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What we left behind

Bessy Reyna


Habana Vieja, you wait like an elegant hostess

yearning for the guests who sat at your dinner table.

But now, the balcony where you all gathered

to look at the noche Cubana

has fallen to the ground.

The beauty of your past spread on the sidewalk

like a shattered kaleidoscope.


I left you "antes de...antes de..." before the...

as the hotel's staff described me.

What they meant was "Before the revolution."

Somehow the date of my departure

is like a baptism cleansing me of the sin

of having abandoned you.


The bus carrying me to the city turns a corner

and I, who have been desperately searching

for something from my past, recognize a fountain,

the one with the dolphins and shout

"Look, I used to play here!"


Suddenly I am ten and not seventy, and I can

go back to the park whose name I have forgotten,

put on my roller skates, lock them on my shoes

and rush fast to embrace the wind.


When tía Espe took me to the airport

that day in April, 1954,

I was too young to understand that the past

would become a colorless memory,

the few black and white photos

my mother took with her.


Inside the plane I am transformed:

from Cuban citizen to a soon-to-be

homeless immigrant child.


Later on, our repressed Cuban identity

would burst out

when eating my mother's arroz con pollo

or lechón asado.

Those flavors exploding in my mouth,

filled my heart.


I became a house in need of repair,

disconnected from the family left behind

imagining the cousins I would never meet.

I asked my friends if I could borrow their grandmothers.

pretend they were mine.


I had everything and I had nothing.

because you were a yearning,

a first kiss we can never forget.

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