have you ever been to the callejon hamal?
they say it's a little street where epithets are written on the walls,
white on black, red on black, red & white
by MartÌ, Guevara, God, Anonymous
"those who sell love are often as lonely
as those who buy"
i heard on sunday they play the rhumba there,
dance ritual desire, catch each other and
steal a handkerchief
as a token of acceptance you must
touch your partner's sex organs
i suppose it's different after dark,
like when i was there
from the sea front by the statue of independence
you can see all the way down to the lighthouse
hear the dirty water splashing against the stone wall,
and feel the cool sea breeze in your face.
those last few nights the moon was round
and though they were concealed in the darkness
i know the vultures were there too
as if inexplicably drawn to the hubbub
or the scent of human pathos
she sits in the square by the ancient cathedral
in a massive red, yellow and white dress
that makes her look like just a talking head,
an unlit cigar in her mouth.
she'll let you take her picture,
on the day of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution
everybody is on the streets.
the children play games while the youths dance
to reggaton played through booming speakers,
people stand at tables heaped with snacks
while others tend to meat stewing over junk-fires.
i often saw His name chalked on the streets
as i walked alone from block to block
imagining i could be close to them
"Viva ___" - FCR
at maria's is where we would sit
on the porch drinking rum and for hours
he smoked hollywoods with filters
and i vegas without
sometimes when we couldn't find a match
one of us would go around the block
and catch one from someone's cigarette
then we would keep the fire going,
until we'd smoked enough
we joked that there was only one flame on the whole island
nearby was the market place where we bought
our breakfast of stale bread, guavas &
great green avocados.
the ground outside was dusty clay
indoors among the rice sellers it smelled of dog-piss
all the stalls sold the same thing
in the morning the maid would bring us coffee,
weak and incredibly sweet, in china cups
it wasn't until i read the epithet in
Victor Hugo Park that i understood about
the old man and his arthritic wife
who talked, mumbled, yelled at us in his thick accent,
beat his fists upon his chest, cried, and preached
as though we should follow him to the ends of the world.
the great writer, greatest of all-
he bore into my eyes and with genuine furor assured me that
the Beatles never played in America
everyone in Vedado knew Maria Caredad
from the days when she ran her famous pizza kitchen
"ey, mamÌ!" they would say.
she told me she gave it up because she couldn't do with the bustle,
with all the people coming and going from her house.
her husband sat on the patio most of the day
and quietly tinkered with radios.
on more than one occassion she made pizza for us
with shrimp, canned red peppers, tomato paste, yellow cheese
every slice was so generous
the man who stands guard
beside John Lennon's statue
has come to resemble his ward
through careless imitation;
he shares the bench with it
side by side they sit,
with crossed legs
right over left
one arm rests on the bench's back.
he carries its spectacles in his pocket
so that nobody steals them
and the tourists that pass by
can have their picture taken
with the man himself
in the centre of the park is a giant tree.
it's unlike any i have seen before
on the bench across the way
3 men sit, one short and comical, the other
with slicked back hair, the third in the middle,
drinking rum on a Friday afternoon
the second stands up and raises his voice,
gestures violently at his companions,
sits back down. they pour rum into plastic cups,
two police walk by
the wind rustles the leaves without interuption
for one che anyone can buy an icecream
there's only two flavours to choose from though
i heard its a government scheme to make sure kids get enough calcium
strawberry's ok but chocolate's terrible
the old cars everywhere,
'yank tanks' they called them
it just goes to show that you really can keep them going,
although the bodies are mostly beaten up,
but every once in a while you see someone
with a squeaky clean pristine cadillac
that's when you know you're looking at a curious beast,
"hey my friend, where you from?"
for the last time, i'm not you friend
on the day of the carnival
the main street was chock-full of food and clothes stalls,
people selling - and demonstrating - novelty plastic trumpets.
sipping a beer in the shade
mustachioed men pause as they pass by
and we share a moment of perplexion
wondering who's spotted who.
the dancers in matching red & white get-up
come parading through the crowd,
followed by brass and percussion batteries
and now the air's vibrating so much
that the ever-oppressive heat is melting.
a woman shakes her ginormous rump
while her lover slaps it with a big grass stalk
like a feather,
perfectly in time to the rhythm