between the mangroves


There is often a reef between the clumps of mangroves,
maybe a few acres per island of trees with the roots
that begin latticing before entering the water.

Sometimes the shallow bottom between these patches is sand
with beds of sea grass. Sometimes there is coral.
Without the mangroves, the baby lobsters, goliath groupers,

and the endemic species have no place to grow up
with protection from the bigger reef fish.
The mangroves are the nursery, the only nursery.

The endemic species happen because the island itself
is an ecosystem, and the shallows just around its terrestrial edges
are private. The suction of the island keeps the organisms

mixing their gene pools close to home,
creating the Cuban golden basslet, one-inch long,
yellow with a splash of purple and black,

and keeps the majority of Cubans still hoping that
the Muse of Socialism is beautiful, with the flowing hair
they see in the history books of Greece and Rome,

and she is not the hollow and stern stepmother
living with them.

Prison Walls


There are no walls around the prisons
because they are not prisons for criminals
but housing for citizens
of Cuba.

The soviet-era block style architecture,
multi-family cubes of eight
units per floor and eight stories tall,
trap the men, women and children

offering minimal food on the local store shelves,
even when the forty dollars a month
per worker, and the ration coupons, are available to buy it.
There are not many overweight Cubans.

But the people are happy. The ones who
still hear the muse or just have not escaped
during one of the releases
to reduce the pressure.

Although there is no incentive to work
the people are not lazy. Although there are
few visas to Mexico for shopping, they don’t seem
to be angry. But neither are they content.

The lawyers drive cabs in Havana
and the doctors complain they are not allowed to be
a bellhop at a resort, and wish they were untrained.
Tips are always hard for a government to track.

Entrepreneurism might melt this socialism,
we’ll see as it trickles in. But until then, the cars are frozen
in pre-1959 model years that the mafia drove before the
Revolucion. They are the cabs that drive the Canadians to warmer places,

these cars constantly rebuilt with home-made parts
and painted the colors of tropical fish and the light blue of the sun
reflecting off shallow sand. The Snow Bird touristas drink the world’s best rum, and, of course, smoke the cigars the Cubans cannot afford.

Roger Sippl studied creative writing at the University of California at Irvine, the University of California at Berkeley (under Thom Gunn) and at Stanford Continuing Studies. He has published poetry and/or photography in the Ocean State Review, Open Thought Vortex, Her Heart Poetry, Bacopa Literary Review, The Write Launch, Alternating Currents, Sediments Literary-Arts Journal, Smeuse Poetry, Poker Brat, Snapdragon, Wising Up Press, Medussa’s Laugh, The Scene and Heard Journal and two medical journals, JAMA Oncology and CHEST. He has written his first novel, which is in revision.

While a student at UC Berkeley in the 1970’s, Sippl was diagnosed with Stage IIIB Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, which was treated aggressively with surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy, allowing him to live relapse-free to this day.

More poetry and photos from Roger: Rogersippl.Com