Different Skies
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Cuba (canciones sobre la pobreza)Zac Gvirtzman



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,

           "one dolla"




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-

           Biktor 'Ugo!

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