Category Archives: Cuba
Well, I remember this one time, I ate ants. They had been crawling in the bread, every day that we sat for breakfast on the back porch that overlooked a sad garden and a cracked paved street that followed the ocean. We could watch the sunset in the evening atop the house in ancient metal rocking chairs, and we could drink rum every night if we wanted.
During the first night in the new town, I did not touch the bread. I spat the bread onto my plate and wrapped the chewed bread in a napkin; ants crawled through the dry porous innards of the slices. By day four, I ate the ants—I could not be bothered by the extra protein, so small, squirmy black specks. I pressed the bread against the ceramic plates to suck up warm egg and then munch on the bread.
We could see the horizon from there, the sea crashing against the rocks, and lovers striding up and down the lines that divided the domestic from the wild.
Everyone in the city smoked cigarettes, the orange-bright ends illuminating every stoop, park bench, and window. If we shut out the lights, cut the electrical lines, we might still be able to read by the glare of a million burning cigarettes, their ashes spilling into the crease between the pages. Many treated their cigarettes with ritual superstition—practicing traditions passed down from the Great War, from the Native Americans, and from the study-abroad semesters in Bulgaria. Each secreted upside down sticks in their packs—the lucky cigarette—absconding white lighters and lighting up with the ends of each others’ cigarettes. When finished, they tapped out the cigarettes in overflowing ash trays, some plastic, others glass.
The smoke, meanwhile, floated above their heads in lazy spirals—smoke took on a life of its own, an animated beast rising and swaying like a drunk ballerina in flats not yet broken in. The bearded man with glasses, reading Kant with a mix of pretentiousness and a sincere desire to understand, the freckled girl with a glinting nose ring—hell, the Catholic Father with his black shirt unbuttoned in the simmering summer heat. Here they sat, sharing communion: rather than a reminder of life, they acknowledged death, welcomed it into their lungs with breaths deep as love.
The priest took a drag on his cigarette, and I wonder why he smokes, if there is reason at all or if it seemed something to do when there was nothing else to do. Some of the people in the city, they rolled their cigarettes. The heathens of the Holy City smoked everything they could stuff into rolling papers, fitting their filters sloppily to the end.
Perhaps he liked smoking for its symbolism, its thematic properties. Cigarettes reflected the American desire for death, the necessity of it with our lives, because without death, we would not be able to justify our wasteful lives. If we were to live forever, then we would be forced to do something, but death had become our ultimate cop-out, our greatest excuse for failure. We could try, try to do something good and impactful, but then too late—you died too soon, oh well.
The embers died out, crackling like a campfire in the jumble of ash trays, and the city grew dark as the smokers fell one by one to sleep.
[A poem about a specific event in Cuba, though severely exaggerated. It had an interesting impact and summed up much of what I learned while I was in the country. I’ll post a live reading of it when I debut it at an open mic, which should be some time next week.]
On my final night in Cuba, while strolling home
from the Malecon, drunker than Hemingway
and more nostalgic than Buzz Aldrin during a full moon,
a boy spat on my shoes and screamed,
“Screw you, dirty American. You ruin everything!”
That is the edited version of his comment,
bleary-eyed and angry as he was.
My entire life I had grown up being called names:
Spazz, geek, twitch, space cadet, nerd, stupid face,
weirdo, pothead, loser, Southern boy, and usless.
But nothing hurt my pride more than
being called, a “dirty American.”
Which in Latin America is a strange insult:
they too are America, not just the United States,
which the US citizens tend to forget.
Without breaking a sweat, I turned about face
and stood in the place before him and said,
“Look, don’t you realize—don’t you see?
I love you!”
We stared each of us for a moment, tense,
and I said, “Look, man, we’ve got a war going on,
and we’re losing. Love is losing.
We’re being drowned in a sea of apathy
while our violence is anything but holy.
But we need to return to the sacred, to the human,
to the soul and to our passions.
We’re facing giants of oppression
and if we don’t learn our lesson, we’ll be done for.
So you and me, we gotta stick together.
We have to rally on the side same,
and what’s the point of shouting at each other on the street
when you’re little brother doesn’t have anything to eat?
Why would you want to fight like this
when you don’t own a toilet where you can take a piss?
So, I’m here for you, and I’ll always be here for you,
so don’t you dare talk to me that way.
I know, I know, you can only get drunk and forget your life
only because today was a good day.
But what about tomorrow?
When will we fight for tomorrow?
When will we wield our imaginations like swords?
I’ll charge into the battlefield mounted on a unicorn
There’s no time to squabble and there’s no time to mourn.
Because it’s bigger than us.”
I realized as he nodded his head
He didn’t understand a damned word I said
But he understood my voice and with what passion I spoke
and I guess he figured I was an alright bloke
He shook my hand and I went on my way
and we got drunker, because today had been a good day.
Sometimes, words won’t do, and sometimes
we fail ourselves—that’s evolutionary
But if we live and we love,
that act is revolutionary.