Cuba  

 

Asylum

 

I: Crisis

The patient checked himself in for a week.

The lady at the reception took his name, address, identification,

and clipped a little green plastic band around his wrist.

It read: Club Atlantico, # 0592.

Incapable of doing anything, he did nothing.

He abandoned himself to the care

of the doctors with their white suits

and slicked-back hair.

Club Atlántico, Playas del Este

Club Atlántico, Playas del Este

None of the cares of the outside world

which led him to the asylum in the first place

could reach him here:

the countless -- yet always counted! -- economic details

that nagged him on every corner

at every bar, in every restaurant, even in the pizzeria

the crass communist marketeers of Cuba

the paradox of socialist rhetoric awash in American bills

 

The eager hucksters with their excruciating smiles

weren't allowed through the asylum gates

 

Attended to by nurses in black aprons with white lace

he forgot about his guilt and his obscene decadence

 

II: Relapse

On occasion he regressed to his earlier state

imagining his finger on the lace

slowly lifting the uniform of Nairobi the serum dispenser

who was so eager to talk to him

to escape for a minute the interminable orders of the Italians

who ran the asylum

and jumped in and out of the pool

and spoke in a language that sounded like Spanish

but made no sense at all

(although Nairobi told him that of all the peoples in the world

the Italians and the Cubans deserved each other

in the best and in the worst of ways)

 

He managed to convey in his broken Spanish

(his mind shattered by Economics

but determined to pick up the pieces

and glue himself together)

that he would recover more quickly

if he were back in his room

away from the salsa dancing lessons

and the Napoli gyrations 

and closer to the protective care of his nurse

in his room with his TV and his white cotton bed

there would be room for them to relax

and get away from the busy dispensary where she worked

and gave injections of Añejo 7 Años 

to whoever swam up to the bar

her constant administration of Mayabe serums

having stirred the sugar of his blood

they could lie back and forget about the doctors

or that odd Quebecer

who expected everyone to understand his plight

(even the French inmates just said Quoi?)

they could forget about language and politics altogether

forget about their cares, her clothes

throw it all to the wind

of the air-conditioner

where they could rest their minds

slip into a more friendly foreign exchange of principles

and re-arrange

 

III: Recovery

The nurse closed the door behind her

and the patient asked himself if that was her black body he floated in

or had he confused himself with the ice

in the last of his cuba libres

that swam in the caramel and dark of the sweating glass

his love like cylindrical ice

served at the poolside bar

 

And were all those gyrations in his mind

Italian tourists beside the pool in the hot sun

two golden-haired signoritas revolving their hips together

breasts bouncing in their tight bikinis

the patient began to understand that he was in Cuba

in a tourist resort

and that everyone there was crazy

they were Italians

he loved them for that

for the fact they weren't English, Canadian, German, or even French

that they rumba’d and salsa’d and merengue’d like Cubans

and that he had found one more place in this serious world

where women could go topless and laugh

as one of the inmates did yesterday evening on the beach

as she took her top off and jumped on her sleeping boyfriend

and rubbed her face into his neck

her bronze breasts dropping onto his back

as she poked him in places even a Roman would consider rude

and as he turned over

they fell sideways off the beach chair

her breasts all over his powerful arms

as he lifted her up and into the chrome blue sea

 

IV: Check-out

After the head nurse clipped off his plastic green bracelet

he walked toward his waiting cab

and was cured

 

 

Ambos Mundos (Havana)

 

When you think of leaving this island

you exaggerate the horrors of Canada: that frigid hell

where the women have taken to impersonating the men

and no one speaks to anyone

unless their interests intersect

 

You tell yourself that you understand why

after fishing and fucking

Hemingway returned to Idaho

and put a bullet through his head

 

But then you realize that there's no way you can ever escape

the band singing Buena Vista tunes

in every bar in every town in every province

because even when you think you've escaped

to the Terrace Café of the Ambos Mundos Hotel

to view the harbour and the castle

and the rooftops of Old Havana

in quiet

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even when you think you have found a quiet place

far from the drums and tin clanking things

of the troupe on stilts

and the hustlers

and the stench of sewers and those big garbage bins

even when you think you've taken the elevator to another world

past the famous Hemingway room

to the terrace café with its green and brown tablecloths

and its thatched vine roof and its ferns and shrubs

swaying in the breeze of a long, sought-after calm

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even when you order a café americano

and tilt into it your Coffee Mate

wisps drifting over the tablecloth

the guitar starts up

the drum bangs ten feet from your ear

and you start to yearn for that calm den

seven floors in the Vancouver air

 

 

Memories (Havana)

 

The day before you go, you wonder

what will become of the memories --

these places locked inside your mind:

the grids and topographies,

the friendly faces, 

Plaza Vieja, the green hills of Viñales,

the red earth of Pinar del Rio

the beauty of Trinidad

and the packed streets of Santiago

with its weekend party, six blocks long;

the crazy Dutchman and his Bolivian wife,

the Italian girl in the red bikini

a night at the Tropicana with your friend Greg

the girls whirling in your mind

threatening the equilibrium in your ear

that could almost make you fall

away from your chosen world

that cold and orderly, northerly world

into a land of rhythm and blood

But it all remains locked within the network

of grey cells and winding circuits

only raising slightly the count of oxygen in your red blood cells

and the strength of your pulse

as you finger your apartment key

 

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