It’s a city of sound, said the Painter, sound and color and light. We were in Havana for a week, soaking it up through the soles of our feet. Miles and miles a day we walked the streets of Habana Vieja, Habana Centro, Vedado. It was gorgeous in an unearthly way, and so were the people.
The Cuban men were beautiful, the Cuban women were beautiful, and the Cuban children were beautiful. Everywhere was the sound of music and talking, the frites woman calling her haunting song, laughter and shouting and the high clear tones of solo trumpeters practicing in the far corners of public parks.
There was sadness and frustration too. Our friend, a star baseball pitcher in his youth, recruited by the Yankees —the Yanquis!– for their minor leagues: refused permission by his government to leave the country.
Our other friend who longed to study English abroad, and who could have, had she either the funds or any way to earn enough funds to buy a plane ticket out. Another who had managed, over many years, to save enough money to buy one of the 70-year-old classic American cars so beloved by the tourists, few of whom understand that the charming car represents life support for an entire extended family.
Another friend who had taught English for twelve years and was now a tour guide who, when I asked her which she preferred, hesitated and then said, “Honestly? Teaching. Teaching is my first love. But you cannot support a family on $25 CUCs a month, and the government knows it but pretends it doesn’t.”
We were there for a week, a week filled with poems and songs and stories. The poem below, by one of our greatest American poets, a woman who knew well the power of both womanhood and adversity, keeps coming to mind whenever I think of Habana.
homage to my hips, by Lucille Clifton
these hips are big hips.
they need space to
move around in.
they don’t fit into little
petty places. these hips
are free hips.
they don’t like to be held back.
these hips have never been enslaved,
they go where they want to go
they do what they want to do.
these hips are mighty hips.
these hips are magic hips.
i have known them
to put a spell on a man and
spin him like a top
For more information about Lucille Clifton, please click here.