Category Archives: USA

“I Have a Dream,” at Watchung Booksellers

Tomorrow, on #MLKDay, I will do a reading from my translation of “I Have a Dream,” that beautiful and emblematic speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The event will take place at Watchung Booksellers, at 7PM. (If you’d like to attend, please register in this link. The entire conversation will be in Spanish.)

I will dedicate this event:
– to #KeenanAnderson, a high school teacher, who was murdered a couple of days ago by members of the Los Angeles police department, for the crime of being Black and asking its officers for help;
– to artist @luismanuel.oteroalcantara and #Grammy-winning rapper @maykelosorbo, both #Cuban citizens who are languishing in prison in #Cuba for the crime of thinking while Black;
– to Black women in Cuba and the US, who have to fight against the violence of misogyny and racism on a daily basis;
– to descendants of enslaved Africans in every country built upon the rubble of the Atlantic slave trade;
– to my African ancestors, whose lineage I do not know due to that form of violence that is institutional oblivion.

The personal has always been political.

As Dr. King said: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Apropos of “A Settling of Scores”  

As a child, in Havana…

Today, the Cuban independent newspaper 14ymedio published the seven décimas of the most recent entry of my weekly column, Ideological Deviation. You can read them in one fell swoop on their website, or take them individually, in daily doses, on my Spanish blog, which is also yours, Belascoaín y Neptuno.  

I don’t usually write commentary to explain what I write. What I write explains itself. Or it doesn’t, and that’s that. However, I’ve made an exception this time because, after these seventy lines, I still had more to say. I want to highlight the discomfort that confronting racism and its many forms of violence causes in our society —I’m taking about Cuba, yes, and that is also applicable in the United States. But let’s focus on Cuba.  

There are people who have told me all my life, in Spanish and in English, “I don’t see race or color,” and, in saying so, have always had the best of intentions. But whoever doesn’t see race also doesn’t see racism. And those problems will not be solved if we prefer to think they don’t exist. To not have to think about race, to not see race, is an immense privilege. I see it every time I look in the mirror. And yes, it’s a social construct, and all that, but I didn’t invent it. It was already here when I got to the party, like Augusto Monterroso’s famous dinosaur.  

Since we are at it: it’s also a privilege to not have to think about gender, or money, or sexual orientation, or migratory status, or physical abilities, or about other factors that I don’t mention here, because I don’t see them, because they don’t come to mind at this moment, while I write this.  

I was Black in Cuba, although here I’ve been placed in the “Latine” niche, while I repeat over and over that I am and will always be Cuban, until my lights are turned off; I’m Habanero, to be more precise.  

I’ve never had the option of not thinking of myself as a racialized being, including long before I acquired this vocabulary. I didn’t have that choice when authorities during my Cuban upbringing repeated that racism was a remnant of the past —that thankfully had been eradicated in Cuba—while they taught me to hate my hair. This hair, this beautiful hair. The conjunction of this feeling of racial consciousness with the fallacy that we learn —that we learned— at home, that “the family is sacred,” was the starting point for this cycle of décimas. No, folks. We have to talk about racism, and we have to talk about it in public. And this conversation will have to be uncomfortable, especially for those who have never stopped to think about this subject. Believe me: more uncomfortable —more dangerous!— is racism itself. And another thing: family is who behaves as such. Family is also chosen. (My Aunt Lucy, who is not a blood relative, is more my family than my entire paternal line. I’m making use of this opportunity to send her, publicly, my everlasting love.)

In this week’s column, I maintain my policy of not telling a lie and punching all the way up. Here, as everywhere, the personal is political. Furthermore: my childhood demonstrates the resounding failure of the Cuban regime in promoting and implementing racial justice and equity on the island that I escaped, as so many thousands of my compatriots are doing right now.  

I know that the State is a system and, that in my poem, I refer to individuals. But the gears of a society function —for better or worse— because of the people who implement them. These creatures and their sickening racism passed through my life. And they all openly supported “the Revolution,” while reiterating that, in the previous dictatorship, I “wouldn’t even have been considered a person.”  

Therefore, I owe it to the child that I was to settle this score in public. I dedicate these rhymes to the racists —of all genders and latitudes— who have defended —and explained to me!— the Cuban Revolution.  

The love for the homeland is learned at home. So is racism. Educate yourself, and educate your offspring.  

Don’t forget that the dictum of “don’t air dirty laundry in public” is an effective way of protecting those who oppress you.  

Tell your truth. Remember, as Audre Lorde said: “Your silence will not protect you.”

I, Too, Have a Dream

Last year, my friend Juan Milà, Editorial Director at Harper Via, called to ask me if I’d be interested in translating the speech I Have a Dream, by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. At first, I thought I had misheard him. I couldn’t believe this monumental pillar of the Civil Rights movement hadn’t been published in book form in Spanish. I said yes immediately…

And now the book is out!

It has been my greatest honor to bring this timely and timeless speech into my native language. I also had the privilege of translating a moving prologue, written for this edition, by Amanda Gorman. In translating both texts, I benefited from wonderful suggestions from my editor (and now dear friend) Ariana Rosado Fernández, as well as from my dear Juan Milà. 

In the process, I was aware at all times that this was a speech. Therefore, the text had to sound good. Beyond the content, I had to convey a cadence, a musicality, and a rhythm from one of the greatest orators in the English language. So I recited every sentence and the entire speech, in Spanish, over and over… 

For the first few days (or was it weeks?), I still couldn’t believe that I was going to be the vehicle through which Dr. King’s words would reach a Spanish-speaking audience. Yet, rather than intimidate me, that responsibility inspired me and kept me focused and grounded.

Since the final draft, I have lost track of how many times I’ve read my translation out loud. And my voice still cracks, and my heartbeat still races as I read it. This is personal. I have skin in the game. I, too, have a dream. I, too, share Dr. King’s dream. I, too, wonder, with Langston Hughes, what happens to a dream deferred.

This dream is also applicable to my homeland. In the photos from this post, the man raising his fist against a racist regime is Grammy-award winner Maykel “Osorbo” Castillo Pérez, who is currently in jail in Cuba for his song “Patria y vida,” and for singing while Black. He is a prominent leader of the San Isidro Movement. And I will not be free until he is free. Until Cuba is free.

My translation of I Have a Dream is available through your local bookstore. You can also ask your public library to include it in its collection. Go ahead, read it. Believe in it. Make the dream come true!

The Power of Names — Op-Ed in The Miami Herald

The Power of Names

Alexis Romay 

Earlier last month, I visited an independent school in Connecticut, to speak on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, about Hispanic Heritage Month, the power of names, and the power of naming. Names are a critical component of our identity. Names reveal —or conceal— who we are. Let’s start with “Connecticut,” which takes its name from an Algonquian word that means “land on the long tidal river.” I made that point from a podium in the land that belongs to the Nipmunks, the Sequin, the Matabesec or Wappinger, and the Pequot-Mohegan. I might have mispronounced those words, and I might have omitted others. And that is a direct consequence of the systemic erasure of “Indigenous Peoples” from our curricula, our media, and our collective narrative.

“Indigenous Peoples” is a shortcut to identify a large and diverse set of cultures who didn’t call themselves “Indigenous Peoples.” That is an umbrella under which they’ve been placed by external sources with the power of naming. “Indigenous Peoples” is a product of colonialism.

The independent school that hosted me is located in New Haven. But a “New Haven” for whom? Certainly not for the “Indigenous Peoples,” who were forced to leave their land and go on a long trail of tears to find their new haven.

I mentioned that I’m Cuban. “Cuba,” a beautiful Taino word, which means “great place.” For me, the great place from which, 23 years ago, I fled the Castro dictatorship, a totalitarian regime that has lasted more than six decades, and today is terrorizing the Cuban people who are reclaiming their right to have rights. Children, adults, and elderly people are barricading the streets and shouting “freedom,” because they believe, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did, that “a riot is the language of the unheard.” And, also, because, as the late congressman John Lewis said: “We do not want our freedom gradually, but we want to be free now!”

Cubans, on the island and in exile, are speaking loud and clear. They are voting with their feet, by crossing the treacherous path from Central America to the United States, by braving —on makeshift rafts— the ninety miles of sharks and uncertainty that separate Cuba from the US, or by putting their bodies in front of the police force of the Cuban government, a political system that has simultaneously lost all touch with reality and what little credibility it still had in the international arena.

Let’s go back to the power of names and the power of naming. Let’s take a look at Latino, Latina, Latine, Latinx, Hispanic… and all the possible permutations of those identifiers. Well, that’s not what I call myself. I am Cuban. My Colombian friends are Colombian. My Puerto Rican friends are Puerto Rican. My Chilean friends are Chilean. And so on, and so forth. Yet, we have been placed under a massive umbrella.

The powerful thing about shared umbrellas is that they offer shelter against the tempest. The problem with shared umbrellas is that once you’re under them, you have very little room to move about freely. You are confined to a crowded space in which you might become indistinguishable from the people next to you. You might gain a collective identity at the risk of losing your own —individual or national— identity.

Much like there are cultural differences between the people of New Haven and the people of New Orleans, the people from, say, Lima (Peru), and Cuba’s capital —Havana, another Taino word— share a common language, which is also a product of colonialism. But they differ greatly in their history, traditions, idiosyncrasies, cosmogony.

Let’s think about another continent. But, first, let’s think about the Ukrainians. Slava Ukraini!

We talk about the French, the Italians, the Germans, the Spaniards, the Greeks, the Irish; we even make distinctions for the members of the United Kingdom: the English, the Scottish, the Welsh. We don’t throw “the Europeans” under one big umbrella. They get to retain their national identities.  

Therefore, I am writing this to invite you to extend the same courtesy to Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Because Africa is not a country. Asia is not a country. And America is not a country.

Let’s normalize calling our nation by its proper name: the United States of America; the US or USA, if you are in a rush. And, yes, “our nation.” I use the possessive pronoun, because, in the immortal words of Langston Hughes, “I, too, am America.”


This Op-Ed was published —with slight modifications— in the print edition of The Miami Herald, on 10/27/22.

How many dead do you need?

How many dead do you need?
How many more people killed
by a government so skilled
in implementing its creed
that after it does the deed
of sinking a fleeing boat
it accuses the scapegoat?
Cuba is a dictatorship.
Spare me photos from your trip.
My friends in Cuba can’t vote.

Author’s note: This is my recreation and condensation, in English, of my décimas published this week in the Spanish edition of 14ymedio

Colonel Mario Méndez (shown above), a high-ranking officer of the Ministry of Interior, gave me the fuel for this text with the question that he repeated ad nauseam during a TV program apropos of the latest massacre perpetrated by the Cuban regime: “How many more dead do you need?”

Please, keep in mind that this post —as well as the entirety of Ideological Deviation, my weekly column— is considered a crime by the Cuban government..

The Power of Names

Here’s our premise for this morning:

– I am a Cuban in Connecticut,
– Who is here to talk on Indigenous Peoples’ Day,
– About Hispanic Heritage Month,
– To an audience of 700 people,
– In under 14 minutes.

Apropos of “Ideological Deviation”

I will be brief. These terrifying words began many of the interminable speeches of the Mansplainer-in-Chief who, pistol in hand, took control of Cuba 62,000 millennia ago. With this introduction to my new column in 14ymedio, I propose to do exactly the same. (I’m referring to being brief, not to taking over the Island. I hope the results are not so devastating.)

The column will appear weekly under the banner Ideological Deviation, which in addition to being the title of my book of décimas, is a horrible legal concept with which the government frightened me in my childhood and youth in Havana, and for which any Cuban can still be imprisoned in the land I fled. The décima is a style of Spanish poetry created in the XVI century by Vicente Espinel. The format is 10 lines, eight-syllables each. It rhymes ABBAACCDDC. Jorge Drexler did a beautiful TEDx talk about it.

Does this mean that I am going to write an opinion column exclusively to the rhythm of the décima? Well, yes. The reason is simple: the meter and rhyme  —and, hopefully, the content— ​​will render them memorable. This will make it easier for them to be recited in morning assemblies at schools throughout the nation. From preschool to sixth grade! To infinity… and beyond! Pioneers for dropping bars, we will be like Espinel!

My octosyllables will come in a variety of tones and registers —lyrical, nostalgic, satirical, parodic, animal, vegetable, and mineral— which are my ways of thinking and feeling Cuba from a distance. Thinking and feeling are crimes in totalitarianism, and the Cuba that the Castros took for themselves is no exception. (Ah… and I aspired to write a presentation without mentioning that last name that produces gagging, nausea, hives).

I escaped in order to be, an action that in Spanish is split into two verbs: ser and estar. I fled in order to think and to feel. Beyond the seas and decades later, I admire those who are, who think, and who feel in Cuba. I could not imagine my life in my land, but I celebrate that there are those who can do it and do it every day, against the winds and the tides of an implacable regime. These verses, and those to come, are for you.

The People,” “the Cuban Nation”

“The people,” “the Cuban nation”
is not the same as “the State.”
(No need for you to debate.
Go on. Have a revelation.)
The “Revolution,” that station
in Dante’s Hell, is a trap:
the government does kidnap
the Cubans who dare protest;
at Díaz Canel’s request,
they get erased from the map.


The photo in this post shows Cuban artist and two-time Latin Grammy-winner rapper Maykel “Osorbo” Castillo, who has been detained at the maximum security Pinar del Río prison since May 2021 for his song “Patria y vida.”

Havana for Foreign Correspondents & College Professors (a parody)

Havana for Foreign Correspondents & College Professors

(a parody)

Music (and original lyrics): Camila Cabello

Lyrics: Alexis Romay

Havana, ooh, na-na.
There’s a police state in Havana, ooh, na-na,
and throughout Cuba, but Havana, ooh, na-na,
is where the ruling Castro Junta,
the dynasty, keeps dragging
our country through the mud.

Fidel came to power with all his shootin’,
back in the fifties.
He scared the whole nation by executin
his friends and foes.
We knew him forever in a minute.
It’s been six decades.
And fleeing became our national sport.

Ooh, ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh.
I knew it when I met him. I hated his repression.
Ooh, ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh.
And then I had to tell him, I had to go.

Havana, ooh, na-na.
There’s a police state in Havana, ooh, na-na,
and throughout Cuba, but Havana, ooh, na-na,
is where the ruling Castro Junta,
the dynasty, keeps dragging
our country through the mud.

A dictatorship is ruling the island.
Sixty-two years!
They’re sentencing minors for daring to speak
against the tyrant.
His name’s Díaz Canel, but we call him “Singao.”
He’s just a puppet.
My friends are in prison or they were exiled.

Ooh, ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh.
I knew it when I met him. I hated his repression.
Ooh, ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh.
And then I had to tell him, I had to go.

Havana, ooh, na-na.
There’s a police state in Havana, ooh, na-na,
and throughout Cuba, but Havana, ooh, na-na,
is where the ruling Castro Junta,
the dynasty, keeps dragging
our country through the mud.


Here you can find the Spanish version of this parody.

#AgentOrangeVirusMan: An American Nightmare


In December 2017, inspired by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton: An American Musical, I recreated Fidel Castro’s history as narrated by the Cuban people he subjugated for over five decades of dictatorship. (You can listen to that song here; trigger warning: it’s in Spanish.)

After the 2016 election, I wrote an opinion piece for NBC News about the moral dilemma that teachers would face in the age of Trump; since then, I have made a point of not normalizing his execrable behavior. Other than tweets (I know, the irony!), I didn’t write anything of greater length about him because I had nothing new to offer that hadn’t been already said by someone else. Until yesterday, when, frustrated by having to advocate for starting the fall semester remotely (isn’t it obvious?), I asked myself, “How does a deadly virus…” and realized that I had to go back to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s song and answer that question and pose others with his familiar beat and his memorable melody.

At home we avoid saying the name of the current president of the United States, as we believe that his ego inflates anytime anyone mentions him. So, to the question, posed by Valerie Block, my wife, of what would I call him, she herself responded on the spot with “Agent Orange Virus Man.” She gets full credit for the title. (Thank you, @vblock12!)

That’s the tea. If you record it, please upload it, use the hashtag #AgentOrangeVirusMan, and tag me on social media.

And remember that Election Day is Tuesday, November 3rd, 2020.


Agent Orange Virus Man: An American Nightmare
Music: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Lyrics: Alexis Romay

How does a deadly virus, deeply ignored
by a Statesman, strutting in the middle of a golf course
in Florida with his third wife in their manor,
create such disaster and such squalor?

[US Electorate:]
The tax-hiding con got a loan from his father,
got a lot farther by shouting a lot louder,
by threatening a lot faster,
by pretending to be smarter.
By his teens, he’d learned nothing that really mattered.

[US Electorate:]
And every day while people were dying and being carted
away because Covid, he lied and kept his guard up.
Inside, he was longing for something to be a part of.
The whiner was ready to beg, steal, borrow, or barter.

[Puerto Rico:]
When a hurricane came, and devastation reigned,
the man threw paper towels with contempt and with disdain.
Put a finger to his Twitter, connected it to his brain
and he wrote his first refrain: a dog whistle to white pain.

[US Congress:]
Well, the word got around, they said, “This guy is insane, man.
Let’s get him impeached and see if we can save this land.
Remote education for next fall will be the game, and
the world’s gonna know your name. What’s your name, man?”

[Agent Orange Virus Man:]
Agent Orange Virus Man.
My name is Agent Orange Virus Man.
Four million cases as of yesterday.
Let’s not test more today…

[US Electorate:]
Every time he is criticized, he promptly cries, “FAKE NEWS!!!”
He’s demonized Black people, Brown people, Muslims, Jews…
He’s called for white suburban mothers to rise up from their pews.

[Friendly Reminder:]
So on November 3rd remember this before you choose.

[US Electorate:]
Moved into the White House, and his wife was not by his side,
the inauguration crowd left him with nothing but ruined pride,
a voice saying: “Agent, you gotta fend for yourself.”
He started retweeting and tweeting every thought that crossed his brain.

[US Electorate:]
There would’ve been a lot left to do
for someone more astute.
He wouldn’t have tweeted past midnight
just to make this country fight.
Started talking about hydroxychloroquine,
and when I heard that, I almost lost my mind.
Scanning for every woman he can get his hands on.
Planning for postponing an election as he stands on…
Wait. What? That’s not the Law of the Land.
Congress is not going to back up that plan.

[US Electorate:]
Congress is not going to back up that plan.
Congress is not going to back up that plan.
Congress is not going to back up that plan.
Is not…
Scratch that plan!

[US Electorate:]
Agent Orange Virus Man (Agent Orange Virus Man),
we are not going to vote for you (not going to vote for you).
You always double down,
you always have to insult everyone. Oh.
Agent Orange Virus Man (Agent Orange Virus Man),
when people don’t vote for you,
they will know what they overcame.
They will know that they saved the game.
The world will never be the same, oh.

[US Electorate:]
The election is within sight now.
See if you can spot it.
And no more children
coming up from the border
will be locked up in cages
‘cause you shouted, “LAW AND ORDER!!”

[US Congress / US Senate:]
We fought with him.

[Roger Stone:]
Me? I lied for him.

Me? I trusted him.

Me? I love him.

And me? I’m the party that propped him.

[US Congress / US Senate:]
Four million cases as of yesterday.
Do more tests!

[Влади́мир Пу́тин:]
Как тебя зовут?

[Agent Orange Virus Man:]
Agent Orange Virus Man!

Lyrics: Alexis Romay
Based on Hamilton: An American Musical, by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Music: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Orchestration: The Hamilton Instrumentals, by Original Broadway Cast of Hamilton
Illustration: Garrincha

A Tale of Two Cities


Havana just turned five hundred. The beautiful Havana: the city of my birth, the city of my upbringing, the city of my youth, the city of my fears, the city I fled, the city that simultaneously told me, taught me, that all men (and women, but don’t push it) were equal, and to be thankful to the revolution because under the previous dictatorship someone like me would not have been considered a person. The city where I learned that someone like me meant a citizen with characteristics and that both euphemisms were used to refer to people of color. The city where I was racially profiled daily by policemen (yes, they were all men) who were my skin tone or darker. The city where I was afraid of being shot for the crime of living while brown in a country that had, in theory, eradicated racism.

The city that made itself indistinguishable from its government. The city where I learned doublespeak. The city where I mastered the intricacies of body language. The city where I learned the importance of subtext. The city where domestic violence is normalized. The city where I learned to love. The city where I learned that love was acceptable as long as it didn’t cross racial lines.

The city where Celia Cruz was forbidden by its military junta. The city where I couldn’t read the writings of Guillermo Cabrera Infante because his books were banned. The city that hid I Love Lucy from its natural audience. The city that tried to erase all accomplishments of Cubans living abroad because they (now, we) were considered counterrevolutionaries. The city where this text could not be published in my youth or now. The city where all its inhabitants have the right to say that they viscerally hate the president . . . of the United States of America. The city where the paper of record, Granma, “the official publication of the Cuban Communist Party,” published racial epithets to refer to the previous president of the United States of America. The city that taught me—that taught you—to call a dictatorship a revolution.

The city that taught me the meaning of hate. The city that taught me (how) to hate. The city in which I was instructed to specifically hate my exiled family members who lived in the US, the very family that sent us money, food, vitamins, shoes, clothes; the very family without whom we could not have survived after the collapse of the Eastern Socialist bloc; the very family that we were not supposed to talk about; the very family that we were supposed to refer to as worms.

Oh, Havana, or what remains of the city that simultaneously told me that racism had been eradicated with the advent of the Castro dynasty and that it was not polite to talk about race.

The city that taught me that I was lesser than my white peers, that I had bad hair, that I had to marry a light-skinned person “to improve the race,” that white people who weren’t smart were “a waste of color and hair.” The city where my white friends told me how much they loved their racist grandparents and made a point of telling me how racist they (the grandparents) were. The city where the mother of a friend would look at her date’s gums to see if they were too dark; the city where I’d be told to cut my hair short so that it wouldn’t show my black ancestry.

Men explain things to Rebecca Solnit. Americans explain Havana to me.

When Americans ask me if I can go back to Havana . . . Americans don’t ask me if I have been to Havana, or if I plan to go to Havana. They ask me if I can go. Am I allowed to visit the city where my grandparents are buried? They rarely acknowledge the anomaly of the question. They rarely address who would need to allow me or why would I need to be allowed to go instead of just simply going. Sometimes, Americans are eager to tell me that they have an upcoming trip to the island. Is there a place they should visit? But how do you say politely that it is immoral to be treated like royalty in a country where the natives are treated as fifth-class citizens? That was true under Apartheid. Why isn’t it true under Castro and his acolytes? I have likened Cuba to Westworld, the HBO documentary that depicts a theme park where the visitors are afforded privileges that the locals couldn’t possibly dream of. I have shared that essay with potential travelers. They still go. And, when they do, they even have a great time in the city in which I did not want to become a father. The city that made me who I am. The city I had to escape to become who I am. The city in which I could not walk with my wife without facing the police harassment and subsequent humiliation of doing something that is doubly dangerous for a Cuban male of color: holding the hand of a white woman and holding the hand of a foreigner. Can I go? Now that the last name changed but the dictatorship remains the same? Do I want to go? To quote Barack Obama, one of its most recent visitors: “Nah, we straight.”

What is there to celebrate about a dilapidated city? What is there to celebrate about a city where its people would rather take a raft through ninety miles of sharks and uncertainty than to live one more day under a regime that has lasted over six decades? Why are we not collectively mourning this?

Back to the question: aside from shooting my mouth off in conversation and in print, which makes me persona non grata to the Cuban regime, there are (meta)physical impediments for me to visit or go back to Havana. First: one visits a zoo, a museum, a friend. But can one visit one’s past? Is it still there? Heraclitus reminded us that no one can swim twice in the same river because both the person and the body of water have changed. Likewise: Havana is not the same city it was two decades ago. And I am not the same man.

When my American friends and colleagues ask me how old I am, I respond that I am ageless. They think it a joke. But I mean it in a literal way: I belong to no generation. Since I fled Castro, I have lived outside the confines of time and space. That is precisely the mere condition of exile: to exist out of one’s natural time and space.

But the truth is that I do travel to Havana whenever I want. Through literature, film, and music, that is. It was of that Havana, which once was mine, that I thought about ten years ago when I lived in Rome for a couple of months. Now, in its five hundredth anniversary, I would like to evoke that city from afar with a poem I wrote then, and it continues to speak my truth.

The Lost Steps

to the Mallozzi-Sammartino

With these shoes
that know the dust of the eternal city,
and sensed the glory that was the Palatine,
and walked the insomniac trails
of the crumbled Ostia Antica,
and climbed hills and mountains and stamped
a profound mark that I wanted to be indelible
in the beautiful meadow near Colleferro,
and lived happily in the quiet shade
of the neighborhood devoted to two-headed Janus,
and stumbled almost memorably
among the cobblestones and the rocks that perhaps
with the passing of time and the passing of people
made uneven that ancient road
that indicated that all the paths in the world
would bring the traveler to the Rome of my longing,
and remember the whisper of the river
along those nightly walks besides Trastevere
with friends I would want to embrace as I write,
and scored a goal and then another and gave
a celestial pass and an unfair kick
on the shin of a guy who was speaking Italian
and was not my enemy, just an adversary
in an improvised pitch in the spacious backyard
of a sober academy
among adults who were, who would doubt it, just kids
who ran panting behind the soccer ball
while the spring imposed its ubiquitous charm,
and in their effort to step on commonplaces,
took a pilgrimage with this scribe in tow
to visit Pompeii,
to sniff around Herculaneum,
to cross the streets of Piano di Sorrento
and one day will return to the land of Dante
to recite the ancient and immortal verses
that we inherited, for our fortune, from Petrarch,
and that I will declaim with my Cuban accent
while the sun sets in the sublime Tuscany,
and a good wine is paired with even better company
and those beautiful nephews who are not related
to my son or to me, and I love from a distance,
remind me, what joy, that family, thank the heavens,
is not written in blood,
with these shoes that I am wearing right now, dear fellows,
I shall never walk the ruins of Havana.

Art (title): ¿Seremos como quién? (díptico)
Artist: Rafael López-Ramos
Acrylic and ink on canvas
36 1/2″ x 37″

This text was originally published in English in World Literature Today. The Spanish text was published in Replicante magazine.