The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes
Exiled By Fate
Is it wrong to come to the most photographed spot on the island? The tip of Havana where brick walls set against northern tides cause the waves to rush into the air, as tightly bound as an on-coming army? The place where the snowbird flocks, the German, the Canadian, the Russian, all there to grab a few pixels of this marvel for upload onto Facebook?
But you know me. I didn’t come with a camera, even though every ten steps demands a witness. I didn’t even bring my phone, so terrified of losing it to pickpocket or street thug. I only brought the 19th century tools: notebook, pen and eyes because I wanted to make the big romantic gesture of writing you in my own hand. But this will probably be typed up back in Cancun where my travelling case waits in the safe of the resort where I am still checked in.
I’m not sure if you know I left Miami because it’s been two weeks since we last saw each other. I thought a vacation would clear my mind, perhaps even purge my feelings for you. But it made no sense to go to the Mexican coast, as it is nothing but the worst parts of Ft. Lauderdale combined with undrinkable water. So, on a whim, I jumped on a flight to Cuba, hoping to see your face in strangers. I have, but something bigger wells within me.
As I scribble this, I sit under the statue of Antonio Maceo in his park along the Malecon. There is an unbearable tension in the cobalt sky, the clouds both puffy and sharp, looking Hollywood-created for dramatic effect. The sun glistens in the air, throwing rainbows in any puddling. I can see why this is the home of poets and revolutionaries.
The big waves are a few blocks from here, as I didn’t want the water to cause the ink to bleed on the paper. The air is moist enough here, but it’s something a Southerner can take. In fact, the wind gasps in my ear and I’m glad I have the metal rings to keep the paper from flying off on its own grand trip.
They called Maceo the “Bronze Titan” because he had African blood in him, provided by his mother. Just like you, right? Except maybe the kids didn’t make fun of him and he wasn’t scarred by childhood friends who see academic achievement as a betrayal to one’s caste. Or maybe he was. I’m not sure. The army he fought for didn’t want him to achieve a high rank. Soldiers are not sensitive souls, but I’m sure he battled a few personal demons as well as the damned Spanish.
The statue itself is an iridescent black, the general sparkling while riding his bucking horse. Like the poet Jose Marti who every resident of this island quotes with ease, he didn’t accomplish his goal of a free Cuba. But sometimes the first to rebel are not those who succeed.
I speak of Marti because Cuba bubbles poetry to the surface of my consciousness. No, not some tribute to a rose or the spirit of a people replete with tedious metaphors. It’s Virgil’s epic that has taken my mind hostage, the words branded into my brain by Jesuitical dogma:
Arma virumque cano, Trojae qui primus ab oris Italiam
Five years of high school Latin combined with my compulsory college credits and the first line of “The Aeneid” is the sum total of my instant recall. “I sing of arms and the man, he who came first from Troy to Italy.” Virgil creating myth for Emperor Augustus, proclaiming him directly descended from the gods, Venus to Aeneas to Caesar. It’s the Latin version of George Washington and the cherry tree: imbue your leader with infallibility.
And that’s why I’m obsessing over classical tales of wander. The Caribbean and the Mediterranean are similar in size; what if the Trojan war had been fought in Venezuela? And the voyage of Aeneas had been an island-hopping adventure starting at Trinidad and continued along the “skipp’d arc” (as another poet Edward Kamau Braithwaite calls it) of islands, finally ending at North America’s appendage, Florida? And instead of Rome, he founded America?
Rome eventually fell, of course, something I fear is coming to the grand American experiment. But there are plenty of parallels within these dual histories. Whether or not we live in the end times will be determined by future scholars. I’m more interested in mythology than facts.
But I stray into this line of thinking not because of the introductory line of “The Aeneid,” but because of the phrase right at the beginning of the second: fato profugus, exiled by fate. Remember that line as I digress.
I hope this letter doesn’t piss you off too much because I know it was your dream to come to Cuba, not mine. I wanted to see it, of course, but you can’t infuse much passion into a place that isn’t your home.
Your jealousy and flaming temper are things I learned to live with, something I want to experience again because your spirit energizes me. What you saw as non-stop fighting was the internal tension that makes a poem great. We were still creating verse when you decided to leave it unfinished.
Regardless, culture and background has determined I will only be a traveler here, whereas this is the loam of your roots. And, just like the tree attached to them, you are destined never to see them without dying.
Okay, that’s a ridiculous overstatement. I was going to make that the last line of this letter, but there is so much more to say.
I have moved to a bar or, more truthfully, a haphazard collection of iron tables and chairs where I can drink rum in the shade. I chose to drink mojitos, because the lime, sugar and mint cleans the inside while also cooling my slimy exterior. And I just don’t have the heart for Cuba libre because they are forbidden from using Coca-Cola. Even though I know it is a capitalistic predator that causes obesity, I can only enjoy the soda within the Georgia clay colored can. Part of this is nature and part nurture, but it is all a matter of palate. And yes, I can taste the difference.
The vibe on the street is similar to Miami, but that’s because Calle Ocho was built on nostalgia for these cobbled streets. Here, the wood is aged by the salted atmosphere, the paint peels in aesthetically pleasing patterns preferable to newer coats and the air is redolent with cigar smoke, exotic fruit and the natural funk of the Third World.
Havana lives up to its reputation as a center for the sex trade. So many women linger in corners looking for the Yankee dollar, skin color along the spectrum from Catalan to African, each dressed in slight cotton dresses with many variations of flowery patterns, feet barely covered by omnipresent flip-flops. But the poverty makes their chocolate eyes vicious, each a Circe who sees men as the pigs they are.
I don’t want their company, not because of rigid ethics, but because I see you in each of them, regardless of whether they resemble you. It’s my own nostalgia from the times we explored the seas of our bodies, swimming deep in the tides of carnal desire. I want you in my arms now as I remember it.
While the bubbly soda water clears my head and before the distilled cane clouds it back up, I want to tell you I have figured out why your father hates me so much. You said my relationship with him didn’t matter when it came to us “taking a break,” as you so blandly put it. But I see the way his opinion holds sway over much of your life, especially since you mother has been gone so many years.
And I know it bothers you that I have cut off relations with my own parents when they couldn’t bear our being together, but I would rather never talk to them again than hear the woman who birthed me use words like “spic” and “nigger” in furious Savannah tones.
Obviously if your father knew I was here walking in his long-faded footsteps, he would ban me from his home forever. And then if you ever tried to see me again, he may actually have me killed. Yes, I know he works as an insurance adjuster, but I’m absolutely positive he knows a guy who knows a guy who would take me out.
But there’s something deeper than me challenging him on the fiction of moving back here as soon as Fidel dies. I know he has re-acquired the family house through his Canadian friend and has been investing heavily in businesses with connections to the island. But these actions amount to nothing more than a bedtime story he tells himself.
When I ponder his situation, I see him as a Trojan, cast out of his homeland by strong military forces. Aeneas, however, was the true progressive, never looking back to those destroyed shores. If he had, would Rome have become so powerful a city? I realize the founding mythology of the Italian Empire is also a fiction, but so is “things were better with Bautista,” an ugly lie on par with Russians who wanted the Tsar to return.
And, therefore, I see those exiled by fate are duty bound to establish something new and vital on foreign shores, because the past is no longer a viable option. It is up to people like us who can see the potential of new worlds and embrace the future. Yes, it is good to know your roots because they can’t be completely cut off, again, without dying. But to use them to grow something majestic? Well, that’s fulfilling a greater destiny.
If, as we know now, the waters between Africa and Europe are not vast and our epics are diminished by modern perspective, can’t we bridge our own gap? Virgil may have been highly imitative of “The Odyssey,” but I will not be your Penelope. I know I’m changing the sexes, but just go with it.
You have fled away from me, drifting with no Ithaca in sight and I don’t have the patience to wait for you to sail home. I know where you belong, but if you stay out at sea, you will not be able to kill the suitors looking for my hand. Okay, maybe they aren’t lining up at the palace and maybe you don’t care enough to shoot them down with arrows, but I’ve seen the shade you throw to any woman who comes on too friendly. You’re the warrior and I’m the queen and I’m man enough to accept that.
Maybe that’s why I came to Cuba, to meet you halfway on your voyage. Maybe if I show I’m trying to understand you, to have a deeper commitment to your wants and dreams, you will leave whatever Calypso binds you and finally pledge to be with me.
Because I thought I wasn’t going to miss you, but I was wrong. Can we at least try to rectify that?
There is one last line in “The Aeneid’s” opening stanza that recalls the Cuban struggle: “Hurled about endlessly by land and sea by the will of the gods.” Isn’t that your father’s story? Traversing those 96 miles with unreliable floatation to get to his own Lavinian shores (Virgil again, if you didn’t know), bobbing and struggling, minutes feeling like years until he once again spotted land? But, unlike the epic heroes, he resented his journey. He still feels trapped by razed Troy.
I can’t help but think it’s in those waters where the new epics are being created, somewhere within the psychic distance between the “Pearl of the Antilles” and the “Gateway to the Americas.” That same spiritual gulf where rumba became salsa, where the Malecon became Calle Ocho, all cut off by American military blockades. I can see your face in those waves, birthed on the new shore and ready to create the new homeland. And I want you to chose me to create it with you.
I sing of your arms and you, woman, me who, longing for your embrace, casts aside all notions of history to accept an endless new time by our own will and not by those outmoded gods.
© Charlie Brown June 2015
charlesdowdell at yahoo.com
||Charlie is a recent graduate of the University of Southern California's Masters of Professional Writing program. His fiction has appeared in Conium Review, Oddville Press, The Writing Disorder, Jersey Devil Press, The Menacing Hedge and Aethlon and in the anthologies “Dimensional Abscesses” and "Utter Foolery: The Best Literary Humor of 2014” (forthcoming).
His feature film "Angels Die Slowly" will be released this summer.
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