Monday, April 18, 2011

'How to Buy a Gun in Havana' by Dean Rader

First, never say the word gun.
Or pistolero or buy.

Talk instead about platanos. And smile.
You’ll know the bodega;

it’s the one in Los Sitios with the wooden
parrot clipped to the wire on

the left side of the door. When the wind
springs up off the sidewalk,

the parrot bobs slightly, banging its crimson
head against the building’s wooden slats.

Go inside. On the far wall above the shelves
of candles and tilty stacks of shirts,

you’ll see the blackboard. It’s the
same in every store: an inventory

of frijoles negros, arroz, and leche de coco,
menued in chalk. You will

scan the inventory for platanos, hoping
they are in stock. You never know.

You will have brought with you
a pouch of powdered milk. Inside

will be powdered milk and eight hundred
fifty Euros. No dollars. No sterling.

The pouch will be glued shut. No tape. No
staples. You will, as you do with

your wife, your children, your boss, barter.
There is no baby formula in Cuba;

no cow’s milk. You will hand over
the pouch and ask for platanos.

It is said that at a similar bodega in Vedado,
you look the man behind the counter

in the eye. But here, you are supposed to settle on
the framed photo of the Catedral

de San Cristobal nailed to the wall above
the shirts. The woman will place the

platanos in a plastic bag. You will take them.
You will not say thank you.

No one knows the precise chain of events,
not even you, because, as you are told,

you turn away. You walk over to the shelves
next to the old Coke cooler and ruffle

through Frisbees, pantyhose, and postcards of
Che playing golf in army fatigues.

By the time you are finished, your bag of
platanos will feel heavy. At that point,

you walk out of the store, and out
of Los Sitios, and make your way to

the Malecón, and you gaze at the lovers lounging
on the wall and you stop

for mango ice, and you ask yourself,
as you have done with everything

meaningful in your life, what happens now?

(from his book Works and Days, Truman State University Press, 2011)

Works and Days is a finalist for the Texas Institute of Letters First Book Prize.

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