Una Isla Sin Barcos

1 July 2002

In the sweaty heat

   of the Cuban afternoon,

The wind feels good high up

     from the lighthouse at El Morro.

La Habana lies before us,

     harbor and sea, white buildings and blue waves,

         like all such things,

              beautiful from a distance.

La fortress grande at El Morro:

    ten foot thick walls, sheer embankments

Slotted windows, cannon emplacements–


Built by black Africans — enslaved.

We command the harbor at La Habana,

    Spanish masters command before us,

To protect their stolen island,

    With its wealth of sugar cane and slaves.

I meet, a Cuban expatriate

    on the walkway of the lighthouse,

         returned some 43 years too late:

“Una pregunta, habla ingles?

     “This lovely harbor and calm inviting sea 

     “Why are there no pleasure boats?

“Of course there are only few commercial ships,

      “Everyone understands el bloqueo

“But could it be that Cubanos don’t boat?

     No pleasure boats,

          Una isla sin barcos?”

I reply: Cubanos dance —

     With the music in their blood, bailan,

With the rhythms in their supple bodies, bailan,

      With the ecstasy of their passionate hearts.

The joy of male and female permeates this island,

     Ninos dance before they walk,

          The salsa, the ballet, the discotec,

Musica is everwhere.

     Socialismo o muerte!

          Pero sin barcos,

Patria o muerte!

       Pero los Cubanos no le gustan barcos.

From El Morro we look into history,

     A plaque on the wall to the brave heroes

          Who fell in 1762,

Defending the slave-built city against the British,

     A plaque on the opposite wall to the brave heroes

          of England — who gave their lives in the attack.

Cuba does not belong to the Spanish,

     Cuba does not belong to the British,

          Cuba does not belong to Yanqui imperialists,

Cuba esta libre,

     The Hotel Havana Hilton renamed el hotel Havana Libre.

In the harbor of La Habana,

     No pleasure boats sparkle in the sunlight,

To celebrate Cuban freedom,

     Cubans don’t boat, they dance.

The immediacy of the dance, the salsa rhythms

     The great here and now of the supple passion,

The African drum beat in la sangre,

     The sensuous movements of the female body,

Express a joy of living in the Cuban soul,

     And express a longing for freedom

          in the soul of the slave.

This dance is in the blood,

     of every Cuban child–

These grand children of slaves,

     who fought for their isla bonita,

          longing for freedom.

Sweaty sensuous bodies,

     In the freedom of the dance,

Celebrate Cuba belonging to the Cubans,

     Cubanos don’t boat–they dance.

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