Touring Cuba by Roger Sippl

Havana Club

 

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.”

 


Jobs

 

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.)


 

No Religion

 

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.

www.rogersippl.com