Home > poets > Man on the Edge (by Heberto Padilla)

Man on the Edge (by Heberto Padilla)

Hernando Padilla, a Cuban writer that himself has been arrested and beaten in 1971 because of his discord with the Castro regime, knows firsthand about political repression and barbarism. The first images in this poem clearly relate that kind of experience:

He is not the man who goes over the wall,
feeling himself enclosed by his times,
nor is he the fugitive breathing hard
hidden in the back of a truck
fleeing from the terrorists,
nor is he the poor guy with the canceled passport
who is always trying to cross a new border.


–but in the negative: ‘he is not the man who goes over the wall’, etc. Rather:

He lives on this side of heroics
-in that dark part-
but never gets rattled or surprised.
He does not want to be a hero,
not even a romantic
around whom we might
weave a legend.


Still, the man he narrates about suffers from imprisonment, albeit of a sort not caused by political repression but rather by the human condition:

He is sentenced to this life, and, what terrifies him more,
condemned irretrievably to his own time.  


The images he subsequently employs to depict this human condition are of a rather absurd kind, this in contrast to the ‘real’ imagery at the start of the poem. They render well the confusion of being human:

He is headless at two in the morning,
going from one room to another
like an enormous wind
which barely survives in the wind outside.
Every morning he begins again
as if he were an Italian actor.
He stops dead
as if someone had just stolen his being.


The final image drives this human disarray to extremes:

No looking glass would dare reflect
this fallen mouth, this wisdom gone bankrupt.


One of the most striking aspects of this poem is its ironic tone. Of course, many poets are ‘inspired’ by the political repression of their time and place of which they – as outspoken intellectuals- are frequently a victim themselves and ofttimes this is an occasion to high quality writing. But here it is precisely the widening of the content from political brutality to the human condition in general that confers to the poem its peculiar flavour.

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