Aug '02 [Home]

Angelo Verga

Storms Named for Women
            Cuba Alphabet Prompts
The Factory of Beauty

~ . ~ .

Storms Named for Women

Havana wrestles with voodoo rum and rumba,
Handsome, he rides the wild mulatta,
her hips swinging a Carib hurricane

I'm off, comrade, to the big bash
At the end of the dead street

Melons pumpkins, green plantain fronds
Pineapple hats like African crowns

The tears of the trees are a cool mist
The morena smells of soil, sex, & coconut, skin warm to touch

Pissing into the night water
Are you man enough to drown mosquitoes with your pungent stream?
Catch the moon, catch the moon
Bring it home on a hook
The moon that turns our women to witches

Happy is he who drinks
Nothing spoils his sleep

Swing it momma, sing, sing
Molasses on my meat, lick it, lick it

Allowing her breasts to be manhandled, smiling
Red-lipped, she was drunk
Dark musical beauty, slender
Palm tree legs dance on a carpet of sea
Spanish linen on her legs
An onion scent in her hair
Half white, half black, all Cuban

Rooster of the tropics, audacious palette, lightning
Dissolving in molasses of black cunt
Island under the fist of crushed cane rum
Nursery of drums, drowsy as an amphibian
Soaking up the sun's thumping rhythms

Lukewarm, sensual, slow water
churned molasses by the rock shore
the night of your eyes, the smell
of lemon tobacco pineapple
symphony of sweat, soft cotton
your body a soprano in the sun
unhurried fuck, love, suck
fragrance of sandalwood burning
tongue honey, O Cuba, sensual island
Antilles, bathtub of Columbus's sea
dying at night, at sunrise reborn
a tropical song of storms named for women

sun-yoke mayonnaise
huge mushrooms, charged by lightning, strong as a horse
starfish & snail, crab, lobster, conch, mussel, squid

tits jiggling in rapture of rumba and hurricane
Marisol, Maribel

I pick imagery like fresh-cut roses
Afternoon fruit, night arrives
And steps into the water, its toes the first stars

Silence so close to a scream
A long song with short words
Sun to sun, setting to rise
One day becomes the next
I want to hold you with my tongue

I face the sea, on her horizon
Fades the wing of a sail
on her way to the other world

Chango: thunder, sky
Creole: nbsp;born in the island
Obatala: god, idol
Patois: nbsp;mishmash, lingo
Callaloo: gumbo, soup

~ .

Cuba Alphabet Prompts

A— atomic.

The Russian-built power plant within wind distance of the granite hotel
is clearly atomic in mass. Under the theory that when you have lemons
you make lemonade, the hotel gift shop sells t-shirts splashed front & back
with the long iconic shadow of the reactor.

B— bishop.

The paramour of the bishop was a piece of ass.
Infidelity & sexual deviousness is assumed in Cuban men.
They seldom disappoint this prejudice.
In a poor country, the easiest thing to sell is sex.

C— censure.

The most invidious form of censorship is self-censorship.
Ask a Cuban.
He won't answer you, but you can ask him.

D— drench.

In the afternoon it rains and we get soaked & dry
out again so that no one would guess we'd been
drenched between lunch and the multi-colored mixed
drinks of nightfall.

E— Eskimo.

I feel like an Eskimo or a Norwegian in the airport in my heavy clothes
struggling with our bags and a customs procedure that speaks torrid Spanish.

F— fuck.

What the fuck am I, an Italian American businessman from The Bronx, doing in a mafia hotel?
It's like a fucking clicheacute;, or something.

G— gas.

Gasoline is expensive. That's why Cubans ride bikes & have great legs.

H— humidor.

Jesus! Has anyone seen my varnished oak humidor?

I— invest.

Europeans invest in sugar rum & hotels, also nickel-mining & sex.

J— jazz.

All Cuban pop music is jazz.
At least for the singers;
the musicians practice.

K— kiss.

Cubans kiss cheeks more often than Americans shake hands.

L— leech.

The Cuban word for leech means literally 'bloodsucker.'
Not in a vampire context.
It applies to those who are selfish,
politically backward.

M— museum.

The Cheacute; museum is a cathedral of the New Socialist Man.

N— nylons.

A pair of nylons can get you a young girlfriend. And her mother too.

O— overcoat.

You won't need gloves or an overcoat in Trinidad.

P— poem, pale, pawn.

All school children can recite a poem or two by Martiacute.

To be pale is to stick out like a white thumb.
Neither a Soviet nor an American pawn, Cuba is dangerous.

Q— question.

The first question Cubans ask is which American city I am from,
Followed by a smile when I say New York.
The Apple, not Miami.

R— rum.

I have no idea what the local water tastes like. I hydrate with rum.
Cubans, when they can, drink bottled water. From Mexico.

S— shower.

Sometimes even in tourist hotels the water stops while you are
naked in the shower. You wait. You have sex again.

T— teeth.

Perhaps it's the lack of dentists: nbsp; Cubans have perfect teeth.

U— urban.

Even urban Cubans are relaxed; they dress up, but aren't harried.

V— vogue.

Bicycle shorts, the skin-tight black ones, are worn by
hefty middle-aged Cuban women who in their culture aren't
fat; they are curvaceous, voluptuous, in vogue, in demand.

W— wine.

Cuban wine is cheap, but no one drinks it.

X— x-ray.

In a most clinics, x-rays are as high-tech as it gets.

Y— yellow.

Several of the young women at the bar have yellow hair.
I mean yellow, not blonde.

Z— zeal.

Ask a Cuban what happens after Castro dies and the usual answer is:

On this island there are 11 million revolutionary leaders.

They say it with zeal.
I have no idea if it's true. It's difficult to believe.
Perhaps they think it's what I want to hear. Truth
cannot be conveyed unless trust pre-exists. Who
would trust a back-packed American in Havana?

~ .

The Factory of Beauty

Skin, my skin,
white as a sheet of paper
The island, 745 miles long
a hundred brown miles wide

Havana 7:30 AM, a city of 4 million feet
the streets in rush hour not jammed
with vehicles nose to tail
pulling workers to office and factory,
here almost exclusively bicyclists pedestrians,
only the occasional vintage car
Parking of course no problem,
(also a plus, the relaxed relative silence).
A crowd is waiting for any truck that will carry them east
There is no way I am going to rummage under my shirt
to get at cash in front of this guy.
milk and meat eaten by tourists
plentiful in the large hotels
most Cubans hardly smell them.
A green tomato sandwich smeared with salt & oil,
a piece of sweet banana.

To live in Havana is to live

The school kids I meet know of the world,
Able, unlike our kids back home, to name the Canadian provinces.
A black Cuban cigarette, loosely glued as joints were in the 50's
And me out in the open, skin white as rolling paper.
Paddies, flooded fields, rice a staple again
bread allocation unstable
Gasoline rationed for 150 km or 93 miles a month, so
drivers drive local only (a serendipitous plus,
one never scrambles for a parking spot),
Cuba produces less garbage per capita than any place else
No litter in public places
Horses are again a way of getting from here to there
& hauling stuff.

Havana is a factory

The Cuban flag contains 5 stripes, alternating blue and white
the original five provinces & map; a white star on a red triangle.
The triangle, together with the red, white, blue colors
liberty, equality and solidarity.
Scratching the block with a metal grater,
produces a kind of slivered ice that
the man puts into a paper cone and then pours fruit
syrup on top, they cost a few centavos.
I have seen the same "ice-y" in The Bronx and San Juan, but not nearly as cheap
Breakfast: bananas dipped in black coffee
This lady, see her, the mother of 3 small children,
has to cycle long distances and cope with
all kinds of shortages in her life,
yet she vibrates with optimism. Where do Cubans find
their endless energy & strength?

To live in Havana is to live in a factory
that turns

Something that does not look like soap
produces a plentiful white foam, a piece of the agave plant
the 200 soap brands brightly packaged in my gigantic Bronx Rite-Aid drugstore
A machéte, the essential tool on the island, has innumerable uses
To drink the milk you slice off the end of the coconut
like slicing the top off a soft-boiled egg
Standard Cuban fare:  rice, beans, a portion of fish, yucca
Disco, disco dresses, rum, girls, each as much girl as
Mariah Carey vamping in a little black dress
Boxy apartment complexes
A large bulb of the tuber yucca
Beans, rice and cassava with a cold glass of water

Eating sugar cane while on the move.
Hold the stick in one hand; take a bite,
Chew, then spit out the inedible part.
The cane contains a simple sugar absorbed
directly into the blood stream. I learned yesterday
this fast food is a sure fire tooth whitener.
Green tomato, knife, razor thin slices
The gobble of a turkey, the squeal of a pig
Cubans readily accept time-expired aspirins as tips.

To live in Havana is to live in a factory of gratuitous beauty.

In the U.S., armchairs come in a bewildering variety
of styles, fabrics, leathers and price.
Mention an armchair to a Cuban and he or she
will visualize the brown universal "russian" unit.
Of course if every family has the same furniture
no one has to worry about keeping up with the Gonzalezes,
A stress free atmosphere.
His wife prepares for the wedding.
She doesn't spend hours before the mirror picking which
of fifteen dresses to wear because she has only one, and
one skirt and one pair of shoes. She darkens
her eyebrows with kohl; her wavy hair doesn't need curling

To live in Havana is to live in public.

A large French-made Citroën ambulance speeds by.
How many tons of rum or cane grown
Or huge Canadians from the prairie flown in to pay for it?
An enormous old refrigerator houses one lone pitcher of water.
No squashed soft drink cans, crumpled Styrofoam or greasy containers,
no litter anywhere other than industrial waste. Diesel fumes.
People keep some of the previous day's bread ration
in case the next day's delivery is delayed.
Ovens in all large Cuban bakeries are electric.
Frequent power failures render deliveries erratic
so Cubans, if they can, bank some bread
overnight for the next morning's meal.
Handicraft items such as small statutes of Jesus & Ché
An old man sitting by the roadside selling garlic grown by hand
Eternal rice and beans, black & white, Christian & native

an open air factory of beauty

His wife prepares for the wedding.
She doesn't need to spend hours before a mirror
deciding which of fifteen dresses to wear
she has but one blouse, one skirt, one pair of shoes.
She darkens her eyebrows with kohl; her wavy hair
Bottles of any kind are scarce
A highly prized commodity
worth their weight, perhaps not in gold
but certainly in rum, milk, or oil.
To a Cuban, Tupperware is an exotic
state-of-the-art techno gadget.
She has but one blouse, one pair of shoes,
doesn't need an iron to curl her hair.

To live in Havana is to live
in a factory that creates beauty.

(This poem, and some repeated phrases in it particularly, is based in part on Cuba is Not Only Varadero, a prose memoir by Jerzy Adamuszek, a Pole, of his extensive bicycle trip across the island. — AV. (Yunia Publications, 1997, Wayne, NJ and St. Laurent, Quebec. 207 pp. ISBN 0-9681044-0-1.))