They’ve started a tight salsa
when Elisa strolls on, hips round as a drum.
Her band whoops, edges up the percussion
and the bass whips her calves.
She looks at each woman, remembering
how she brought them together,
their babies now workers, mothers,
or fathers, grins at the years they display
in their breasts, waists and eyes,
one thousand, three hundred and three.
She nods to Aleida on congas holding rivers
in her palms and Mathilda, the oldest,
on rhythm guitar, playing just as she’s waited
in a chair by the door, night after night all her life.
Elisa turns to the room, finds the President’s table,
puts a mike to her mouth.
“For this man tonight, twenty lovers,” she jokes
and her eyes won’t leave as she sings
of sun in the citrus, Batista,
all the sweat and fists in the wind,
of a child in a cellar, paths through the cane,
the wings on every island’s shoulder blades.
She sings of the speeches scrolled in his pockets,
of Angola, Mandela, his friend.
She sings of Havana, how it still burns
on maps of the world,
of Martí’s white rose and an exile’s return
to the Island of Youth.
Then she picks up the claves and the crowd
shines the floor with its footwork,
as they dance the way heat breaks
the line of a road, each beat and bell of the salsa,
a gasp in the hand.
by Jackie Wills
© Jackie Wills, 2007
Jackie Wills has been resident poet at, amongst other places, an airport, the Surrey countryside, and with marketing teams at Unilever. Powder Tower (Arc), her first full collection, was shortlisted for the 1995 T. S. Eliot prize and was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. Her second collection, Party (Leviathan), was published in 2000. ‘Love Song for Fidel Castro’ comes from her latest collection, Commandments (Arc, 2007). You can find out more about the book here.
A former journalist, Wills now works as an editor and creative writing tutor. She lives in Brighton with her partner, the South African musician Risenga Makondo, and their two children. Jackie Wills writes a blog about her work, available here.
Arc Publications publishes contemporary poetry from new and established writers from the UK and abroad, specialising in the work of international poets writing in English, and the work of overseas poets in translation. Arc also has a music imprint, Arc Music, for the publication of books about music and musicians. To learn more about Arc and to see its range of titles, click here.
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