Havana Moon

The Library of Congress calls my editor
To ask if I’m the guy with my name
Who wrote Space Aliens From the Pentagon.
I say no but in the year I was born Billie Holliday died
Fidel Castro drove Michael Corleone from Cuba
And in 1969, for instance, the year Miles Davis
Made Bitches Brew, the year before
My two cousins died one from cystic fibrosis
The other in Cambodia, I lost three weeks
Allowance on the Orioles and five years later
A hundred bucks I’d made selling Panama Red
Cut into baggies with oregano to mothers in trailer parks
And three junior high school kids
On the best jai-alai player in all of Mexico City.
They were both sure things.
That same year they say a man walked on the moon.
You tell me, I saw it in black and white stoned
For the first time by my cousin home
Between tours and my other cousin
Who ate the dope in brownies for the pain
In our grandparent’s house on a clear night in La Porte
Dangling at the other end of Highway 49 from Houston
The city that tethers astronauts.
Some Friday nights in the early years
Of the Gemini Project my father, whose father gave him
My name, would come home
Full of Texas Instruments codes
To our Sharpstown rambler before Frank Sharp
Pioneered the bleeding of widows’ pensions
Paving the way for Senator Glenn and the Keating Five
And pile us all, my mother, my cousins and me
Into the Plymouth headed south.
We tumbled like puppies in the back seat
Past the bobbing duck derricks and the refined stink
Of crude transmuted into the acorns of working class cancer
Breathing across Pasadena and Deer Park, the moon
Shimmering oily orange, too young to cut my cousin
Any slack on her soggy lungs scratching for breath
Past Corpus Christi as I fell asleep across her
Bony girl hips and her brother’s smooth chest.
Saturday morning sun off the bay found us stacked like cord wood
Across my aunt’s round movie star bed
In the house of three roofs.
In that house my people swelled with the audacity
Of weather prediction. With the zeal
Of fishermen or Mission Control they would stalk squalls, twisters
And wind direction with binoculars, weather vanes
And CB radios, track Beulah, Carla, Edith
God’s furious daughters hacking across the Gulf of Mexico
On my grandfather’s tesselated three color charts. His calm
Refusal even as the waves were spraying upstairs windows
To take to higher ground unless his taut vectors
Revealed a coherent conspiracy of wind, his faith
In the view from a weather satellite, his cold
And unadorned love for hurricanes
As everything that daily life was not
Gave him the logic and daring of an inside trader, made him
The deft and centered eye in a room of distracted innocents
Trying to make some rough sense
Of the jostling Gulf of Mexico.
On days more ordinary
Days of still funnel skies or cloudless humidity bearing
Down like a vice squeezing any music from the mirror bay
Before anyone could say no we were past the bench
Where my grandfather, named like a King
For his father and his son, killed one beer
For each tanker that crossed the afternoon horizon,
Down the grassy hill to the pier that grew more stunted
Each time a hurricane ripped the shingles.
And we went down to the boat
The keel buffing gently against flaccid tires
Barely bobbing in a glassy bay
Like an ice cube in a tumbler of whiskey.
The oil leaking from the outboard Evinrude
Coiled through the water like the hissing smoke from green wood.
On the day my father asked my mother to marry him
He went down to that boat
Set bow against white caps, forth on the godly gulf
Bearing his woman across the bay
To Galveston
Wooing as the crow flies like Cuba from Florida.
Driving, you have to cross
A bridge from Seabrook worthy of Lake Ponchartrain
To crawl past the drugstores and retirement homes
Wheezing with Atlantic City nostalgia
But from the reedy beach where my father wedged the boat
And spread a Mexican blanket, the horizon of hotels
His cheap champagne and the scattered salsa notes
Could still conjure Havana before the revolution.
It’s an island that leads with a nose bandaged by a seawall
Giving safe haven to a palimpsest of life
Outside of history—it is an island
Of concentric recollection, of landlords and lawgivers, Jean Lafitte
Privateer and lonely patriot
Who sold slaves by the hundreds to Jim Bowie
And later as the Republic’s governor left the earth
Bitter and scorched for the brief
Visits of General Gordon Granger on Juneteenth
Bringing emancipation three years late after one last
Cotton harvest—Sinatra, Tony Bennet and the Marx Brothers
When the Maceo brothers ran the Balinese room at the end of a long pier
That bought the time to turn roulette into gin
Rummy before the heat
Could find the back room until the Texas Rangers
(The cops not the baseball team that was once
The Washington Senators bought
By a future president named for his president
Daddy (who as CIA director imported the coke
His son would have to deny) with Harken board
Stock sold before the bottom fell out, you
Do the math) planted a guy
And busted the place
The night the mob kids in shiny suits with rolls of tens and twenties
Brought their civilian snapper school chums
From St. Thomas and St. Agnes
In white socks and their daddy’s scuffed wing tips
And my parents tasted rum and coke for the first time
And bet twenty one black just like that couple in Casablanca
And held hands all night in the holding cell
Six years to the day
Before I was conceived at dusk on the beach in the shadow
Of the stub of the Balinese pier beaten gray
Like Sputnik. If Castro’s curveball had had a little more bite
Africa would have fewer doctors and Bobby Kennedy
Would have been President when the black and white
RCA in my grandmother’s sewing room
Brought the Miracle Mets into the house
Just like the pipes brought flouride and the mail
Brought draft notices. The night before she died
My cousin and I lay side by side on the twilight grass
Facing Galveston Bay breathing shallow
And talking about some hippies who were going
To levitate the Pentagon, just enough no doubt
To let the aliens slip in. She said she wanted to go
And I said shouldn’t you wait until your brother comes home
And her fingertips brushed my knee and she told me
She was in love with him, wanted to lay with him
Just once before she died and her chuckle about
Bequeathing her broken double helix to children
With tails collapsed into a rib wracking cloud of phlegm
And I could only hold her hand, couldn’t bring myself
To tell her about all those small secret steps
That became Frank Robinson’s giant leap
From the loneliest man in right field
To the swift purveyor of judgement without mercy
All those small steps we never even notice
Like all those things Miles Davis listened so hard to leave out
Leading to the giant leap into a world where Don Clendenon
And Ron Swoboda could never be anything
More than holograms and when the hacking relented
She asked me if I didn’t think that maybe
Somehow everybody was related and I said
Tonight we are all descended from pirates.

R. D. Girard | Mudlark No. 21
Contents | If They Come in the Morning