February 2018 Poem of the Month


Havana Club

When in Havana, you drink Havana Club straight, 

sipping, swirling high in the light, tasting the balance 

of caramel and oak from twelve years captive in cask.

The rum master does not apologize for the numbness

on our tongues or for his four-pocket shirt,

but he pulls our attention to the warmth and the long finish.

He explains all rum is a blend. 

This distillery, born in the 1800’s is,

“historically, the best blender 

of the soil, the sun and the brown sugar of Cuba

together with the jazz drums, salsa dance 

and the unabashed friendliness of the Cubans.”

We drink our large samples and try, but fail, to blow off the excess alcohol, 

and before long our host smiles to tell us

that we have, together, “woken up the Devil.”

March, April, May and June 2018 Poems of the Month


Chinese Busses

Free housing,

free education and free

health care but the busses

are all from China,

the communist country 

that is far ahead of Cuba

on the concept

of exports for cash.



You list your top three preferences

and are told what your career will be.

You do take a test.

So, they do know what you can and cannot do.

The ballet or the sugar cane field,

somehow, they know,

like the bananas or avocados growing almost wild,

everything travels centrally according to ability

and is distributed remotely

according to need,

thus, fresh only if you grow it or catch it

yourself, and illegally, selfishly, eat it.

(The lawyer moonlights as a bellhop at the tourist hotel, and the

high school English teacher cranks the pedicab tour.)


No Religion

Religious beliefs and practices

we’re banned by the revolucion

as the opium of the people.

So, there is no reason for the horse and buggy, bouncing along

on the farm, no Amish discipline outlawing the truck,

just the onerous two-hundred-and-forty-percent import tax

and the complete lack of personal wealth. Also,

a Sputnik gas station in Camaquey is a rare sighting,

in that town of the pre-soviet sugar barons. Maybe the cane farmers 

use horses instead of trucks because horses manufacture themselves, 

and need no government import permit. 

But no, God did not forbid new trucks or tractors in Cuba.

The Godliness of Fidel and Che, though, is taught in the schools.

Other than those songs and stories of victory and salvation

the people mostly choose no God of their own

because, by law, there is none.

Yet the Pope came to visit

and was allowed in for some reason.

An unknown number of people re-found a Spanish faith,

or, secretly, their Santeria slave voodoo, 

which hundreds of years ago was disguised to look like Catholicism,

so it would not be banned, even then. Now

some churches have opened again for business,

allowed perhaps because there is an empty and collapsing church

in every town square, with internal artwork looking for a purpose,

or perhaps because Karl Marx also wrote:

     Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature,

     the heart of a heartless world, 

     and the soul of soulless conditions.


Between the Mangroves

There is often a reef between the clumps of mangroves,

maybe a few acres per island of trees with the roots

that begin latticing before entering the water.

Sometimes the shallow bottom between these patches is sand

with beds of sea grass. Sometimes there is coral.

Without the mangroves, the baby lobsters, goliath groupers, 

and the endemic species have no place to grow up

with protection from the bigger reef fish.

The mangroves are the nursery, the only nursery.

The endemic species happen because the island itself

is an ecosystem, and the shallows just around its terrestrial edges

are private. The suction of the island keeps the organisms

mixing their gene pools close to home,

creating the Cuban golden basslet, one-inch long,

yellow with a splash of purple and black,

and keeps the majority of Cubans still hoping that

the Muse of Socialism is beautiful, with the flowing hair

they see in the history books of Greece and Rome,

and she is not the hollow and stern stepmother 

living with them.


Prison Walls

There are no walls around the prisons

because they are not prisons

for criminals but housing 

for citizens of Cuba.

The soviet-era block-style architecture,

multi-family cubes of eight

units per floor and eight stories tall,

trap the men, women and children 

offering minimal food on the local store shelves,

even when the forty dollars a month 

per worker, and the ration coupons, are available to buy it. 

There are not many overweight Cubans.

But the people are happy. The ones who

still hear the muse or just have not escaped

during one of the releases

to reduce the pressure.

Although there is no incentive to work

the people are not lazy. Although there are

few visas to Mexico for shopping, they don’t seem

to be angry. But neither are they content.

The lawyers drive cabs in Havana

and the doctors complain they are not allowed to be

a bellhop at a resort, and wish they were untrained.

Tips are always hard for a government to track.

Entrepreneurism might melt this socialism,

we’ll see as it trickles in. But until then, the cars are frozen 

in pre-1959 model years that the mafia drove before La Revolucion. 

They are the cabs that drive the Canadians to warmer places,

these cars constantly rebuilt with home-made parts

and painted the colors of tropical fish and the light blue of the sun 

reflecting off shallow sand. The Snow Bird touristas drink the world’s best rum, 

and, of course, smoke the cigars the Cubans cannot afford. 


 “Havana Club,”  "Jobs," and "No Religion," were  first published in 2018 by Wanderlust Journal.


Kingdoms in the Wild was the first to publish “Between the Mangroves” and “Prison Walls”