Mi patria es dulce por fuera, / y muy amarga por dentro . . .
Thirteen years I’ve been loading sacks of sugar onto freightships bound for New York and Louisiana, at times praying they sink so the lumps will dissolve like a white ghost. Sugar is the black man’s curse. I’m a hammer-and-machete Marxist-Leninist revolutionary tropical-star Soviet grandson-of-maroon Stalinist cabrón. The Bourgeoisie’s destruction will happen sooner than anyone thinks, every sugar mill bombed to the ground, the richest land in America collectivized for indigenous agriculture. During the Depression, the cane harvest—la zafra—was just 62 days long, with papá employed the rest of the year playing dominoes, drinking rum, screwing sugar-mill whores on credit, died at 42 from cirrhosis of the liver. As a maid, mamá earned enough to buy cracklings she cooked with yuca and malanga; we gorged on spoiled bananas and mangoes. Compadre, the runs were a condition of my childhood. When papá died, we stayed with Aunt Marta in Old Havana, who taught mamá to fix clothes on a jumpy old Singer, and I began to work at the docks with Uncle Cuco, a communist. I’ll never forget Albertico—red as a crab—who hung a rope in our town’s dancefloor to separate blacks and whites. If a light-skinned mulatto pretended to pass, he’d throw stones calling him negro bembón, saco de carbón (big-lipped black, sack of coal). His brujero uncle took revenge: hexed with fresh-dug human bones and rooster gizzards, Albertico lost his cruel voice forever. [End Page 73] I don’t believe in the African saints but just in case— por si las moscas—I give Agayú, patron of dock workers, each Saturday, sliced apples and cerveza.
Orlando Ricardo Menes, a Cuban American, received the PhD in creative writing at the University of Illinois, Chicago. He is author of Borderlands with Angels and Rumba Atop the Stones. He has also published poems and translations in The Antioch Review, Chelsea, Indiana Review, and Seneca Review.