The old man rides an old bicycle

The old man rides an old bicycle in slow rhythm along the bay, on his way home to his wife after watching the technicolor sunset on the old dock. "¿De qué año es su bicicleta?" I ask him as he peddles by me. "Tiene 50 años," he says, smiling as he stops the bike next to me.

"¿Es un tipo Schwinn?" I ask, being into this type of thing.

"No, se llama Super Rex," he tells me, and pulls out of the breast pocket of his half-open cotton shirt the ancient registration card, which is paperclipped to his carné de identidad. "El gobierno me dio este papel pero como no saben escribir bien pusieron 'suder res.'" We laugh.

He asks me where I'm from. "Oh!," his eyes flush with emotion as he folds up his thick glasses. "I lived for five years there! In New York! Nineteen Fifty Five until Nineteen Sixty. But I think, not because I'm Cuban, that here, Cienfuegos, has the most beautiful sunsets in the world."

"Looked pretty good to me," I tell him.

"How do you like Cuba?"

"Me facina," I say, smiling.

"The same for me in New York," he smiles too. "I love my country," he says the words slowly, as if describing an ache, "but this situation here... it's not good. I stay against my will because I love my country. But this system doesn't work."

"I agree with you," I tell him. I realize he only has the courage to say these things because we are speaking in broken English. By this time we've stopped walking and we're leaning close to each other. He starts laughing.

"I must go," he says, "my wife is waiting for me. It was a pleasure to talk to you and practice my broken English."

"For me too. Tell your wife I say hello and take care."

"Ok, goodbye."

The Cuban Writers' Union


Some writers working for the state
have clandestine dreams of smuggling
out a manuscript to the presses
of the capitalist world.

Others just rearrange the same adjectives
around the words revolución and Fidel
because Customs has long forbidden the importation
of new words into Cuba,

so the remaining writers
are like everyone else in this country,
making do, shuffling the same broken puzzle pieces,
searching for new endings.

The writers here are just like the men
who sit on the sidewalks behind dirty wooden stands, injecting
new aerosol breath into old disposable lighters
and the womens’ fine hands in the relojería,
fixing old watches with skill,
then searching for the hour
to set the watches by, the hour
that this country lost long ago.


On the edges of this living city there are piles
upon piles of all the abandoned thoughts,
dirty and wet, buzzing with flies,
putrid in the tropical sun.

And there are coasts
where the government allows no one to swim
because there too they have dumped all the aborted
ideas of the island, coasts
where the waves mumble unintelligible promise
and people stop on the seawalk to gaze at the hollow horizon.
Sometimes the weight of their unintended sighs
is enough to push the cool breeze back out to sea.

Here for every kilo of true creativity
the streets are polluted with a hundred liters of tears.
Maybe it’s no wonder that the bookshops
read like the dictator’s personal library
and all the true writers sit in buildings
about to collapse, trying to inject new breath
onto thin sheets of cheap paper, while others
have stopped writing altogether, and spend
their days folding their quota of paper into airplanes
which they bring down to the shore
and toss into the sea, hoping they’ll catch
the warm propulsion
of an entire nation sighing.

The world has gotten so small
that now there’s no more room
in the oceans for so many bottles
containing the words of so many trapped peoples.
The few boats that do manage to leave
set sail to the deafening sound of shattering glass
and sinking letters. No more messages, no bottles.
Here in Cuba all the writers know better than to trust
the sea, they study the sky, trying to guess the hour
and the best flight plans for paper airplanes.