A poem I wrote after our visit to Cuba in 2014
We’re driving down the revolutionary road,
jolted and near-asphyxiated in the ancient Lada.
It’s held together with fibreglass and tape.
Beside us in the smog-filled street, a gleaming Oldsmobile
splutters down craters of neglect,
its 1950s white-walled tyres dust-scuffed.
The driver hustles a flabby tourist for cash,
watches as the ripped leather trim scratches their skin,
red as the hide seats creaking beneath their weight.
The Buena Vista’s trumpet echoes across colonial cobbles.
We pass painted houses of crumbling plaster.
Women swing their hips to salsa rhythm.
Ché’s bearded face, graffiti-ed on walls,
exhorts us to take arms against repression;
his gun signposts our route through tropical vegetation,
where bandit guerrillas haunt the bushes, flaunt cigars,
past dirt-poor farmworkers who ride their bony ponies
across medieval fields of sugar beet and coffee.
They’re escaping the iron grip of fundamentalism.
A woman beseeches us to buy necklaces.
We see Government licences to trade displayed in shop windows
but there’s little money in their pockets to do more
than beg or sell cheap goods on the street
and retreat to homes smaller than our garden shed.
We search for a dance class
so we can join the salsa crowds in the square.
We find a seedy house set in the corner of a dark alley,
discover a bustling group dancing on a large polished wood floor
secreted behind the dilapidation of a carved and battered door
to avoid taxmen and government snoops who watch for illegal enterprise.
So, Castro, will time absolve you?
We see your face in the bullet-marks on Havana’s walls,
the skeletal hollows of monolithic grey buildings.
You outfoxed Eisenhower and Kennedy at the Bay of Pigs,
filled my childish nightmares with nuclear holocaust;
but terrorism’s prison at Guantanamo still sits at your island’s tip.
Brothers-in-arms, you Castro boys still strut your stuff,
so how does it feel now Obama’s dove
has dropped an olive branch from its beak,
raising the Cuban flag against the Washington skyline?
How does it feel now that trade and diplomacy’s doors creak open
after fifty years slammed shut?
Published in The Alchemist’s Box