In the paper I read a story about a man...

In the paper I read a story about a man
who on the 26th of July

fled what was for him a prisoned island.
No soap, no toothpaste, no lights
when he returned home by bike along the Malecón.
No rice or beans some days, there were
egg-only days. He joined the line
for a slice of pizza he gobbled down—
still hungry but the line had moved on.
And when his friend (who was homosexual)
sighed a vague complaint outside Coppelia,
he was sent off the following Monday to cut cane.

His maiden aunt, whose Olympian name
inspired him at times, wrote from "07832"
and promised to claim him,
to invent a scheme but no telegram came.
No plan the bearded president was not aware of,
even the joke about the peanut vendor
at the celebration in the Plaza:
Every time he raised his voice,
Fidel was piqued by the vendor’s shouts of ¡pirulí!
"If that noisemaker continues much longer,
I’m going to kick him 90 miles over the Florida Keys!"
The entire crowd began chanting ¡pirulí!

It may have begun when he spotted the gringo
at Santa María del Mar. He called him over and said
"Don’t worry, I only want to ask you a question:
Would you exchange your t-shirt for my one,
porque me encanta ese azul."
The shirt’s royal blue bled into sky
and the welcoming sea invited him to flee.

So he rode by bus one Sunday, east to Varadero,
and while the guards were inspecting passports
(tourists returning to Toronto and Berlin),
a compañero whistled him over to his jeep,
it was heaped with suitcases, canvas tarpaulins,
he boosted him up
through a vaulted door beneath the wing.

You must be skinny to dodge the gears
when the wheels retract.
One was crushed, one died from exposure,
and at 39,000 feet, one fell through the turquoise sky.

His thoughts revolved beneath the tarpaulin
from freedom to doom, and then the memory
of his sister floated in,
fanning herself beneath a giant flamboyán.
He thought of the game they played as children,
chasing hummingbirds hovering by the aloes,
tossing a handful of sand to stun them—
he wanted to trap their iridescence in his hand.

Through a pinhole in the wing, he might pick out
the castle in the harbor, the twin white
columns of a Yankee monument crowning the bay,
the arc of the Malecón tilting away
into bleached whites and blues.

But beyond his flight a wall awaits him,
a chickenwire fence that surrounds a camp
to contain all the brown-skinned men and women
arriving in boats, renegade planes,
inflated tires washing into the Keys.
Through the wire along the horizon,
he will see the black ghosts of his countrymen,
a trio of horsemen in fluttering robes
as white as death,
a towering cross whose angry welcome
kindles the night.

Daniel Shapiro’s poems have been published in Black Warrior Review, BOMB, Confrontation, The Connecticut Poetry Review, Downtown, Poetry Northwest, Yellow Silk, and other journals. He is the author of "The Red Handkerchief and Other Poems" and "Child With a Swan’s Wings;" and translator Cipango, a collection of poems by Chilean poet Tomás Harris. His translations have appeared in many journals including American Poetry Review, Atlanta Review, BOMB, Chelsea, and Grand Street. Shapiro is Director of Literature at the Americas Society in New York City and Managing Editor of Review: Latin American Literature and Arts.

Contributor

Daniel Shapiro

Daniel Shapiro's poems have been published in Black Warrior Review, BOMB, Confrontation, The Connecticut Poetry Review, Downtown, Poetry Northwest, Yellow Silk, and other journals. He is the author of "The Red Handkerchief and Other Poems" and "Child with a Swan's Wings," and translator of Cipango, a collection of poems by Chilean poet Tomas Harris. His translations have appeared in many journals including American Poetry Review, Atlanta Review, BOMB, Chelsea, and Grand Street . Shapiro is Director of Literature of the Americas Society in New York City and Managing Editor of Review: Latin American Literature and Arts.

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