Come on, Fidel, look around you. You should consider yourself lucky: The present and the future are a logical result of that special ability you have of forcing your way into power. You will be an enviable, hard-to-beat paradigm for all redeemers of humanity. The Roman empire only lasted for so long, the Saxon empire for so long, yet Fidel has surpassed Augustus by far. Heaven and Earth shall pass away, but El Caballo’s sugar mill shall not.
- From his lonely watch post Albert Camus asked who among us has not experienced exile yet still managed to preserve a spark of fire in their soul. “We’re all alone,” Natalia Sedova cried in exile on hearing of her husband Leon Trotsky’s affair with Frida Kahlo. In his novel Night Watch, Stephen Koch follows the incestuous love affair of David and Harriet, wealthy siblings watching the world from their solitary exile. Koch’s writing, Camus’s theories, and Trotsky’s affair all come back to exile and lead me to reflect on the human condition. From my own vantage point, my Night Watch, I will reflect on my questions of exile, writing, and the human condition.
- Israel Centeno was born in 1958 in Caracas, Venezuela, and currently lives in Pittsburgh as a Writer-in-Residence with City of Asylum/Pittsburgh. He writes both novels and short stories, and also works as an editor and professor of literature. He has published nine books in Venezuela and three in Spain.
You must have written this and other things down in your notebook. How many presidents have passed through the White House since you first occupied that infamous mill, from which you insisted on calling Cuba socialist? How many have left as ghosts? How many powerful men have been booted off their platforms? How many have been tried in court by their own people? Every Nixon has had his Watergate, every Slobodan Milosevic has had his Saturday, yet you, distinguished president, have firmly remained at the helm of responsibility.
You have buried your travel companions, numerous colleagues, and finally the Soviet Union. The ghosts of fiery Nikita, Brezhnev the bear, and comrade Chernenko are tormented, the immortal Mao has become but a grey phantom, and yet, chico, nobody drags you through the mud or plots against you. Unperturbed, you continue following the spectral course of friends and foes. In your mercurial hours of insomnia, heroic and steely, without a trace of nostalgia, you count ghosts. There they go, there they go, I can almost hear you sigh: Johnson, Ford; Ronald Reagan, that forgetful imp.
How many popes have you buried?
You could be named the most inscrutable witness of this age. Using incomparable knowledge, you have managed to keep your dilapidated sugar mill impervious to and divorced from change. Despite having been involved in a few libertarian skirmishes relating to this and other issues, here you remain, without any quantifiable losses and still with no notable figure of progressive intelligence—or any other kind—that dares to label you as interventionist or count your illegal acts, or the deaths you’ve caused.
Now, with this tedious exercise coming to a close, it occurs to me to give a thought to General Ochoa or Roberto Robaina; everyone comes, everyone falls, and everyone goes—it’s a lesson in life. In one way or another, we are all fickle and insignificant, except for you. This is what you would have made Hugo Chávez understand on his death bed: You are inimitable. In this world of ghosts, for my generation and subsequent generations, your inexorable presence has never waned. In light of your contrasting insistence on being revolutionary, Solomon’s saying has been paradoxically brought to life: This too shall pass, except you, Caballo.