Friday 9 February 2018

Pieces of Me, Pieces of Havana

Mid 90s, Havana. With a little help from Allen Ginsberg


(Cuban cover version of Allen Ginsberg’s original poem, with percussion, double bass, piano and horns)

That night I saw my generation reflected on the face of that 62-year-old German woman

dragging itself through the jineteros-filled streets at dawn, looking for an answer to the collapse of ideals

angel-looking girls looking for a heavenly connection to take them away in the machinery of night

who, poverty-affected and fidelismo-struck sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of the “wall”, minute dinghies across the water and the sound of timba in the background

who bared their – already semi-naked – bodies to José from Valencia, or François, from Quebec, staggering down poorly lit potholed roads.

who, having graduated from state-funded universities, hallucinated Paris, Madrid and Rome among wannabe western socialists scholars of marxism

who were expelled from these state-funded universities for crazy and obscene odes that turned the gun against its owner

who showed off their half-shaved thighs burning the eyes of salivating tourists fleeing from their so-called terror after the fall of the wall

who got busted by salivating coppers freshly arrived in Havana

who ate the fire offered in purgatoried hotels, expiating their sins before going to heaven, or room 1901

with broken condoms, limp cocks and hairy, shrunken balls

incomparable chevroned-lit neighbourhoods of shuddering, faltering lights, casting shadows on the sub-fauna between the 1830 restaurant and the La Punta fortress

who never knew kabbalah but sought visionary madrinas beaming in supernatural ecstasy on San Rafael, Colón and Águila

who jumped in tur cars on the impulse of a faux winter midnight-fuelled trip to Comodoro Hotel’s disco

who met a 62-year-old German woman vanishing into nowhere Zen, leaving a trail of unambiguous happiness behind, without noticing the happiness-smeared sword of Damocles following her across the ceiling

who had to pull out the sword of Damocles from the 62-year-old German woman’s body when she realised her paramour couldn’t tell the akkusativ from the dativ


What sea-facing statues bashed open the 62-year-old woman’s skull and ate up her brains and imagination?

Sat opposite me, facing me, laughing/crying/breaking/questioning/debating/pondering/challenging/demanding

Sag mir mal, warum?

And the weil hangs, hangs from the ceiling like the same sword of Damocles that has now been taken down and driven through her heart

There is no weil you say there cannot be as long as she doesn’t understand the pain stashed away under the stairways, out of the way of punters visiting the illegal paladar

There is no weil as long as she refuses to understand the incongruence of a twenty-two-year-old black male body and that of a Berlin Wall whose eyes are a thousandblind windows

Breakup on the roof, roof overlooking the city, city forced to sleep by scheduled powercuts but awakened by epiphanies and despairs


62-year-old German woman, I’m with you on San José Street where you’re madder than me

I’m with you in your incomprehension of my history which even I cannot understand either

I’m with you as the impromptu interpreter as warums and weils bounce from accuser to accused and back

I’m with you as you walk away, down the dark stairs, the sound of reggae music receding from your ears and increasing in mine

I’m with you as you reach your own casa particular and collapse in bed in the same way your “wall” collapsed seven years before

I’m with you as you wake up the next morning and look at yourself in the mirror, my generation reflected on your face

© 2018


  1. I'll say what I've always said; Everything is better with Cuban percussion.

  2. Wow, Mario. Your writing is simply stunning.

  3. Mid-90s Havana it may have been, but not so very different when I was there, only a year older than your German woman, a year or few ago. I can’t decide if it makes me sad or angry that so little changed - both, probably. Please keep telling it like it is - we need to hear it.

  4. Powerful, moving, heart-breaking.

  5. Me has hecho recordar mi viaje a la Habana aunque no por las mismas circunstancias, creo que todos tendríamos que ir a Cuba.
    Un feliz fin de semana.

  6. Sad how the perception tries to make us think things have changed, but when you look, not much has.

  7. Like that - who ate the fire offered in purgatoried hotels, expiating their sins before going to heaven

  8. I began the day by reading your poem, CiL, then I read Allen Ginsberg's, "Howl," then I read your piece again. I assume when you sat down to write it you were not experiencing a vision caused by ingesting the same thing Ginsberg was when he began to write his verse. I think I will simply say I like your work better than his and not attempt to go further.

    If you never have read it, I would suggest you obtain a copy of Stephan Hunter's novel, "Havana." It is set in 1953, involves the CIA, a Russian agent named Speshnev, El Caballo (in some detail), a few Mafia-types, a once-upon-a-time Marine Medal of Honor recipient named Earl Swagger and assorted other characters. Hunter is a retired journalist, Pulitzer Prize winner, firearms expert and a stickler for historical detail.

    My own opinion is that in a few years Cuba will return to its pre-Castro days as a mecca for organized crime and all that accompanies it. History often does repeat itself ....

  9. I also prefer your evocative verses to the original. Que Bueno!

  10. Wow, this is quite intense.

  11. Thanks for the comments. If truth be told, I was on something but not the same thing Allen was on. :-) I have had a few coffee-fuelled, jazz-inspired nights lately. Personal stuff has kept me away from my blog but not from my computer/laptop/surface/notepad/whatever I can get my hands on to write. Ginsbegr penned his poem after coming across a certain individual who was, how to put it, rather idiosyncratic. I have read his poem many times and I always felt there was something in it that called to a part of me as a Cuban and to the generation to which I belonged. So, for the last seven days, aided by coffee, Coltrane (both John and Alice), Anoushka Shankar, Fela Kuti and the second album by Ibeyis, I finally gathered up the courage needed to tackle Ginsberg's poem.

    Many tanks for your comments. They are much appreciated.

    Greetings from London.

  12. This is so powerful. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  13. Well, things do change, I saw changes every time I came to Cuba.
    The wall, well the wall. It´s still up, kinda.
    People in the East earn less money, the unemployment rate is higher. The right wing is stronger.
    Houses and roads are better. When you´re on the highway and you enter the East, the road is much better cause after the wall fell their roads needed to be renewed.
    Worst of all, it´s in too many people´s heads.
    Three of my friends are from the East and I´d be sad to miss them.
    The stories they tell about the life with the wall are from a different world.

  14. Me has hecho recordar mi viaje a la Habana aunque no por las mismas circunstancias, creo que todos tendríamos que ir a Cuba.
    Un feliz fin de semana.


  15. Hi ACIL - well you've introduced me to Ginsberg's 'Howl' - I'll be back to read. Your writing and emotive straits drawing us in to the world you're inhabiting makes for such a powerful read. You give me hint of Cuba ... with the ring of change that hasn't yet happened ... sad, but true - all the best with you and what is going on - Hilary

  16. WOW...I found this deeply moving...a truly intense insight into your world.
    I really appreciate your sharing this with is something I will never forget.
    Thank you so much. ☺☺

    Greetings from a sunny (for once!) Hampshire!!

  17. I like the last line especially. I agree that this could be the lyrics to a song. Fabulous banner photo too!

  18. Just a super cool poem, Cubano - from the Warum to the bit of nightmare - really the culture clash is so intense and even if at least one is well-meaning is difficult. Very well done. Thanks for your kind comment. I have not been very happy in the blogging world of late, but was very happy to see your comment.

    I have done a few children's books, which I also illustrated so that is great. K. (Manicddaily.)

  19. Havana is most definitely on my bucket list...



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