Categories
The Political Animal

La Habana Nueva

(It is a historic day — the American flag raised over the American embassy for the first time in 54 years. It seemed a good time to share my poem, La Habana Nueva, composed in 2002.)

In the new Havana
which is the old Havana
but older, as Dylan was younger than that now
Cesar – one eye now forever lost and spinning
in centerfield, glove and bare hand waiting and reaching
calmly beseeching the sky for the ball –
used to play for Industriale
who are the Yankee invasion that took.
When he sees your eyes search the cathartic
saline sick facades, as his eye
still seeks high drives
he says, “Where you from?” and you say
Estados Unidos, and he says “Estados Unidos!
Ah, my friend,” and hugs you like the plate.
He tells you what went wrong –
“the sun, she was lost in the ball” –
and shows you Granma, a mother
of a boat. Then the promised beer
in the bar where no tourists go
sluggish and dark like the future
turns into richer rum, a dollar a shot
on you, and goes down center smooth
and warm, like patience on the tongue.
A few convertible pesos more, for the baby’s milk
and his crazy eye catches your wallet
swollen with his desire, and you flee
a lover from too much need
ditch guilty cigarettes on the counter
because he wants your friendship
but your money more.

"Street Scene, Havana," Julia Dean, 2002
“Street Scene, Havana,” Julia Dean, 2002

In the new Havana
where the sun is lost in the ball
everyone is dizzy and calm with waiting.
We live in this world
orisha of embargoed time, colonial place
salsa of soul, danzon of dreams
dos ambos mundos at the Caribbean mouth, singing
la trove of old world, orotund anthem of new.
In the slow hurricane of history
beating BONG-O onto shore, conga
into sugar cane commerce, tobacco leaf lore
nothing is swept away, everything sways
like the coconut palm in the topical storm.
For God arrived, armored, in ships, belly
blown big by the world’s westering wind
devoured the old in the new, the new in the gold
horizons and the beaches, white with time.
But everything stays, nothing sweeps away
completely the Taino from the long dry bone
of earth – can wax spurred heels from palacio floors –
or cleans the mouth of language
or sets fire to the memory
that houses those who fled
or emancipates the future
from the past.
During and after the great gulf gale
that blustered over battlements and fields
and beat a hail of coin upon the curling tongues
the Cuban waters swelled with change
but on this island nothing is washed away
what leaves it stays, everything sways
like the coconut palm in the topical storm.

In the new Havana
everyone is loved
and no one is scorned by a weathered God.
A newer world rises like the Malecón spray
high over the seawall, soaking old Chevys
drenching the wounded pavement and the flesh
of dark lonely walkers, and Cesar is one.
He trawls in the wash for a light in the shadows
a dollar in a handshake, and the world’s great room
in a dreamy conversation. But still he is loved
by Ché and Fidel, with a new world’s ardor
and he’s loved by his cousins in Miami
and New Jersey, too, in their passionate refusal.
In the new Havana everyone is loved
but orphaned of care.
They live in this world
orisha of embargoed time, colonial place
salsa of soul, danzon of dreams, slow
hurricane of history:
dos ambos mundos at the Caribbean mouth

singing.

Originally published in PoetryBay, Fall 2002

Categories
Creative

New Fiction

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My short story “La Revolución” is at the Ampersand Review.

I spent a week. Gary worked as a critic for a music magazine, so even when he had to work, I tagged along. The music was everywhere. Gary and Pilar, his second wife, lived in Miramar, a wide open, breezy Havana suburb. They ran a paladar, one of the unofficial private restaurants that people operate out of some of the large, multi-story, former private homes of that Embassy area. Pilar was a raven-haired beauty, bursting with sensuality and very gracious to me. She set us up with food and a couple of Mojitos that day I arrived, then left for the afternoon.

“No, stay,” I said.

She said, “Old friends. So many years apart. You need to know each other again. Later we’ll have dinner.”

And that’s what we did. Got to know each other again. When I was done bringing Gary to the present, he said, “You were always so shy. Just take her by the arm and start walking her home. She’ll let you. Don’t ask.”

He was talking about Regina. Gary always cared about his friends. He loved his friendships.

“She’s an alcoholic, Gary.”

“What, you’re afraid she won’t amount to anything in life? You like each other. Keep each other company.”

Gary and Pilar had been married almost fifteen years. She was forty-five. Gary left his first wife for her, after twenty years.

“It was the worst thing I ever did.”

I must have looked shocked.

“I don’t mean I regret it. That’s not it. A woman like Pilar? Pilar and music. The rest doesn’t matter.”

He saw me try to understand.

“It’s the worst thing I ever did to another person.” I could see him remember the pain. “The worst. And the thing is, I’d do it again.”

I was silent. “So things are good with Pilar?” I said after a while.

“They’ve been great.” He emptied his glass. “You remember that Bertolucci film Last Tango in Paris?”

He surprised me again. “Yeah?”

“Near the end Brando suddenly decides that he actually does want to know this woman, and he wants her to know him. He starts chasing her out of the tango hall, scaring the shit out of her, telling her everything he can about himself in a rush. He calls out above the music, ‘I got a prostate the size of a potato, but I’m still a pretty good stick man.’ I love that line. I think Brando ad-libbed it.”

Gary chewed on a mint leaf. He raised his eyebrows at me. “I got a prostate the size of a potato.”

I nodded. “These are good,” I said, draining my glass.

“Wait till you try the Havana Club. Siete. It’s like a warm fire in the winter going down.”

I never did bring up the politics of it all. Who was I to, anyway? And what might he have been feeling after all that had happened, or hadn’t.

“You’ve been happy here?” I asked instead.

“I love it,” he said. He glanced out the window toward the sea. “I don’t know. In the summer, when the breeze blows through the palms, or when the hurricanes make you feel like the island’s just a boat on the water, and you’re riding it out for all you can make of it, whatever moments there are. When the rhythm comes up and a woman like Pilar tosses her hips. And the maracas rattle and a man rolls his shoulders.” Now he looked at me. “It’s supposed to be an atheist society, right? After all this, there’s nothing?” He paused. “It’s the opposite of nothing.”

Start from the beginning and read the rest here.

AJA

Photo by DeviantArt user trace-on.  Used under a Creative Commons 3.0 License

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