Ave del Puerto, Havana by Robert Gniewek


I remember my Great Aunt Betty who family legend had it

owned a sugar plantation and when Batista took over

had to flee the country for her life and lived in poverty

the rest of it.

I remember the Cuban missile crisis when I worried

the world might end in nuclear explosions.

I also remember the exotic appeal of Havana’s

glamorous casinos and rhumba-salsa music.

This artist would have us remember the American cars

of the 50s and he places them against arches and columns

of what might be an art museum, a parliament, a palace,

places of culture and distinction. 

There’s one the color of highway signs, GREEN

so bright, and its chrome so shiny it reflects.

Is it a Chevy coupe? The other, a Buick sedan?

Two tone, orange and white, like school colors.

The cars reveal the ingenuity of the Cuban mechanics

how they made parts from scratch and even adapted

old Soviet engines to keep them running.

They show us the glitzy shell of American-made

how America failed to help the poor with all its platitudes

about being the good guys after World War II.

Do they show what we have become-

a nation that allows Hispanic children

to be put in cages, how General Motors

left the people of Detroit for corporate profits? 

Do they show how we have failed yet again

moving towards corruption and tyranny

electing incompetence?

But they might also be an act of grace-

For if a people can take an emblem

of American culture and turn it into

something of beauty, we as Americans

need to live up to that gift.