Havana, 1955

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In this golden age before Fidel when sugar is queen at carnaval
and the conga squads convulse her petite colonial streets,
the Americans come by clipper plane hankering for fun
in seaside casinos primped for sin like guava-tart paramours
where coy roulettes tease Iowa girls in polka-dot dresses,
dealers skim the fedora men at craps and baccarat.
The Americans sunburn quickly by the hotel pool
and walking those stoned streets callouses tender feet,
so they stay indoors to smoke brandy-dipped cigars,
drink cocktails with mint monteras and olive banderillas,
then at night promenade to moonlit crystal cabarets
where rumba girls wiggle, gyre, thump like the Bacchae
that tore Orpheus, but this island is not Greece
and not even Old Spain, more a hybrid of Iberia and Africa,
where blancos adulterate to gamuts of brown,
rather than the olive skin of Argos, Corinth, Athens, Thebes
where nobility endows coloredness, unlike these Antilles
where confusion is such a force of nature that even
plants miscegenate in the savage sun of steamy days;
and music is kin to the Congo and Calabar as when
on any palm-frond stage dark men with scraggly straw hats,
ruffled shirts drum the skin of goats like the buttocks
of a fire god in the forests of the iroko and the caimán;
then by the night’s end when moon rays mix with dew,
the drunk Americans stagger into the malecón
where the salty air is intemperate, free of culture’s docility,
but the silence of the sea before the bluster of dawn
fills them with a dread that tingles skin, trembles bone,
excites the bladder into a rush of giddiness,
perhaps that very pleasure before the swoon of suicide,
and so they beckon this Carib Sea, jumping into the rocks
below to feel alive without remorse as their legs cut open
and the blood is set free into the gurgling waters of the bay.