In Havana, you drink Havana Club rum straight,
sipping, swirling high in the light, tasting the balance
of caramel and oak from twelve years’ captive in cask.
The rum master does not apologize for the numbness
on our tongues or for his four-pocket shirt,
but he pulls our attention to the warmth and the long finish.
He explains all rum is a blend.
This distillery, born in the 1800’s, is,
“historically, the best blender
of the soil, sun and brown sugar of Cuba
together with the jazz drums, salsa dance
and the unabashed friendliness of the Cubans.”
We drink our large sample, try in vain to blow off the excess
alcohol, and before long our host smiles to tell us
that we have, together, “woken up the devil.”
You list your top three preferences
and are told what your career will be.
You do take a test.
So, they do know what you can and cannot do.
The ballet or the sugar cane field,
somehow, they know,
like the bananas or avocados growing almost wild,
everything travels centrally according to ability
and is distributed remotely
according to need,
thus, fresh only if you grow it or catch it
yourself, and illegally, selfishly, eat it.
(The lawyer moonlights as a bellhop at the tourist hotel, and the
high school English teacher can tour guide with a pedicab.)
Religious beliefs and practices
we’re banned by the revolucion
as the opium of the people.
So, there is no reason for the horse and buggy, bouncing along
on the farm, no Amish discipline outlawing the truck,
just the onerous two-hundred-and-forty-percent import tax
and the complete lack of personal wealth. Also,
a Sputnik gas station in Camaquey is a rare sighting,
in that town of the pre-soviet sugar barons. Maybe the cane farmers
use horses instead of trucks because horses manufacture themselves,
and need no government import permit.
But no, God did not forbid new trucks or tractors in Cuba.
The Godliness of Fidel and Che, though, is taught in the schools.
Other than those songs and stories of victory and salvation
the people mostly choose no God of their own
because, by law, there is none.
Yet the Pope came to visit
and was allowed in for some reason.
An unknown number of people re-found a Spanish faith,
or, secretly, their Santeria slave voodoo,
which hundres of years ago was disguised to look like Catholicism,
so it would not be banned, even then, and now
some churches have opened again for business,
allowed perhaps because there was an empty and collapsing church
in every town square, with internal artwork looking for a purpose,
or perhaps because Karl Marx also wrote:
Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature,
the heart of a heartless world,
and the soul of soulless conditions.
BIO: Roger Sippl studied creative writing at UC Irvine, UC Berkeley and Stanford Continuing Studies, now published in 17 literary print and online journals and anthologies.
While a student at Berkeley, Sippl was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and treated with 13 months of surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy, allowing him to live relapse-free to this day, 43 years later.