I wrote this poem honoring Cuban artist/activist Danilo Maldonado Machado, aka "El Sexto", for Poetic People Power's (P3) ensemble spoken word piece While We Were Sleeping, that I also had the privilege of performing in, along with six other talented poets, in the International Human Rights Arts Festival hosted by Dixon Place theater in New York City. (Note: this is a slightly edited and cleaned up version).
Special thanks to my friend and fellow actor/writer, Shetal Shah, for inviting me to join this amazing group of artists! Check back soon for photos from the performance and enjoy :)
El Sexto, the Sixth
Danilo Maldonado Machado
Because, in 1998, habian Five Cuban officers
incarcerated for espionage in America,
and dubbed heroes by Castro.
A persecuted voice in Castro's Cuba,
Danilo irreverently called himself, the Sixth.
El Sexto. La voz del pueblo.
Machado refuses to be silenced in a land
where government terror snuffs, stifles
and suffocates the act of expression.
El Sexto, the Sixth. Danilo.
Te juro, speaking truth through art is his only crime
Because you see, in Cuba, "artistic creation
is free, provided that its content is not contrary
to the Revolution" Article 39, Cuba's constitution
Content not contrary to the Revolution?
Pero, eso es una farsa, verdad?
Because to create is to challenge, to subvert,
to imagine an alternative to the reality you're fed
Tell a candle to burn in a vacuum.
Tell a political prisoner to rest peacefully on a bed.
But the truth is, in Cuba, there are so many like Danilo,
thousands of political prisoners, that the prisons are short on beds
Dissident voices penned up behind cold concrete, lie awake on dirty floors.
Like pigs penned up on the eve of their slaughter.
Content not contrary to the Revolution.
Never content. Never silent,
In 2014, El Sexto painted on two piglets, the names "Fidel" and "Raul"
and planned to release them in a park, where he envisioned onlookers
chasing and capturing los cerdos, as a prize; a nod to Orwell
and his "Animal Farm". Only, his vision was cut short when authorities
arrested him before the performance even started, and jailed him
for 10 months; there, he was tortured physically and psychologically,
driven to a hunger strike, and even contemplated letting himself die.
No charges were filed and there was no trial.
Content not contrary.
The Sixth. Danilo Maldonado Machado of Camaguey.
He grew up poor during Cuba's Special Period,
when Soviet subsidies dried up, and left la gente
in despair. Arrested three times for his political views,
the most recent was in November 2016 for 55 days,
after he filmed himself spraying graffiti celebrating
the death of Fidel Castro. "Abajo Fidel, Abajo Raul"
he said into the camera on his phone.
Abducted, beaten, and gagged, Danilo recounts in his sketchbook,
that he was transferred five times. The Sixth, in his sketchbook,
wrote a poem in Spanish, The Sound of My Soul, from within the walls
of a cell that could never contain his defiant, indefatigable spirit. He wrote:
"I want to know what I have done. I want to know what is happening to humanity."
- Content contrary to the Revolution.
Danilo, the Sixth, was released from prison on January 21, 2017
But a creative soul like El Sexto knows this a false freedom, a sheen
designed to lull into complacence a lesser man, that for him is fleeting.
As long as his government uses arbitrary arrests and intimidation,
planting fear in its citizens, violating their fundamental right to free expression,
Danilo Machado remains a soldier, speaking truth to authority
Sigue El Sexto! Porque la libertad, Liberty-
If you want to reach it, Danilo states,
"Fear is an important thing to eliminate".
- Kesav Wable