean and surrounded by
swimming fish. Through the top of it emerges part of a woman's long hair, and
a crack in the urn shows the woman peering out.
Only her eyes are clearly visible. The bottom of the vase, however, seems to
dissolve into the ocean. The image evokes many of the themes in the
collection of poems: nature, water, womanhood and transcendence.  Those
are the themes that help unravel the poet's voice.

The book's intimate story told in a deceptively simple manner is the
most attractive aspect of this beautiful and brief collection of poems. Carolina
Hospital's artful and concise images chronicle her search for identity, her
struggle with illness and her love of family and husband. Her search reveals
her humanity and her need to connect with everything around her. That
universal need so lyrically expressed is what makes the book so appealing to
all readers, not just to the children of exile.

Margarita Caveda Batlle has a doctorate in Spanish
literature and is a Professor of Spanish at the
Kendall Campus of Miami Dade College.

Linden Lane Magazine (c) Todos los Derechos Reservados, 2004