by Bob Brooks
[ poetry - november 11 ]
1. The 50cc Cz
The first time I drove the thing, or tried to,
the spike bush at your family’s circular
driveway’s hub kept luring us -
bike and me - right out of our safe orbit
till we spiralled into it and upended.
You laughed, and I threw up, an evening’s
empanadas and the unaccountable
rum-soaked remnants of a fine cigar.
“Poor white boy, thrown by a toy,”
you taunted. But even if it carried one-
20th the displacement of a full-grown
Harley, and was manufactured in some
barely familiar middle-European country,
it was still big enough to give transport
to the two of us, looking for trouble
in all those safe places (I, anyway, had
no notion of the Castro brothers
plotting in the provinces).
Across the cobbles and trolley tracks
of old Havana it transported us
to the local premiere of Brando’s
The Wild One. A girl in a bar says,
“What are you rebelling against,
Johnny?” And Brando answers,
“What’ve you got?”... Big enough.
And God knows, loud enough.
Appropriately brash. After the movie
we peeled away with the swarm
of other motorcycles, small and large
but all more awful than before,
to swoop the tropical night
like schools of fish. That was one fine
spring vacation, Luis, you know that?
Whatever you think. Whatever
had to happen later. Wherever,
anywhere but home, you are.
Why was it
Patsy and you
were not lovers?
Did I know?
Did you tell me?
Have I just forgotten?
I remember you
turning her over to me
as it were
in a kind of stoical Hemingwayesque
which seems in memory
more self-dramatizing even
than we were normally.
It couldn’t have been just that she was
unapproachable, though she was that.
Suspended out of reach
in her own preoccupations.
Her mother dead.
Her father the hireling British engineer
often absent elsewhere on the island.
Herself rejected by Sadler’s Wells
- the one thing she cared about -
not for inadequate dancing
but for being
We sat on wicker chairs in her living room
while she told her story.
Not to be left out,
I sketched rapidly with my pursed fingers
on an imaginary pad
on my knee.
Over the next couple of years
we exchanged a lot of letters,
hers in a sweetly childish
light blue script.
By then I was in college in New England.
I think I was the first to stop writing.
3. Havana by night
Our table at gangster Meyer Lansky’s
nightclub Tropicana fronted the stage.
My date was Patsy and you brought
the dark Lidia with her crazy mother
as requisite (Lidia was what, 15?)
dueńa. My head spun with each
by-me delight: sweet rum drinks
and that fine cigar and those Afro-
Cuban drums and extravagantly
costumed (huge feathered head-
dresses, spangled G-strings)
frequently topless dancing girls
and explosions. A finale in which
the corps of dancers threw
streamers at the patrons’ tables
and Lidia’s mother screamed
because a streamer proceeding from
one dancer who appeared to be
Asian might have landed on
Lidia’s mother and we
left there in a big hurry.
It could have been later that
same night or just later that
you and I and your father’s
chauffeur Miguel took the
Buick to the Teatro Alegre
and watched pornographic
featurettes shot so close up
that I only rarely could tell what
parts were involved in what.
Relieved now and then by
intervals of live stage shows
with chubby young naked girls
romping and plodding, all bump and
no grind, all strip and no tease, just
milk chocolate babes on parade.
At your house almost everything
was different from almost anything
at my house. That must be why
so much of it’s lodged in my head,
my head subjected though it was
to such unstinting abuse. Thus
under the hard hot tropical sun
we loitered in your back yard
playing with your fuzzy pet,
Lucy. The coatimundi. Looked like
a long-nosed raccoon, with a similar
agility and cuteness. Ate whatever
she found in the hair on your head
At my house there was an
average dog, part border collie, found
at a nearby golf course when we were
both puppies. I named my dog
“Teddy,” short for “teddy bear.”
“Coatimundi” looks as if it means
something from Latin, but as I found
out, it doesn’t. It just means itself,
in Tupi, language of the Tupi Indians
of the Amazon Basin. “Amazon”: now
there’s a word with exotica
sticking out all over it, and see how it
fits right in?
5. Little Egypt
On our last morning on the island
we said goodbye to everybody.
Lucy, of course, and the maid,
the gardener, your mother -
I’m not going to talk about
mothers here, yours or mine,
whenever a story drifts near them
they sing sad songs to it -
they can bend light -
I never met your father,
the general. (Was the army
busy that week?) Miguel
drove us to the airport,
and we went up in the air
and came down on the ground
in Key West.
Because the Chrysler Corporation
said that the color of my car -
a 1946 Dodge convertible -
was “Cairo Tan,” I named her
“Little Egypt.” She fit in perfectly
at the Key West airport (palm-
fronded, sandy) where we had
parked her on the way south.
And where I had undergone
my first real lesson in how we
expected to behave ourselves:
I said, “I’ll just put this top up
before we go,” and you said,
“What for? It never rains here.”
And it hadn’t. Little Egypt
lounged easily in the car park,
coated with sand. Her dashboard
was invisible, its little inset
filled with it. The floorboards
a couple of inches deep in it.
But she started; she ran;
we brushed her down;
she was perfect.
6. Back to school
On the way south from Asheville
we hadn’t stopped, except
for gas or to trade off.
I remember coasting through
crushed seashells by a roadside diner
set amongst what seemed to be
two splaying versions of the same road.
My eyes crossing and closing.
Poking you awake.
But on the way back we were
not hurrying. In fact,
we left Cuba one day later
than we’d said we would,
to worry your folks,
and to worry mine
arrived at the other end,
on campus, two days late -
and we didn’t call, either.
It would be easy at this point
for me to make some
especially to you.
But I won’t. Just now,
I’d rather watch myself
clank down the corridor,
to the classroom where my father
taught plane geometry
to our fellow schoolboys,
in a cheap Basque beret
(this is me now, my father
didn’t wear a beret for some years yet)
and engineer boots
(I didn’t own motorcycle boots)
and a borrowed leather jacket -
borrowed from you -
with metal buckles -
I’d rather just watch that
person. for a moment, strut.