I traveled to Cuba for the first time on an independent photography trip in March, 2015.  I was impressed with the friendliness, generosity, tenacity, perseverance, optimism, creativity and energetic spirit of many of the Cubans I met.  Upon my return I wrote the following:

Cuba You are No Shithole
April 9, 2015

When I asked my friend
Who continues to suffer
the chronic symptoms
Of meningitis
Some 10 years later
How he thinks
he might have
contracted it
He tells me
It wasn’t from
“traveling to some shithole”.

You are no shithole.

You are however,
A land of dialectics
To wit:
“The Marxian process of change through the conflict of opposing forces, whereby a
given contradiction is characterized by a primary and a secondary aspect, the
secondary succumbing to the primary, which is then transformed into an aspect of a
new contradiction.”
Or perhaps I could explain it as
“Here we go round the mulberry bush”
And in the end we’ll all fall down in a heap
That the revolution brought you round to the point
at which you had started
But there is no denying
For better or worse
You have been changed
by the process

You are my beautiful girlfriend
But upon closer examination
I must be honest
You are a bit rundown
I can see the deep lines
That have been written on you
By all that hard work in the hot sun
Or maybe it was all that Cuba Libre
You were drinking in the park
Out of a small plastic cup
But I love you anyway

I cannot help but love you
Because you have 45 moves
And by the time
Number 45 comes at me
My guard is completely blown
I’ve already been
enchanted so many times
I can hardly
Recall the first 10

And even though I am angry at
Your father
who has treated you so poorly
After all these years
I know he clothed and fed you
And provided medical care for you
And, after all
He gave you 7 years of milk
and schooling
And the pride of
Marching daily
off to school
In your uniform
This is how he says:
You are part of us
We are part of you

But it is still
and probably will always be
your mother’s hand
That takes you there
through the jumbled
of crazy
morning sun

You are no shithole
Your streets are cleaner than any American City
Though I can’t comprehend
how this is accomplished
When there are no trash cans
All I can conclude
is there is a small army that goes forth
With makeshift rakes, brooms and cans
In the few hours
Between late night drinking
Of low grade rum
And early morning
Guarapo running
From the streetside taps
(sin alcoholica)
This has to be when
Your streets
Are scoured
And left spotless

Cuba You are no shithole
It is no matter
How much abuse you have taken
A shithole would never
Be so clever
As to come up with a
For economic collapse
Brought on by
The collateral damage
an external Soviet implosion
The “Special Period in Time of Peace”
This is no Wall Street-induced “Great Recession”
And you swallow hard
By accepting a slice of bread a day
And another meal of one egg
Beans and rice

Buster Simpson
Has jerry-rigged planters
On the back porch
Of Kucera’s gallery
In downtown Seattle
Where downspouts
Water invasive blackberries
In an artistic and ecological statement
And a stand for what’s right
No shithole
Would have all of its plumbing
(not to mention electrical system)
Jerry rigged
With a system of cisterns
And lines
That feed every inner courtyard
With a profusion of plants
Orchids and otherwise
Well tended all
There is life in every cranny
And each one
comes with care
And a stand
for what’s right

do not have
music spilling onto streets
Cuba! No shithole
Is “baptized [every night] by [its] daddy’s horn” *
Shooting rhumba into its veins
With a rhythm driven by a constant heart
The elderly can’t help but shuffle
To a lifetime rhythm dance
The dance of rhythm

I have run out of
My brain is twisted
And my emotions are in a heap
After your 45th move
In the 450th stanza
Of your Yoruba chant
The clang of metal
On metal
Is still ringing
In my ears

You are no shithole
You may have been isolated
You may have been neglected
You may have even been abused
You have persevered
You have the spirit
Of hope and optimism
And the flowering season
Awaits you.

*: Quoting Gregory Porter – “On my way to Harlem”

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