We're at Bobbi's house, for a "Cuban festival" party,
and there are three men from Cuba out on the patio in the sun.
We hear and feel their beating hands on the rumba drums
(that I would have generically called "bongos"
were I not told differently by them)
and the knocking of the claves
(two hardwood, cylindrical sticks,
a percussion instrument,
for those of us who aren't Cuban)
before we even see the musicians.
They're missing teeth,
and Bobbi says
it's because they plucked them out
to get a day off from work
at the sugarcane farms,
far-fetched as that sounds to me,
in the days before
the perilous boat journey to America.
Now they're here
on Bobbi's patio, looking out at
mild, green, tree-cloaked mountains
(at Bobbi's request)
(all I can make out is the line
about a "rosa blanca").
I worry that they're homesick,
looking at these unfamiliar, deciduous hills.
And they are homesick -- after the music
they talk (in Spanish, politely apologizing
to us non-Spanish-speakers)
about the country they left behind.
Alfredo lives with Bobbi;
he's excited about the six-person "festival,"
and he sings along gruffly.
Afterward they explain what the song means --
that it's about having no master,
belonging to no country.
And the quiet one finally says something --
how it's about, when you die,
wanting to be buried with your face to the stars.
My companion and I (non-Cuban)
drink our caffeine-free Pepsi
(and I think of how it's just liquid sugar,
and about the pulled teeth, and feel guilty for being so cavalier
because I have insurance including dental, because I can),
and watch the drummer, his callused hands on the drums,
the rhythm, his life,
and I feel ashamed of my life,
of my petty thoughts, my easy office job.
Alfredo says to hide my purse from the other two,
who seem nice, he says, but who will steal it if they can,
and I believe him because he's been in prison.
After the song, the drummer and the quiet one
stare out at the mountains,
sometimes zeroing in on dollhouse homes through Bobbi's binoculars,
and to my surprise
the quiet one says, as he gestures to the hills:
"This looks like the countryside in my country."