What we left behind
Habana Vieja, you wait like an elegant hostess
yearning for the guests who sat at your dinner table.
But now, the balcony where you all gathered
to look at the noche Cubana
has fallen to the ground.
The beauty of your past spread on the sidewalk
like a shattered kaleidoscope.
I left you "antes de...antes de..." before the...
as the hotel's staff described me.
What they meant was "Before the revolution."
Somehow the date of my departure
is like a baptism cleansing me of the sin
of having abandoned you.
The bus carrying me to the city turns a corner
and I, who have been desperately searching
for something from my past, recognize a fountain,
the one with the dolphins and shout
"Look, I used to play here!"
Suddenly I am ten and not seventy, and I can
go back to the park whose name I have forgotten,
put on my roller skates, lock them on my shoes
and rush fast to embrace the wind.
When tía Espe took me to the airport
that day in April, 1954,
I was too young to understand that the past
would become a colorless memory,
the few black and white photos
my mother took with her.
Inside the plane I am transformed:
from Cuban citizen to a soon-to-be
homeless immigrant child.
Later on, our repressed Cuban identity
would burst out
when eating my mother's arroz con pollo
or lechón asado.
Those flavors exploding in my mouth,
filled my heart.
I became a house in need of repair,
disconnected from the family left behind
imagining the cousins I would never meet.
I asked my friends if I could borrow their grandmothers.
pretend they were mine.
I had everything and I had nothing.
because you were a yearning,
a first kiss we can never forget.