I Just Want to Write by Jaime Martinez Tolentino

I Just Want to Write by Jaime Martinez Tolentino

I just want to write! Today, enjoy another episode of The Island Across the River by Jaime Martinez Tolentino. Have a nice Monday, Yareah Magazine readers!


Jovellanos by Goya

Episode 1  Episode 2   Episode 3   Episode 4  Episode 5 Episode 6

After my mother, my father and José Madera had left, I began to devour my Julia de Burgos book, hoping to disprove what José’s friend from El Barrio had told him. My hero, the greatest Puerto Rican female poet of all time, couldn’t have sunk that low. However, what I read in El mar y tú, y otros poemas totally confirmed that she could and that, indeed, she did.

I read that between 1951 and 1953, Julia had spent several months in a hospital, probably undergoing detoxification. Then, I read that at the beginning of July 1953, she had collapsed in El Barrio’s East 105th street. She was rushed to Harlem Hospital, but she died that very same night. She was thirty-nine years old.

Since she had had no identification on her when she collapsed on the street, no next-of-kin, relative or friend was notified. Therefore, she had been buried in the potter’s field, the cemetery for indigent and unknown New Yorkers, on Wards Island. Her final trip to yet another island. The City that never sleeps had claimed another Puerto Rican life.

From El mar y tú, y otros poemas, I also learned that it was not until a whole month later, in August 1953, that the Puerto Rican press and the Puerto Rican writers back on the island found out about the passing of the great poet. At once, they went into action, collecting funds. Then, on September 6, 1953, Julia’s remains were dug up and transferred to another island —her beloved Puerto Rico, which she had left some fourteen years before.

I finished reading El mar y tú, y otros poemas, but when I reached the very last page, the book had yet one more surprise for me. There, in black and white, among all the poems in Spanish, was one in English! The only one that Julia ever wrote. It was titled “Farewell in Welfare Island” and it was dated Goldwater Memorial Hospital. Welfare Island – N.Y.C. February 1953. That was the period that my book indicated as when “Julia had spent several months in a hospital, probably undergoing detoxification.”

I couldn’t believe it. There was the last poem that Julia de Burgos ever wrote, just five months before her death! Even more surprising was that Julia had written it on yet another island —not Puerto Rico, Cuba, or even Manhattan, but rather the one across the river from the Hospital for Special Surgery, the one that had always drawn my attention so powerfully and always evoked such feelings of intense sorrow in me!

I’ve transcribed that heart-wrenching poem below for all to read, with all its English-language mistakes:

Farewell in Welfare Island

It has to be from here,

right this instance,

my cry into the world.


Life was somewhere forgotten

and sought refuge in the depths of tears

and sorrows

over this vast empire of solitude

and darkness.

Where is the voice of freedom,

freedom to laugh,

to move

without the heavy phantom of despair?

Where is the form of beauty

unshaken in its veil simple and pure?

Where is the warmth of heaven

pouring its dreams of love in broken spirits?


It has to be from here,

right this instance,

my cry into the world.

My cry that is no more mine,

but hers and his forever,

the comrades of my silence,

the phantoms of my grave.


It has to be from here,

forgotten but unshaken,

among comrades of silence

deep into Welfare Island

my farewell to the world.


Even though it’s after “lights out” and the hallways are dark and silent, I climb out of bed and into my wheelchair. I silently wheel myself down the hall to the solarium. The room is dark, but I don’t turn on the lights. Instead, I pull the sash and roll up the Venetian blinds.

Across the river, Welfare Island stares back at me in all its sorrow-filled indifference. There are lights on in certain rooms in certain buildings on the island. I wonder which poet is writing his or her last farewell in those rooms.

Suddenly, my dreams of a medical career vanish altogether. I just want to write!

Next Monday, the end of his story. Don’t miss it!

Click to add a comment

is a Puerto Rican writer. At the age of four, Martinez Tolentino contracted polio, which left him crippled. In 1951, he and his family emigrated to New York City where he lived until 1966. He attended New York University where he majored in French and French literature, while also studying Spanish literature and German. As an undergraduate he participated actively in the theater. After earning a B.A. and an M.A in French literature, he returned, briefly, to his native Puerto Rico where he was named French professor at The University of Puerto Rico. Then he left for Europe to pursue further studies. In France, he studied French at the Sorbonne, and then he relocated to Spain, where he studied both French and Hispanic Literature. He received a Ph.D. in French Literature from the University of Madrid, and then he returned to Puerto Rico. Between 1970 and 1984, Martinez Tolentino taught French at the Mayaguez Campus of the University of Puerto Rico, and he also published three books on French. Also during this period, he published a full-length play, and in 1984, he directed its staged version. One of his short stories was adapted for the stage in Puerto Rico in 1979. In 1980, he published his play La imagen del otro, and three years later, an original collection of short stories of the fantastic. As he continued publishing in Spanish, his interest in Hispanic literature grew. He began taking graduate courses in Spanish and Puerto Rican literature, and then taught Spanish literature at the Inter-American University of Puerto Rico, while still also teaching French at the UPR. In 1984, Martinez Tolentino resigned from his position as a French professor. In 1990, he became a Spanish professor at the State University of New York’s College of Buffalo, where he continued writing and producing plays. He retired from teaching in 2002, but not from writing and publishing. For a full history, you can find Jaime on Wikipedia or on his website.

More in Books

Creatives working at The Phoenix Artist

Independent venue launches hub for London’s creative community

Yareah MagazineJuly 19, 2016

Sunday Poetry with Jenean C. Gilstrap. A Midnight Clear in Kansas

Yareah MagazineJune 19, 2016
The Nantucket Book Festival

Book lovers. The Nantucket Book Festival features a stellar line-up of authors and events

Yareah MagazineMay 11, 2016
Ceramics by Sister Augustine

Author John Schlimm has won a Christopher Award for Five Years in Heaven

Yareah MagazineMay 5, 2016
Ken O'neill. Casino Woman in Red Throwing Dice

Sunday Poetry with Jenean C. Gilstrap. Today: burn baby burn

Jenean C GilstrapApril 24, 2016
Lions painted in the Chauvet Cave. This is a replica of the painting from the Brno museum Anthropos. The absence of the mane sometimes leads to these paintings being described as portraits of lionesses. Source: Wikipedia. Author: HTO - Own work (own photo)

Sunday Poetry with Gypsy Woman, Jenean C. Gilstrap. Today: Home

Jenean C GilstrapApril 17, 2016

Yareah Magazine

Art is Everywhere and Up to You.

About Us - Press Kit - Contact Us

YM on Twitter

Top Posts & Pages

Yareah® Magazine is a Registered Trademark in the United States