To rid yourself of envy and sin
mix honey with tobacco.
— CUBAN FOLKSONG
Tabaco, tu boca,
tus bocas—your mouths,
sweet island uncles, your lips
fragrant with Cuban puros, and you
in a cloud of smoke
for a good-night kiss, passing me,
one to one,
with your dark burly arms
hugging me close so that
my hair, my nightie, take back the smell
to linger over in bed under the mosquito net.
The cousins asleep in rows of cots on the veranda,
the ocean breeze billowing the netting
so it scratches my cheek—the lightest of stings.
Little huddles of white, snug as tobacco hills
swathed in gauze, baking the blonde inner leaves
to wrap, ring with bands and burn.
The sound of Mamita and her sisters singing
—Quando salí de l’Habana válgame dios—
My shallow smoker’s breath,
asthmatic, subverts the soul’s infant desire,
but the memory of pleasure persists.
Tabaco, tu boca,
tus bocas—Lelén, Pili, Pancho,
and the priest, Benjamín, all the tíos
in starched guayaveras,
pleats pressed over their stout middles:
tobacco musk of men,
chiefs in a circle, smoking
like the first caciques
Columbus found when he waded to shore
at Puerto de Mares, Port of Seas,
Port of Surfs,
Port of Sorrows.
Tabaco. Tu boca—
No se toca.
Tio Cheo, you weren’t like the rest. Your
arms were smooth and pink and fine.
And your breath
smelled of guarapo when you leaned over
and sang to us
in your pitch perfect voice
American show tunes you’d picked up in college
before the seminary, before
the priesthood, before Uncle Ben
nailed you, took off your frock
and drove you
where drugs and shock-treatment
dulled away desire.
Too mad now
even for the Franciscans, banished
from their monastery, your habit
you phone from the asylum, asking
for cigarettes: still, at eighty,
Tu boca, Cheo—