Poem a Day 2015 #19 – Lost

Poem number 19 for April 2015. A sort of surreal imagining based on a Cuban snippet.

Lost

Years later

I find him in Havana

on the Malecon

 

“I thought you had died”

“It looked like that, didn’t it?”

 

He is looking out to sea

His hands are muscular

One is full of stones

 

Every few minutes

he fires one into the waves

 

“America is like

an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord

beckoning the poor

to gorge

on its abundance”

 

I want to ask

why he gave up all he had

for the oblivion of alcohol

 

I want to ask

what he is trying to hit

with the stones

 

But I know he would say

“Florida”

 

 

Copyright Mike Hopkins 2015

Poem a Day 2015 #14 – Finding Music in Havana

Poem number 14 for April 2015. And another snippet from my Cuba journal:

The Music of Havana

Tuesday 28th June 2005

I want to hear some live Cuban music. After dinner I walk down to the Malecon to catch a scooter-taxi. The taxi driver is the biggest and blackest man I’ve ever seen, with the whitest teeth I’ve ever seen – they almost glow as night draws in. He quotes $5 to take me to Habana Vieja (Old Havana). He is loud and humorous and friendly, like most Cubans. He tells me “you need to find a woman. You haven’t lived until you have fucked a Cuban woman”. I tell him I am married. He says so is he, but it makes no difference. I say “no thanks”. He laughs and points out a few of the “chicas” as he speeds along the Malecon, looking more at me than at the road. I ask him where to find the best music. He recommends La Bodegita del Medio and drops me nearby. This area of Havana is well preserved: cobbled streets, no traffic, it could be an old part of Madrid or Barcelona. The Bodegita is a small, cramped, L-shaped bar with wooden partitions to the street. There is indeed a good band playing, nestled in the corner, backs to the street, guitar, double bass, maracas, drums and all of them singing intricate harmonies. The maraca player occasionally bangs his maracas on the partition. It the best I’ve heard so far, but the place is a bit touristy, and the beers are tourist prices i.e. $3 for a beer compared to the usual $1. After two or three songs, the guitarist passes around the hat and pushes their CD. I buy one for $10. I walk about 100 metres and hear another band. A more down-market but bigger bar. Ceiling fans, waitresses, cigar smoke. The band are OK. A female flautist does a dance routine with the male lead singer. I walk for another ten minutes and come to the Bar Monserrate. The band here really cooks: saxophone, electric piano, drums, guitar, vocals. The sax player is a virtuoso, sprinkling references to Gershwin in his solos. I wander further, past a derelict, partly demolished building in which chairs have been set up and there is an improvised bar in the corner, and a small stage. The band on the stage look and sound like the Buena Vista Social Club. Great vocals. But the rain starts, and it gets so heavy that they call the gig off. I get a scooter-taxi back to Vedado. A different driver. Not a good-time guy, a serious guy. No talk of Cuban women, but of Fidel and Chavez and a big deal they are pulling off.

 

 

Copyright Mike Hopkins 2015

Poem a Day 2015 #13 – On my way to meet Fat Mary the Prostitute

Poem number 13 for April 2015. Another snippet from my Cuba journal:

On my way to meet Fat Mary the Prostitute

18th June 2005

I’m cycling on the Guanahacabibes Peninsula, to the westernmost point of Cuba to see Fat Mary the Prostitute. She’s not there anymore, but the town of Maria La Gorda is named after her. Maria was an aboriginal Venezuelan woman, cast aside by pirates once they had tired of her. When the pirates departed, she set up an “inn” where she made a living by entertaining sailors and locals, and grew fat on the proceeds. The inn is now a Cuban hotel. Cuban hotels are almost all terrible, but there’s nowhere else to stay at Maria la Gorda. Once I’m on the peninsula, the landscape changes from small farms to thick scrub, which is high enough to cast much-needed shade over the quiet road. Clouds of white and yellow butterflies rise up in front of my bicycle. Thousands of small red crabs scuttle sideways across the road. A vulture flies along the crest of the road in front of me for a few hundred metres after I disturb it from its road kill. I stop by the roadside about 11:30 for an early lunch. 44 kilometres covered. A hundred mosquitoes descend on me, but obligingly disperse when I wave my arms frantically. My backside is sore. I adjust the height of the saddle and get back on the road. At 52 kilometres I reach the sea at Bajada. I was told there was high security here because of the fear of U.S. invasion and the sparse population along the coast. There’s a boom gate across the road. The guard is asleep in his hut. I stop obediently but it seems a shame to wake him. I cycle around the boom gate. The last 14 kilometres is alongside white sandy beaches. The road gets rougher. It’s completely washed away in places. It’s covered in white debris – what looks like a mixture of sand and marble. I’m wearing an old long-sleeved business shirt I bought in a shop in Vinales for 33 Cuban Pesos (about $2). I didn’t know it was old until I unwrapped it and saw the soiled collar, but for $2 it was still a bargain. The long sleeves and high collar will give me some protection from the Cuban sun. To try to stay cool I have unbuttoned the shirt all the way down the front. Despite my downward facing position on the bike, I find that my stomach and chest are turning lobster red from sunburn; the sun’s reflection off the white road. I reach the hotel at Maria La Gorda. I haven’t booked, so if it’s full I either sleep out in the open (not a good idea) or turn around and head 70 kilometres back to Sandino (impossible, I’m exhausted). The Señorita at receptions says “Si”, they have a room. She is not fat. Her name is not Mary.

 

 

Copyright Mike Hopkins 2015

Poem a Day 2015 #9 – The Bicycle Mechanic of Vedado

Poem number 9 for April 2015. I’ve picked up a quarter written poem about cycling in Cuba about ten years ago. On arriving in Havana, I discovered that my bike had been damaged in transit, and a couple of critical pieces of it were missing viz. the bolts that hold the handlebars and the derailleur in place. I nearly went straight back home. You just can’t get bicycle spares in Cuba. But I found a man who was an amateur bicycle mechanic, and he was my saviour.

The Bicycle Mechanic of Vedado

On the first floor

of a Havana tenement

 

Juan Perez ushers me (and my bike)

into his kitchen

 

displays his workbench

which is his kitchen table

 

his rusting, reclaimed tools

alongside his cutlery

 

his jars of screws and washers

amongst salsa and sauce bottles

 

His fat fingers retrieve

just the right screw

to secure my handlebars

 

he improvises

an arrangement of nuts and bolts

to hold my derailleur in place

 

I ask “How much do I owe you?”

he says “Whatever you like”

 

Minutes later I’m on the Calle ¹

riding into a fifties film set


¹ Street
 

Copyright Mike Hopkins 2015

Cuba Journal – The Casablanca Ferry

Saturday 11th June 2005

Queuing along a shadowy passageway leading down to the local ferry from Havana to Casablanca and Cojimar. My bike worth ten years wages to the Cubans pressed in around me. It’s claustrophobic. It’s humid. My paranoia is mounting. The queue shuffles forward. Even the locals are sweating.

One hand on my wallet. My thoughts of a stiletto knife and the ease with which one could be slipped between my ribs. My eyes drawn to the dark gap between ferry and quay, tailor made for a tourist’s body. My attention sought by a ragged man and his ragged wife in front of me. They are staring at my wallet and the Convertible Pesos * folded inside it. He gesticulates to me and then to his wife. She looks too old, surely, to be a prostitute, though she is probably younger than me.

I don’t understand his gap toothed Spanish. Can vaguely interprete “too much, too much”. Too much what? I have too much money for one person in a socialist country? I have too many possessions and those around me have too few?  I tighten my grip on my bike, push my wallet deeper into my pocket, keep edging forward towards the rough looking, swarthy Cuban collecting fares on the gangplank. The old man is getting more and more agitated, keeps pointing to his wife and to me. At last she reaches into her purse, pulls out 40 centavos, local currency, the ferry fare; gives it to me, to save me using a whole convertible peso, for which I would receive no change.

_______________________________________________________________________________________

* Cuba operates dual currencies: Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC$) are for tourist use, pegged to the US dollar and must be used to pay for accommodation and anywhere that tourists might shop – bars, restaurants, supermarkets,tourist buses. Local pesos are used day to day by Cubans, are only accepted in the local shops, street stalls, local transport etc. A CUC$ is worth about 25 times a local peso. Each peso is made up of 100 centavos. So the ferry fare of 40 centavos is about 1/60th of CUC$1

Copyright Mike Hopkins 2014

Poem a Day #30 – Leonard Cohen in Cuba

cohenincuba

Final poem for April 2014. Today, for I think the first time, I’ve used the prompt from the NaPoWriMo web page. Actually, it’s yesterday’s prompt as they are a day behind Australia.  It gives a complex 20 step recipe for a poem e.g.:

1. Begin the poem with a metaphor.
2. Say something specific but utterly preposterous.
3. Use at least one image for each of the five senses, either in succession or scattered randomly throughout the poem.

etc.

I followed the instructions closely, and then massaged the results. For instance I relocated the poem to Cuba, which I visited about 8 years ago. The result does not necessarily make sense, but, as an experimental poem written within specified constraints, I think it’s sort of interesting. Only after finishing this draft did I find that Cohen actually went to Cuba during the Bay of Pigs invasion (read about it here) – don’t know whether that came from my subconscious or is pure coincidence.

Leonard Cohen in Cuba

Over Havana

the sun is eclipsed.

 

In the false dusk

the cab-drivers

are like porn stars

 

The street beggars yearn

for the touch of skin.

Their beds are of cardboard

scented with cheap rum

 

In the bars,

there is salt

on the rims

of the glasses

 

but the punters

can only taste collapse

and endure the complaints

of disappointed women

 

Leonard comes to town.

He corrects me:

“It wasn’t cardboard,

it was newspaper.

They stank of urine not rum.

and these cigars are utter tosh”

“Llame a la policía!” he shrieks

 

The bars are flooded

in a freak storm.

The cab-drivers go home

for dinner with their families.

 

On Sunday,

the ceiling collapses

from the weight of expectations.

 

The embassy recommends

we move to a monastery

safe from the police

and the constant

attentions of the jineteros

 

Leonard sneers

at his entourage.

The boss is unimpressed.

“It will end in tears” he warns

 

The belligerent nuns

whisper that the drunken priests

are the only ones

to be trusted

 

 © Mike Hopkins 2014