Under the suspended aguacates
Squatting on the milk crates borrowed from Sedanos
Bar-B-Que and tobacco
My father and his friend “Paco” from the island, who was missing a digit on his hand, and a few more on his understanding…
I would stand
In the shade of the trees’ shadow, after a while, they would forget the city and let me sip the pissy wisdom from a miniature “Budweiser” can…
Red and White
The same beer that vanished their fears temporarily and blew their ambition
The grave lot where my mother splotched her arthritic knees to whisper lullabies to my sister…
Mario with the hair trigger temper that owned the barber shop, who spit the phlegm of the condemned and blended his talent with cocaine on the tip of a car key.
I often wonder,
If the influence came…
Before “Chi-Chi” got the “Yeyo,”
Scarface wore his collar open with a Cuban link.
“Al Pachino” played that role, you know… although I still think, that doesn’t make him
And neither did the forced accent. Even though I must admit it was classic like the “Pinto” mami drove. The two-door the same color as the Vienna Sausages she would dice inside the yellow rice. “Don Francisco” on Saturday nights, the mockery of “Que pasa U.S.A.” they mistake for comedy.
That program programmed an image, profiles filed in the perception of curious viewers.
Were the last two people my sister and I wanted to be compared to…
Or the kids in E.S.O.L. class I laughed at
To a diction phonetically less Hispanic,
I patented my adolescence
With a universal smile given with the tactical
Cause even though I was Spanish,
I didn’t speak Spanish…
At least not well, or in public but it’s been established that Cubans converse with their hands, like the body language my parents spoke when they danced salsa on New Year’s Eve.
Los pan con chorizo
El mal de ojo.
Carne de pincho y calle ocho
Los guajitos cantando “Willie Chirino”…
The Marielitos in the early eighties and the Miami riots…
Minorities amongst minorities
Overwhelmingly over-running overtown
Overturning the cultural stone dirt side up.
The aftereffects of a revolution
Of Fidel and Ché
Made oppression attributes, stains under the skin of eyelids. A lot of those men who came through el Mariel ended up in prison. There is a transition from communism to democracy that the camaraderie of hungry men find appealing to their appetite.
Similar to the thirst of Bacardi that rode my uncles back like the Malboro man, lungs clinging like the two packs he’d smoke daily beneath the stirrups of his brow.
The same lungs,
That held the breath of the brave and desperate who trekked and treaded the ninety miles of mishaps towards Key West Florida.
The same waters
My father and his brother swam
The identical waters my mother flew over on Pan-Am in ‘67
The same waters
That swallowed a Hermanos al Rescate
Plane that was shot down for flying over restricted air space.
The S P A C E
Between Cuban and American…
To the finish line
To survive… to strive for the sake of my mother’s commitment. The beautiful balance of her manicured hands and calloused palms. The grey that invaded my father’s scalp. The hairspray that keeps it in place like my mother’s strength…
The taste of coladas in Cuban cafés,
The horse race, cockfights, and Jai-Alai matinees
My aunt Lucy shouting “Bingo!”
Jose pounding the double-nine on the domino table
My place of birth
Located in Mi-A-Mi
Certified Cu-Ban A-Me-Ri-Can
Different flavors and complexions, we seasoned the city…
Like the prideful humbleness distilled in me like whiskey. The back doors of our minds wide open to entwine
Y Jesus Cristo sharing a cohiba
Smoke rings like halos over the heads submerged that weren’t able. The machete
That cut ties
That tied the gap
But never the knot that locked us together
With the same men who chanted
I see… Cuba in their spirits,
Spirits fading away slowly like coffee stains on guayaveras.
The guayaba peach gums of Monica’s sweetest smile…
My people are proud
My people are loud.
My people don’t want to go back to Cuba. They’ve been where I haven’t and they’re content with remembrance…
For me to excel.
Fidel is Dead.
He died with fist gripped around a culture…
Who will pry his fingers loose?
I am CubanAmerican
My Correctional identification labels me Caucasian,
And that bothers me… considering,
Jesus never walked on Cuban waters,
My family did,
And I thank them
For holding their breath so that I can
Lame duck with fluttered feathers revoked the wet foot dry foot policy
Now the S P A C E between
Is a galaxy
And, I’m left asking,
“Que pasa U.S.A.?”
This piece was facilitated by Kathie Klarreich, founder of Exchange for Change, a nonprofit that teaches writing courses in South Florida prisons where Mr. Martinez has been a student for the past several years. Exchange for Change aims to strengthen the voice of incarcerated writers and build bridges across the razor wire. In addition to its broad range of courses, including journalism, poetry and debate, E4C also hosts exhibits and readings of its students inside and outside correctional facilities to create connections, and foster empathy. For more information, go to exchange-for-change.org
COVER IMAGE: Mural in honor of the late Joe Stigale in Miami Springs, FL, by Hialeah artist Junk Lainez and his graffiti brothers (2016).