CONJUNCTIONS:62, Exile (Spring 2014)
Waves lack surface when you are weak, nothing risen quickly enough to keep you up. Keep pulling toward midpoint between both islands where you could be lost but must keep going like a brute force of nature despite the dwindled sap in your arms. If you never had faith you find enough to say if this is what you have in store for me, either kill me this next moment or I will be your humble servant for the rest of my life. Strike me down now and let us not wait for jellyfish or sharks or else please stick by me and let me get there.
Other barefoot kids call you Bones because you are long and ropy and you were with them pressing your nose to the grille of the gym in your neighborhood after school. One day you ask the coach what it takes to train since you have seen him wrapping big kids’ hands or ambling about to spray water into their mouths from a tumbler. The strangeness of such motherly gestures makes you think he may be that odd adult who doesn’t bite, Jimenez with brows raised in the center as if the worst he has seen shocked him into generous surprise. When he asks how old you are and you say seven, he says your height qualifies you as eight and you get to start the next day.
No reason needed. All you did was ask. On the way to the gym, you kick a can because this is something you always do but then two days later no longer need because you will not walk but instead rehearse positions that burn once you get there, the backstep and combinations while your mind stays sharp, this time one-two-two and the next one-shuffle-one, the bob and weave but also just the sheer joy of battering an object that could be anyone, you controlling the bag that loves you back, making you shine with focus. What Jimenez lends you is heart, your eyes fixed below the chin where his pulse throbs. The trick is to make your gaze a tabletop no matter if he tests you by walking circles around, barking, the periphery! a word that at first you think means throat, his a kinder growl than those you’ve known, your knees bent, stance wide. For one second no one can stop you even if on your first time trying a roundhouse, you knock yourself off center. The next lands square on his pad. When he is pleased, the corners of the mouth lift despite an invisible bulk tugging them down, the heaviness saying someone like you comes once in a lifetime. Don’t fall asleep looking at my face, he roars, the periphery! One day you stop hitting with your fourth and fifth knuckles, though to use the second and third takes trust. These will not wear out so quickly, he promises, dancing back then lunging over, holding the pads. Don’t breathe not yet but slide forward, remember the sequence, double jab and cross, under, under, knees bent, click click clack, duck and slide back, block, chin to chest, shoulders hunched the way they should have been back when your father used to come at you. To punch Jimenez’s pad is to swallow confusion. Sometimes he says, jab through, give it more, but then says, what, you want to kill me? That middle ground dances away, hard to find the balance of warning alive in his eyes. Don’t look, he says, but can you help it? You make sure not to hurt the first man who shows caring by holding up pads for you to thump but who then takes a surprise jab. You must learn his way. Duck and learn. And the great curve of pleasure through your gut when the footwork falls and the pattern bursts, less about remembering to turn on this toe, no, the other, knee bent, and just about socking through like one of the old revolutionary songs they hammered into you back in school.
At home your mother watches as if you have grown tentacles. Don’t care. Slop meals into your gut before heading back to the gym. One, two, side, then curl, three, five, then block. You’ve known the other kids in the place forever but if they used to be able to hurl the casual insult about your stringy legs, inside these walls you predict their moves three paces ahead. This one will throw an undercut, no, four, you disgrace no one but your vision sharpens. No need to wear a helmet like the older kids since a knowing pulses at the base of your palm, the one you stretch out after practice, unfurling what could be your future, the way out, bending your fingertips back toward your shoulders, making the intention of your mind and fist one. Less distance, get close, make it your game, Jimenez whispers, play it. After hours in that light slanted down late, you and the bag study the day. Punch back what you missed. Until you stop Jimenez will not either but there comes a point where his face thins and he sprays water into your mouth from the angled straw, making a step in jest as if to spray the little kids loyal covering your old spot outside, noses against the grille, shadowboxing and spitting the way you never did since once you were too awed to move, something big stilling you into being the last bird to land on the pole, the one waiting its turn to leave who then outlasts the rest. Back then you knew Jimenez would never chase you off. Only now does he tell you to quit for the day, Jimenez seated on an overturned oil can to unwrap your hands while offering stories chewed out the corner of his mouth. Tactics of the greats. Hunger, he always says, quoting Dempsí. Sure, hunger, but no one gets fat on dreams, he says, confusing you. Which do you need, hunger or dreams? He talks about aim and you cannot help wanting to look at his nose, fallen with its massive sewn-up gorge on one side as if someone slid a machete out from putty. The nose and then the bloated knuckles, the first and second of his right hand puffed like a girl’s breasts. My trophies, he calls them, one day you, he says, half cuffing the side of your head. One day you will be his trophy. One day you study him the way you did back at the grille, the way he spits a pellet chaw of tobacco into the milk can nailed to the wall and he says, terrible habit, follow my words, not my deeds. Once the kids leave, behind them the yellow dogs clump at angles, those who love the stink of the place the way you do, a history of fluid soaked into split-rubber mats and gloves but still what does Everlast mean? Jimenez also knows little English but he knows the one pair of Everlast in the gym goes to you, and you hang them on their rusted hook with dedication, in love like maybe the dogs who might think the stink of the gloves and mats make one eternal, sweaty dog mother body. It must be Jimenez who names the children and dogs your first fans but after that whenever you see them, crouched or prone, you can’t help some inner nod at their loyal powers of recognition.
When your history teacher calls you to the head of your class, it is not to rap your raw knuckles because you can’t recall which white man had come to rape and plunder the virgin territory of the island nation but because at nine you are getting selected for some tournament not in your hometown but in the largest city near you. When you have barely traveled beyond your town’s own mountains, your pueblito not known for being a spectacular example of the famous system yet strangely producing a coach like Jimenez whose athletes stream from their homes to haul glory to the nation. Apart from Jimenez your town is mostly dust stretched short next to mountains from which the cowboys ride out into the main street. Families’ tobacco farms here were surrendered to the government. Once they got sliced up, sometimes they were given back in pieces but most farms just got swallowed. Your town known for guavas and tobacco, not trophies and gloves, the warmth of these a secret deep enough you wear your love openly. Probably you love it too much, Jimenez tells you one day, a smack blasting onto your shoulders. Nothing wrong with love, he says, helping you up.
Then you cannot help but continue since most things make sense in the gym, a place your mother calls the cathedral. In the cathedral, you take what life cloaks. Outside, Sundays at four you go to the queue for the fresh bread that will emerge from the government bakery, palming ten pesitos, and when you first approach the people sitting in all sorts of combinations, no one’s idea of a straight line, you say the words—the last? And the last person signals so you know you are now the last the way you will also signal to the next person who arrives, the same way people try to leave the island, waiting for their Boca uncle or Tampa aunt to send for their escape, hoping to one day tell others they can fret behind them. Waiting, you pace, flipping coins in line for two hours, talking in the heat with kids whose mothers have sent them or watching grownups who lose any friendly shine whenever they enter this waiting in which life stops. And no matter how long everyone has postponed anything else, once the bakery opens its door, always there arrive the adults who show up on magic gliding feet, free to cut to the head without waiting for anything, just picking up their bread. Perhaps in the breadline the idea of abroad and escape begins biting hardest, because when the gliders skim off, some small murder clots in the face of those who stand and wait, a murder you understand since you’ve also seen it settling into your mother whenever your father hates the scent of her cooking, he can’t help it, gas flame and onions do him wrong, all her damn ritual irritates, but when home and joyless, he bolts down her moros and cristianos. One day your older brothers and sisters are nowhere, leaving you and your mother plunged into the rites you like, she accepting your slump on the sofa. Your father gobbles behind you at the table before shoving his chair back, ready to head out after eating because he hates the stench of her cooking oil but instead of complaining and disappearing, he falls to his knees and then his face. You think he is joking, papi, you call, and then your mother slaps him, calmer than you would think, all of this two minutes? Three? He opens his eyes and comes back with a roar, cranky, telling you tranquila already, he has come back, he’s fine, what’s the fuss? Once he is back, your mother flutters, suggesting possibilities, but your father says he needs no doctor since he trusts no one outside the family. He has seen the excellent doctors the revolution produced: no one has supplies and they improvise with cheap Chinese equipment they can’t operate. His bad joke: this was just a knockout! In the run-up to this moment these last few months he has rued your new habits, forever reminding you he used to box so that you know he once did something more than be a ruined shell in the government system. He wants you to know he is someone with a vein back to the man he once was, entering a ring of equals, bare-chested and ready to swing. Later your mother will regret having listened to him. I should’ve called for an ambulance, she will say, leaning into your shoulder a little too hard.
The moment after returning to life, your father draws the drapes before collapsing into the sofa to watch a government man intone about the exciting new drilling the government’s doing off the Havana shore, television light playing off his face, making him a statue, his strangeness compelling you to jump rope in the apartment, part of your training, legs crisscrossed and tricky, what your mother usually forbids indoors but the rhythmic slap soothes, your stomach up in your throat from the effort, and then you almost don’t notice your father screwing his head around to look at you so you pause and hear him apologize for the first time ever, saying, sorry, mijo, sorry, I am not going to make it. Then he passes out for good.
He didn’t make it. Sorry. But your discipline manages to cleanse you of some of that sorriness. Advantages flock. Your coach Jimenez fills you with new stories. He tells you to stop eating bread so that only two weeks after the funeral where your father lay waxy, you are free, no longer waiting in the Sunday breadline because your mother and Jimenez had talked. She’d finally made her way to the gym, wearing the mourning kerchief that made her look even tinier while Jimenez spoke his condolences and then with slow patience recited the litany: fish-head soup, beef nearly raw, root vegetables and greens, avoid our staples, rice, sweets, bread and butter. We’ll try, your mother says, our boy’s skinny. But fast, Jimenez tells her, and a southpaw, which surprises everyone. Plus he’s long but strong, like iron, we should call him Hierro. She takes this in enough that she will never again send you out for bread, you for the first time one of the men of the house. Only occasionally do you hear the ghostly heavy tread of your father’s feet on the broken linoleum. Two weeks in, your future already tastes better. If your mother had never seemed happy around your father, after he is gone she sinks deep into herself so you start to feel Jimenez, who calls you Hierro, is the mother you might have had if only seven kids and a dead husband hadn’t tired her out. Your father, anyway, was hardly your mother’s first death. You may be the seventh child but the sixth died before you were born. Into that sadness you grew, the last but no one’s runt, taller than even your oldest brother, taller than your father was, and maybe this tallness you half-overhear whenever your tired mother and pretty lipsticked aunt discuss matters in the kitchen as they do now more frequently, half whiffs of bits, nothing you can locate. Far more understandable to spend hours in the gym, far more understandable the first time you fight a real opponent and hear a roar not because of a crowd but because you are going up against someone the coach from the capital has brought in, a rising star, a boy named Franco who has agreed to fight. The two older trainers watch you say hello to Franco as if watching their youth or a meteor shower: nothing for them to do at this point. Franco shows his toughness by not staring you down the way others from your town do, the cheapest tactic of fighting dogs, instead focusing only on his coach who ignores him, too busy trading stories with Jimenez about their time in the national training camp, all this camaraderie sickening as if you’re meant to kill your cousin, one so sturdy as he watches his coach wrap his hand with gauze, treating it like a sacrament while ordinary boxers, or at least ones you’ve sparred with, glance around as if the second someone starts wrapping their hands they become bureaucrats or movie stars. This kid instead glowering as if the smallest zone of his knuckles matters, the winding of the gauze as important as the fight to come, its first round starting so radically with the cousin coming at you that you forget everything your coach has ever said though somewhere in the back you hear him bellowing from the ropes something about the candle, a series you know but the candle makes no sense, not when your opponent heaves in, left hooks and cross-jabs out of nowhere, eyes tricky and hot, this boy from a world different from others, you cannot see his moves, but you bear down to find the opening, you almost see why the candle would make sense, and you lure him into what Jimenez calls the house, becoming the candle with the flickering head who can then land the one-two that gets this tricky fighter to his knees with the sting in your fists making you hungry for more, not wanting him to go so quickly. Happy when he gets up for a new round though that gloved fist comes to buzz your jaw, your southpaw a pop and snap. You trying to remember that control comes if you breathe out when you retract, no one else ever having told you this secret about the breath, most people only complaining when someone toward the end of a match starts mouth-breathing, losing his guard, and though you end up learning all eight stages of mastery, you keep the breath your own, all of this spelling first freedom, that you could have chosen to let the roar that started defeat you but instead you bore down and absorbed. Those first punches hadn’t hurt enough. It could have gone otherwise but you end up leveling your first real challenger. Dignity is the first choice, your schoolteachers had said, quoting the great man, and this dignity becomes what you still think is your choice, even though the great man said it first.
Because here is the alternative: digging. Digging anywhere. In garbage cans next to piles of blond sleeping dogs to see if you can scrabble up metal to bring to the repair shop so they can patch cars and bikes. Or digging for favors like your neighbor on one of the government plantations where blistering sprays leave a person sick but still able to see a doctor at the hospital for free. Or digging for shelter like your father in a government job where people argue all day, sharks snipping bits, complaining about how tiny rations have become while trying to bribe you on the side. Or digging to bury yourself, to forget, becoming one of the men betting on dominoes on the street while drinking cheap aguardiente. Or forget digging and instead take a bus to the city to see what makes the city happen. Your brother Felipe did it and became one of the smartest drug dealers near the hotel with the best Internet, the one luring the neckless Italians and Swiss men looking for a place that doesn’t mind them living it up with their mulattas before they escape the island to send home packets of money. He told you about it and didn’t have to leave the island to send home those packets. Then in an islandwide raid at dawn your brother got nabbed and spent seven years in prison boxing mousetraps. At this point your tired mother lacks guidance, trusting Jimenez because he is the first man to take such interest in her brood. While you trust Jimenez because he is the first to find the god you never knew lived in your fists.
He must not be wholly wrong. Others find it too. Consider that first lunch, you already fourteen. A lady, the wife of an official who oversees one of the later tournaments, in the capital where maybe the great man will also one day watch you fight. She asks what you would like to eat, her voice from bowed lips under a cloud of hair, her shiver visible inside a shirt so pale her cat’s shoulder bones could puncture the cloth. You realize she must not be that much older than you and shift in your seat at her perfume as she orders for you. The plates start coming: beans and rice, bread and custard. Forget fish-head soup, you want to swallow three times more quickly than she nibbles, your hunger massive, capable of gobbling the golden life of her voice. In a week you will go live with boys at the camp to train for the elite team and this lady is the welcome sent your way by the government. Other than the mayor of your dusty town, she is the first government person you have ever met so you too shiver, your hands shaking while her speech sings forth, so gentle you have to strain to hear it. Knowing that if you could just understand that voice, you might find your future made up of more lunches. All will open.
What would you—and her cheeks flame the way faces on white people do, making your own cheeks blaze as if you are midmatch and she has just landed an impossible hook in two places. What would you—
—and whatever she has to say matters less than the flame ripping inside you. A silent roar. Whether the roar is what Jimenez always called hunger or your understanding of what might be granted you solely because of the hunger, you cannot say, but you know the hollowness that steals your insides a week later when you leave for the national training camp and Jimenez gets sick. Rather, and maybe it’s not because you’re leaving, his kidneys fail and you must go through a front door where no one stops you since it is a hospital accustomed to shocked people entering. You cannot be anything but numb all the way down a corridor of bad cases, their luck hard and your peeks horrified into rooms where all you see is yellowed feet and sagged flesh. Walking this corridor means sparring the nightmare of Jimenez in this place and the choice of whether to turn back before seeing him so fallen not two days before you are meant to take the bus to the sports commissioner in the capital and from there to the national camp. In the last room Jimenez lies, dirtbox of a room holding a man who looks as if some viper has sucked all life spirit out. Because the room is tiny, you can’t touch him. His cheeks fallen, he is out of reach, too close and nodding, and only a version of the smile you remember travels with difficulty across the mouth.
You know about his family only that the revolution broke them into shards, his family one of the biggest plantation holders near your village, a few of his brothers imprisoned for treason and bad capitalist thinking. One of them got shot, one spoke a false confession for the radio, one fled for Miami, the last came back never the same. In this way, Jimenez learned all revolutionary lessons. He like you was a younger sibling who knew how to hide his power and had been good at counseling you in the same strategies but to look upon him so broken you need all he ever taught.
He’d be the first to say he taught you to hold back your capital. Even if you were never supposed to use the word capital too loudly in public, except as a curse, Jimenez had been no stranger to using the obscenity, capital going through your head as you stand in the hospital, smelling the butter acid of urine. Which part of him are you supposed to touch when you want to run away and his right trophy hand bulges in your hands, nubs of those knuckles his last capital. No one speaks, your gut tight for the punch, this man more than ropes and mat, trophies and everything else. As usual he can read your mind and cracks out the truth in a dry voice.
Seven years? meaning those seven he trained you and knew you best.
And then with the same tone tells you not to worry, there is nothing you have to say since once he had this exact thing, sick kidneys, back in Angola while working as Fidel’s chauffeur, did you know that, he was the one driving the national jeep. He survived working for Fidel and so it follows he will survive this and at this point there could be no more useful lie, both of you nodding, but now he can’t stop, telling you stuff that will not help you, how he hadn’t believed in that war, the one where they had pressed him to play foot soldier for Fidel. Imagine what a number that does on a man’s head, he says, as if this is meant to be a joke like the breadline but the only thing you see is the coughing, spittle condensed in the corner of the same mouth that used to make you move like one happy puppet.
No one has equipped you. You’ll be okay, you say, imitating his lead and lying, knowing Jimenez won’t batter this sickness down. Your gut has dropped seven floors. Already you know that this is one of your hardest goodbyes. Jimenez tells you as much in his thin, splintered voice. You are good at holding back, he says, don’t let them know what you’re made of. Hold something back so it stays your own. Maybe you’ll get to America, he says, another dim joke.
Blinded, you tell him he will be fine.
He reaches up, finger sliding along your stinging jaw. Don’t think too much about me. Or if you do, remember—
The breath? you say. Your code. He smiles and falls into his version of sleep, rattling out his own so that staying means invading a face gone slack with only the slit breath in and out that crushed monument of a nose. Do you dare stay? You do, dabbing at the drool coming out the mouth with your shirt and then leave backward as if from a king toward the bus line outside where you say the phrase with the greatest energy you can muster, the last? and then freeze thinking about the other thing he had said in the hospital room, which is that if you hadn’t been so set to leave the town and head toward whatever the national camp will give you, maybe even an escape, he would’ve asked you to be the one to run the gym. He had said this and you had wanted to say, yes, that’s right, I am staying, let me be the one to carry on what you gave me. In his hospital bed he had thought this along with you and then said no and for the first time called you his son. Go, mijo, another old friend, the tobacconist, will run the gym, but also had motioned for you to take an envelope. Once you stand in the bus line you finger the spare key inside that envelope. And cannot go straight home so instead you try the key at the gym, one hard tap at the door all it takes to make you realize all these years you’ve never entered the gym without Jimenez. Whatever had given you its welcome now looks injured, even the peeled-paint grille where you began. What sucks your heart out is you don’t even have it in you to spar with the body bag, all of it like one mad game, a belly filled with scuffed appendages and so you pace, your step echoing on the unlucky mats. This becomes then the first place you have your own first crack, because your feet, which up until then were clad in shoes you’d found the month before in a rummage bin at the government market, navy shoes with only one hole in the toe, become no feet, only shins: you have lost your feet.
And on these stumps (the ones you find again the day you try getting one dry foot onto American soil) you run all the way home to find yourself tumbling like a heavyweight onto the couch where your mother flaps over you. Afterward you have rice and beans and her sugared coffee as a going-away treat, all of it a stirring betrayal against Jimenez and his own disloyalties, all that hope swallowed just like that, and if it is true that after the meal you are sated and your feet are back, or enough to take you to the capital, one day you will land sputtering salt water into the way the future will ignore you, the one you were bitten by back in the breadline, the one no has ever equipped you to imagine. The future in which Dempsí will seem to have gotten it all wrong. Not hunger. Rage.
Ten years of tile-laying. The good homes are the ones where the owners bother offering you a glass of water. The bad ones barely nod. To them you’re just another dark head speaking broken English and they’re paying illegally so better be quick with the transaction. In the ring we used to call it the quick slide, as in the quick slide off the ring. Try knocking out someone in round one and you take the gamble you’re losing your energy but it can still work.
At least I work with friends, standing outside in the morning at La Floridita while the cars rush by but we are happy to linger over our coffee and croquetas and maybe it was for these friends and this oversugared coffee that I came, or for my little eight-year-old girl and her mother but I can’t explain why I always make excuses and don’t bring them whenever I go to dinner at an American’s house, but mainly I don’t want Americans to know how bad off we are since Americans lack basic capacities for understanding certain truths. Instead I iron my best shirt whenever I go over to eat their unsalty food because I take care of myself, not blaming anyone for anything that happened and so I’m the clean one they always invite. One of my bosses loves to show me his Florida room with its low ceiling and three dark walls looking out at the one that opens up to the covered swimming pool but the Florida room confuses me, making it impossible to suss out how any American goes from where I am, a citizen, to where my boss is with his Florida room but maybe the Cuban in me rips my pockets.
Sometimes at the bar too, people raise a glass to me, people I don’t know who remember when Fidel was on a rampage, who believed when he said I was the greatest amateur boxer in all Cuban history and that I chose to leave the island and became a traitor, the day he called in all the papers the day Iron Lost Its Strength and because he was on such a public rampage I changed my name back from Hierro to Icaro, my birth name, just another story, my mother in pain calling me the name of a dead son, just another story like the match that never happened between our homegrown Stevenson before he became a drunk and the great Ali, the one they always rehearse like the flowery words in Che’s goodbye letter to Fidel among all the other stories we had to memorize in school, all of it a story I want to tell everyone on the island who thinks my name means the great young boxer who swam away to become a Judas and traitor, a shame to the nation. For a few months I was Fidel’s sport, my case getting its coverage, with no way to spit anything back while my mother was watched by the police day in and out, her punishment for my escape, what she never guessed I would do. People liked calling me back then the crown jewel of Fidel’s system and say I had thrown away my mestizo royalty by going toward the imperialists.
Here in Miami no one knows these stories. As one promoter said right before he dumped me, back in my Hierro days after I lost that one crucial fight, Florida is white, boxers are black, in New York they support their Puerto Ricans and in California they support the Mexicans, but here you have the American nightmare, the way it is, sorry, son, which could make a person start to feel foolish after a while. Too much sorry son starts to go below the belt.
At lunchtime I go to a little hole of a place on Eighth Street where we have one riqueño who joins us Cubans, the food islands of grease waiting all day for some drunkard to think it decent and making it always the superior choice to stick with the bread and butter, but none of this matters since a long time ago I gave up the training, not eating fish-head soup and running three miles before six in the morning. Now coffee and sugar melt into the kind of buzz I would have just before a fight and the bread into the calm of right after, the cigars we share the buzz of the crowd that make me like everyone around me even as they laugh too hard, snaggletoothed at their own jokes and what else does a new citizen need?
When I was eight I used to help my father haul bags of sugarcane, his one near joke being his strength was why the company liked him, that he was good for the national company because slave traders in West Africa must have chosen his great-grandpa for his strength. In his time, my father was The Ox, which was why he didn’t like my skinniness and all the kids calling me Bones before the system discovered me and I jumped above the slavery my father had to live through, my reflexes the best part of me. Maybe Jimenez was right in calling me born to box, but tell me any greater camaraderie exists on this earth than about eight day laborers in a hole-in-the-wall on Calle Ocho in Miami, drinking and smoking at around one o’clock in the afternoon, most with at least one beer inside, the television blaring nonstop videos of Latinas with the kind of face evangelists love to recruit dancing half naked with ribbons and the place has a name we know if the sign went missing a long time ago: the Miami Dream.
What happened during the fight I lost? people sometimes ask. I was fighting an Irish guy from Chicago, the reigning champion, and so what if people later criticized me and said I was boring, like a spider in the web, I had my reasons, come out of Cuba and you can’t help being a technical boxer and an outside puncher while here, in the pros, they want you to throw inside, get your whole weight pushing through. My trainer had me fighting like a Cuban, parallelograms on the mat until round six when I turned American and knocked him out, American even more in how I strolled the ring with my fists up before the last count was struck. As a person I like to act as if my triumph is inevitable, some of the American stuff I learned early, the way I used to beat my chest like no dog but a happy ape—and then the guy gets up in the last seconds. This throws me and he knocks me out. Did I make a mistake thinking I had a sure bet? When the contract the banker had me sign was that if I lost even one fight, he could cut me. Though if I had started getting big, the banker would have had first option. So here I am, cut, a few years past when any promoter could take me seriously, laying tile and having coffee, my name Icaro on my American passport. Things could be worse.
There is a joke that people like to tell around here and it goes like this: the Cuban dog swims over and lands in Miami where the American dog greets him with a big lick. The Cuban dog complains to the American dog: I am so hungry.
The American dog says, well, hombre, you got to get a job so you get money to eat.
The Cuban dog says, fine, but I am too sick from all the bad water I drank coming over.
The American dog smiles. Here you got to pay the doctor, you got to get a job.
The Cuban doesn’t understand. But how can I if I’m sick?
The American dog gets fed up. Look, if you want to complain, why’d you bother leaving Cuba?
The Cuban: Because at least here I can bark.
And that much is true, at least I’m here, barking, Bones with dreams once so big on a map none of us have the gut to pinpoint them anymore.
Edie Meidav is the author of the novels The Far Field: A Novel of Ceylon (Houghton Mifflin/Mariner), Crawl Space (FSG/Picador), Lola, California (FSG/Picador), and the forthcoming Dogs of Cuba. She teaches in the MFA program at UMass-Amherst.