Ridiculous Heart

                        for Tommy Reyes Martinez

1. You step inside, out of the ruthless sun and into another world. Some raspy jazz on a victrola, of all things, and the upholstery is purple. A cacophony of teacups, and teacup dogs. A veritable army of miniature barking bats surround your feet, stirring dust motes in the slant of light through the spider ferns on the walls. You don’t know where you are.

2. The table is set for a queen: there are chubby china cherubs with painted hands and startled faces; there are live and plastic vines weaving through precious footed pots. Lumps of guava marmalade waver on tiny slivers of toast. And there he is, descending on us in flowing red robes, a bald and shining Buddha, covered in rings and things, silver ornaments chiming from every finger and toe. Well, if I had to leave a place and mainline Havana into my bloodstream, sift through rubble and salt for a week, this is why, this Tommy. This is what it was for.

3. Breakfast in Havana. Eggs, mango, papaya, hot black coffee. We have arrived by accident, or fate, at a paladar, Notre Dame de Bijoux. Our lady of bling.

4. The cocina, the whole casa is a museum, ornament of the island.

5. Tommy is intimidating, formidable, larger than life. I don’t mind. I know right away I’m in the presence of greatness. It radiates from the ruby cotton caftan that melts everything he touches. When his fabulous hand meets mine, I pull him toward me, I can’t help telling him, I love you. I say it just like that, to this stranger about to make my breakfast. You are incredible, and I love you. He is mine, he is my Doppelgänger, my familiar. Everything he is, I have always wanted to be: beautiful and tragic and alive.

6. On every wall, everywhere, gaudily framed images of the ballet. I look closer at the dusty photographs, seeing ghosts. I see Tommy with various celebrities, see him standing with Fidel, see Alicia Alfonso, see a man soaring, untethered, stage to sky. You are the dancer? I ask, astonished. Tommy sweeps his jewel-laden hand across the walls, touching tentatively the snapshots of his own past, tender hesitation as if with a lover. Can you imagine, he says, in accented English. This was yesterday.

7. Tommy Reyes Martinez. Ballerino. We are from Toronto, I tell him. You must stay with us. When you visit Toronto, you will come, you will live in my studio, you can sleep in my museum, with the tiny treasures of my travels, with my paintings, and my cats. He sighs. It is complicated, Tommy says, for me to leave Cuba. Others have told me how they will never have the right papers. How we don’t know what it is like, because we are free. I don’t care, I tell him. I will never forget. If something changes here, if in fifteen years you find yourself somewhere else, you will find me. I won’t forget what I am saying now. I will open the door at five in the morning, I will pour you the best champagne I have and I will bring you roses.

8. I open a small volume, read Lorca, then Wilde. I pop bananas sliced with cinnamon into my mouth. Tommy tells us how how they made a movie about him once, and showed it at the festival in Toronto. I won’t see it until Canada, until air conditioning and Vimeo, and I will weep to find out that he has HIV, to find out he has never found a man to love him for very long. I am glad then that I told him what I felt so spontaneously. It is not the same thing, but it is something.

9. He shows us the movie poster. It says, trust no one. We don’t yet know the punch line, the virus under the spangle of silver, pulling the dancer down from the air and bringing him to earth.

10. Dusting my little toasts in papaya jelly, warm milk on my fingertips, I hold nothing back. I am smitten. Tommy is the most magnificent creature I have ever seen, and I tell him so. There are miniature ceramic apples in a glass bowl like a shell, and there is an Art Deco painting of a dancer covered in ivy. I pick up a tiny cluster of glass grapes, move it to a nest of gilted angels. I am not Tommy’s only admirer: all of these treasures are from the world outside of this one. Tommy is looking for something closer, and deeper, not for more wild-eyed infatuations like mine.

11. You are a romantic who never found romance. Maybe you will find it, maybe you won’t, maybe it was all dance, maybe the dance was all work and no play, the free soaring an optical illusion of effortless. Maybe it was all discipline and toil, with nothing sweet, nothing silly, nothing left for your ridiculous heart.

12. We are lucky, to have passports, stamped certificates, traveller’s cheques. We are lucky, to be free, aren’t we? This is what I think as my lover snaps photo after photo of Tommy and his canines and chipped china, mementoes I know are meant for me. This man who loves me enough to see what I see. We are lucky to have the documents we need to travel together: we are lucky to have found each other to be foolish with. Love is foolish, love is ridiculous, love is kind.

13. The fairy tale ends after breakfast. Our taxi comes to take us away to the coast. Tommy walks us to the doorway, presses a small red coral turtle into my palm like the diamond John Bender gave to Claire. I will treasure it forever. I don’t yet know about the thousand fishes I will see snorkelling in the coral reef and shallow blue waters, but nothing will match these jewels. Our own breakfast club. I choke down tears of leaving. I had already decided I was never coming back to this godforsaken place, but in this moment, I change my mind. I might come back here, to Havana, all this way, since you cannot go, just to see you, just to give you this poem.

Lorette C. Luzajic is the editor of The Ekphrastic Review, an online journal dedicated to writing inspired by art. Her own poetry has appeared in several hundred online and print publications, including Indelible, Wild Word, Nine Muses Poetry, Misfit Magazine, Cultural Weekly, Black Coffee Review, Heart of Flesh, and more. She was twice nominated last year for a Pushcart Prize, as well as for Best of the Net. She is currently at work on her fifth collection of poetry, her second ekphrastic book. Visit her at http://www.mixedupmedia.ca.

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1 Response to Ridiculous Heart

  1. Such a wonderful memoir, Lorette. I would love to meet Tommy.

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