Wanting to experience Cuba is a silly, romantic notion
It could just as well have been the Amazon, or Mars

We gawk at The Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco
It’s beautiful pink tower watching over Sancti Spiritus
The Assemblea Municipal with its Roman columns
Peach in the Caribbean sun
We meander among the statues and gardens in Plaza Major
Look up to Che’s noble countenance
Atop his Jeffersonian mausoleum

We declare entire towns World Heritage Sites
Fill them with our monuments
Reassuring monoliths that define
How we see ourselves
As if we have built Mount Everest

We saw something similar in Dehli, Kathmandu
Bangkok, Juarez, Chiapas
Pedi cabs, bicycles, donkeys
Surrounding us in a chaos of purpose
Yaks, horses, fantastic trucks
Motorbikes and all manner of quaint utilitarian carts
Transporting hustle, bustle and hope
Everywhere everyone afraid of each other’s intentions
Of being taken advantage of
Of Losing
Creative energy desperate for the American Dream

Except Cuba is arrested development
A communal society of scarcity
Less buyer beware than we are all in this together

A street vendor hawks his wares
And when we throw up our hands
He patiently tells us it is a national holiday
Gives us directions to a wonderful festival
A young couple walks quickly up behind us
Follows and eavesdrops
Latches onto us
Takes us for dinner and dancing
A boy on a bicycle chases down our car
It is obvious we are lost
So he leads us through a labyrinth of narrow winding warrens
To the casa particular we have booked for the night

It is a dark stairwell
Small windows
Jungle flowing over the roof
We cannot bear to enter

Walking along a canal
The sunshine reflects gloriously
Off the pastel surfaces
A motorbike accosts us

A young boy smiles welcomingly
Pressed against his father’s back
The man’s friend booked our room
In this fine man’s, this fine boy’s, home
We have made other arrangements

He is crestfallen
His son looks at him quizzically
We apologize, hand him ten CUC
He does not want to take it
His eyes ask
How can we live together
If we do not mean what we say?

We are bound more by what we cannot fathom
Than what we can see we have in common
Tiny insulated tribes cowering
In air conditioned houses and cars

Our small plane touches down in Nassau
All of us who can come and go as we please
Disregard our matronly stewardess
The plane still our taxi
Hustling and bustling to be first

She claps her hands
As if rapping our knuckles
We look up to her
Like the son looked to his father
I wonder:
What did the man tell his boy
About the American Dream?
And she answers
What is wrong with you people?



They look more grown up than I think they should be. Maybe I’m afraid they won’t need me before I’m ready. It’s comforting they can tie their own neckties, are willing to walk under the hubris of the same green shirts and red hats, pants that don’t allow the individuality boys by their nature of wanting to be men covet. Look at their strong hands, masculine shoulders, the confident way they swagger and gawk. They’re friends, thank God, and beautiful, with so much to learn it makes me jealous.

From CUBA, AN ADVENTURE IN IMAGE AND WORD Opening Reception at Abend Gallery, Colfax and York, Denver, CO Friday, May 16th, 2014. Paintings by Peggy McGivern and Readings by Peter Stravlo, based on our 2013 travels in Cuba



I’ll publish pictures and verse each day for the next couple of weeks from Peggy McGivern’s upcoming show: Cuba: An Adventure In Image and Word, opening Friday, May 16th at Abend Gallery, on Colfax and York in Denver. The pieces by Peggy and verse by me are based on our trip last year to Cuba. It’s an amazing place, a time capsule full of beautiful people in a beautiful place

Habana Sites

It’s not about the famous Tropicana
Skimpily costumed on the delightful edge of propriety
With dancers like giant gaudy birds
Floating in numbers orchestrated
In the late night of the past
On the currency of Germans and Russians, Chinese and Japanese
And now again the Americans
From across the Florida straits
Foreigners riding in communist busloads
To experience the revolution
Not knowing the difference
Between Guevara and Bautista

Nor is it the Castillo de San Carlos de la Cabana
Cold stone fortress across Habana Bay
Protecting the new world from pirates
Until you discover it’s a scenic turnout

And you find yourself swaying to the voices
Of your official government guides
With a mojito to Cuban rhythms
On joyful Plaza de la Catedral
Celebrating American history
And religion and slavery and
Touristico happiness showing its age

Next your riding in a mid-century taxi
Chevys and Fords and Austin Healeys
Running smooth as factory new
All fins and Bondo and sensuous curves
Puffs of blue smoke
Floating through Caribbean sunshine
Wide windshields
Bald tires and blind spots
Like imaginary gangsters sweating through open windows

Just check it all off the bucket list:
Plaza de Viejo, de Armas, de San Francisco de Asis
The musty Rat-Pack Riviera along the Malecon
The Buena Vista Social Club
Hemingway’s hotel room frozen in time

No, it’s not the Tropicana or the shining old cars

But instead you walk the storied neighborhoods
Where tractors and trucks age more gracefully
Never learning how to quit
The weary welcoming cobbled streets
Delivering produce and propane to centuries old doors
For women watching from wrought iron balconies
Amidst hanging laundry taking days to dry in the humid breeze

Everywhere groups of men huddle in the mouths of open hoods
Lay under jacked up cars
Play checkers on tables
Set up in small parks
Where all kinds of crazy sculptures feel at home
Or in the middle of the street
Where plaques of poetry are mounted under street signs and read by everyone

Just keep walking
Past parakeets in cages hanging outside front doors
Through cafes with chairs and tables and hutches and silver
That would make Museum curators faint if they saw anyone touch
Step over goat’s feet lying on the sidewalk
Through rooms of women and men
Rolling cigars on ancient wood tables
And resist their whispered offers:
Cohibas fifty for twenty-five CUC
Just meet my friend down the street

Buy a can of Coca-Cola made in Mexico
To replace the fluids accumulating in your shirt
Wonder what everyone’s doing with all those smartphones and no wireless network
Never hesitate to ask directions
From the most helpful Policia you’ve ever seen
In her fishnet stockings

Stroll through shops scattered with unfamiliar brands
That everyone can afford
It’s worth the risk to smuggle a bottle of Habana Ron
So good it becomes your cognac after dinner

Stop and smile as you watch
Healthy uniformed children
Pour out of classrooms
Laugh and gossip and flirt
Field grounders off the cobbles
Have perfect teeth
Dream of going to America
Or equally
Of becoming a doctor
Or a teacher

Wonder if possibly
These are the most beautiful people in the world