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Poems from “The Rivers Are Inside Our Homes,” by Victoria María Castells

In The Rivers Are Inside Our Homes, Cuban American poet Victoria María Castells explore how we can salvage our notion of paradise in an overspent Eden. In thwarted homes located in Havana and Miami, Rapunzel and her prince, persecuted nymphs, Morgause, and Bluebeard’s wife speak to us directly, all in need of returning to safety. Confronting machismo, illness, heartbreak, and isolation, the poems depict how women are at the mercy of men, either husband or oligarch. Yet all generations of Cubans are bombarded with this need to return or to leave, to have both, to have neither.


There are no powers adrift from dictators.

Nicolás Maduro can enter in you like chemo:

king of medicine, lord of cancer, ruler

of hospital beds. A royal hand enflamed

in kilowatts, a golden cloud of electricity

or brittle oil buried in a thunderbolt,

a Zeus and a czar.

Under the disappeared water, hospitals

are flickering kingdoms of mattresses

and prayer. You can feast and heal

in their blackouts, break apart air

in your hands and dream of light,

generators failing around you in stunned

voltage as darkness replaces oxygen.

But wait for the Cuban doctors arriving yet

at your door with votes and pills in hand,

a reelection for blood pressure medication

and fealty, a godly bargain. Wait for the spirits

of the dead to fill up the heavens, the assassinated

to wait for their turn and the autopsies to never come.

Let the police shoot in the throat who would

take to the streets. Protests dispersed.

Wrap the head under a plastic bag

and beg the body to breathe.

Maduro receiving the Sputnik vaccine:

he feels fine, he says. All is well.

The prisons are safe. He feels healed.

How Can You Make a Communist Flower?

To make a flower out of pseudo ham,

buds assembled, petals beamed out

to symmetry.

A Soviet harmony of equaled

roots deep grown, an invasive song long-


plant prefabricated and mild,

half ham-scented, overboiled under

Cuban sun.

Learning to swim then droop,

find extinction in the water,

risen from soil to make the sea,

to bleed your seeds to eat,

to sing and burn and stop

and try to burn the trees,

to leave Havana disassembled,

durable termite under flower,

folding seafront under light.

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