Alaska & Dad

Alaska and Dad

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

would you like to live in Alaska?,
my father used to say.
if you never go to Alaska, son,
death will surprise you incomplete.

mysterious words
pronounced in the late 70s of an island
under the shrieking socialist sun of
La Habana.

words not in English
nor in Spanish, of course,
but in a Cuban jargon with no external reference at all:
a dead tongue that in my childhood
like a curse.

I was 9 or 10,
maybe no age back then.
and I looked as frightened as today.
but I had my father
who was also my grandpa
although he talked of death and Alaska
and other incomprehensible

he was 52 when I was born
in the early 70s of an island
under the sunny socialist shrieks of
La Habana.

besides the transparency of his Sicilian eyes,
I inherited two humble homelands
from my dad:
two labyrinths difficult to distinguish
in the magic of his bookshelf.

we lived in Lawton
a delicate neighborhood
in the outskirts of La Habana
now turned into a delicate wasteland
in the outskirts of La Revolución.

my father
so lucid
so losing
under the spell of the official speech,
swallowing the pills allowed
to overcome his nightmares of Alaska

my father so much my

he retired when I was still a kid.
here and there he insisted
with his northern mania,
calling me sometimes “son”
and sometimes

he hated life under Fidel.
that, we all knew.
my father,
so shrewd.

he had faith in surviving our
Commander in Chief.
but August is the cruelest month.
and on the very birthday of Castro
my father was generous enough
to pass away,
granting victory to his former
Jesuit classmate.

it was Sunday, of course.
an amateur autopsy revealed nothing.
just the conventional cancer.
a merciful metastasis
that put him to sleep with no pain.

never went to a doctor.
never suspected a thing.
just some vomits, for a few weeks,
like coffee grains.
and the transparency of his Sicilian eyes
became so opaque.

forget about life in Alaska, son,
were almost his last words:
there’s not such a place on Earth.

his name was Dionisio Manuel Pardo Fernández
(almost a 19th century name).

it has taken me years and years
to understand
that I’ll never pronounce such a long and musical line
no need to walk him to the bath
out of his sacred chamber
where decades of American magazines

his reading resistance resembled
the delusions of his utterly underlined volume of
Don Quixote de La Habana.

I’m sorry, grandpa.
a deal is a deal, dad.

not only was there indeed such a place on Earth
called Alaska,
but I came here to challenge you
to display your chessboard
over those archaic English dictionaries
bought in Communist Cuba for a couple of

  1. Pawn King-Four.

I know how you will defend.
once Sicilian, always Sicilian.
the terminal transparency of your eyes
makes more than obvious that black square
occupied by you for the ages.

  1. (…) Pawn Queen-Bishop-Four.

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