Havana 1974 by Rosie Prohias Driscoll

Havana 1974


Although I have seen the faded photographs stuck

in album pages overlaid by peel-away plastic,

I do not remember standing on the crumbling

sea wall with Yoyo, Ricky, and Rafi at Guanabo,

a yellow salvavidas sitting on my six-year-old hip


or staring at fireworks flowering in the night sky

at el Carnaval de la Habana while Abuela Rosina held 

my hand, her long index finger directing my wide eyes

to the massive papier-mâché heads bobbing along El Malecón.


There are no photographs of the coriaceous creases

on Abuelo Cesar’s face turn to stone, smooth and cold,

when Mami told him she had decided to take us back

to the island they had fled, on a mission to meet Papi’s

parents, who had chosen to stay and stand with Fidel


or of the raised rifle of the Mexico Embassy guard

shooting the tire of the taxi as it pulled away when

Mami set her first foot on the sidewalk, our bright Buster

Browns still dangling from the sticky leather back seat


or of Mami’s left leg shaking across from el agente

de Seguridad del Estado, a thick binder of unknown

contents before her and a portrait of el Che behind her,

answering the same questions for eight hours while we

played en el apartamento del Vedado con la gata Cecilia


or of Mami’s alabaster skin turn ash when Abuela Rosina

reported that there were no re-entry papers to enable

our return through México, pero no te preocupes, hija,

Ricardo lo resuelve con el consul Mexicano, who was out

of the country, but would surely respond to his call


or of the length of Mami’s onyx hair laid on Papi’s linen pillow,

her eyes scanning the room that remained as he left it lined

wall-to-wall with model World War II airplanes and the books

he amassed on his weekly visits to La Moderna Poesía, as she

wondered why he led her there, and how she might get us out


or of the thick eyebrows of the Aeroflot ticket agent, raised

over inscrutable eyes when Mami asked to buy three one-way

tickets to Barbados, even if it meant she must spend all of her cash

and leave her passport for approval hasta después del almuerzo


or of Mami’s sandaled feet frozen on Calle la Rampa when

she heard the rapid footfall of the ticket agent running after her

begging in words hushed and hurried to deliver a message

to her sister Maria in Miami, that their father was dying and could

she please tell her how she had found the way to come home?


or of months later Maria running down her gravel driveway,

arms waving as Mami circled the block looking for the house

on Southwest 6th Street, heralding that la Virgen de las Mercedes

was hovering over our car accompanied by un alma poderoso

with eyes green like mine and a dark mole on his left cheek.


I remember nothing. I only hear the sound of my mother drawing

words from wells deeper than grief, recounting our journey there

and back, on a mission she cannot comprehend, but believes was willed

by my father and Our Lady of Mercy, who hover over us still.

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