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Cuba, 1962

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When the rooster jumps up on the windowsill   
and spreads his red-gold wings,
I wake, thinking it is the sun
and call Juanita, hearing her answer,
but only in my mind.
I know she is already outside,
breaking the cane off at ground level,
using only her big hands.
I get the machete and walk among the cane,   
until I see her, lying face-down in the dirt.

Juanita, dead in the morning like this.   
I raise the machete—
what I take from the earth, I give back—
and cut off her feet.
I lift the body and carry it to the wagon,   
where I load the cane to sell in the village.   
Whoever tastes my woman in his candy, his cake,   
tastes something sweeter than this sugar cane;   
it is grief.
If you eat too much of it, you want more,   
you can never get enough.

Ai, "Cuba, 1962" from Vice: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 1973 by Ai. Reprinted with the permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. This selection may not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Source: Vice: New and Selected Poems (W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1999)
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Cuba, 1962

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