Guest writer Tahimi’s memoir piece, “Cultivo Una Rosa,” in The Elixir.
How beautiful it must be to grow old and wise. To hear prophecies in the winds, or see memories in violet sunrises. I can still feel the lulling motions of that old wooden rocking chair with its straw back and the faint smell of cigar on my great grandfather’s shirt. Squeezed between two walls, a lantern on the floor, our shadows dancing against the pale background of the unknown. Forwards, backwards, forwards, backwards again and again. A worn black book of José Marti’s La Edad de Oro held upright by tan wrinkled hands, words tapping against my ears with the rhythm of old Cuban drums. I thought my great grandfather a war hero, not of the fields of bloodshed and loss, but of dreams. He read me poems of friendships and roses and zapaticos de rosas, of a girl with golden locks dreaming by the sea shore who I thought drowned and died for so many years, but now realize grew and flew to a better place.
How beautiful it must be to grow old and wise. To recite poems and have the sun of your country inside your veins, inside your heart, collapsing like waves. I wonder if other little girls had great grandfathers like mine? Who read them to sleep under the flickering light of lanterns, or refused freedom for their tiny bow lips. Who fled their homeland like the tocororo setting a fleeting nest on foreign shores.
Cultivo una rosa blanca en junio como enero, I hear him whisper in the silence of an island twilight, his white beard scratching my cheeks, the hot salty breeze settling like sweat on the back of my neck. Forwards, backwards, forwards, backwards again and again until the flicker of flames faded behind closed eyelids and the band of crickets chirped the night away against the backdrop of a milky sky. My great grandfather is the soul inside Cuban black beans, the infectious pounding I hear in Cuban drums, the rising smoke from an old Cuban cigar. He’s melded with José Marti, beard and all. Nationalists, revolutionaries, poets, heroes.
I see him in teacups and glassless windows, in old pictures of Havana, wedged between the words of that old copy of La Edad de Oro, in my freedom, in my friendships, in little girls with golden hair running, crashing into waves hoping to fly away to better lands. Great grandfathers are the reason our hearts beat like steel drums when we hear old songs hazed by memories and stories. They’re the reason we think of crickets and stars like ballads and lyrics. Or perhaps they’re the reason we dream at night, of a world full of roses so sweet no thorn could prick the hopes of a future filled with the freedom to soar beyond island homes of yellowing bricks and wooden roofs. My biejo guajiro who sparked my love of words, how beautiful and wise you were in you old age, the sun of your country pained on your wrinkled skin so deep it coursed the streams and oceans inside you.
Cultivo la rosa blanca, he’d finish and with a prickly kiss on the forehead he’d send me off to fly to better lands in dreams wearing little rose shoes.