Tidal Basin

Germination Detail Part III, by Leslie Shellow

contemplations about what stays in the net

Monday, October 29, 2012

Excerpt from my Cuba Memoir

            “It cost me a lot of work to open my heart to you,” he wrote in his third letter to me. I felt the pause in his writing. The intake of warm air. The sigh protracted over as long as he could hold it. “Really, I did not want to suffer, but I don’t regret it,” he continued. “Because in my life there was a before Sarah and an after Sarah.”
            I put the letter down gently. I had been a landmark. Not a signpost directing his next step, but rather a fault line separating his life before and after my arrival.  How his presence had shifted subterranean plates in me, too, changing my surface landscape evermore. I did not know what to do with the movement, so I picked up the letter and cradled it softly like a baby in my arms. What we had created together had a life of its own and was undeniably extant and breathing. What we would do with it now confused me.
            Turning back to the page, I read, “Sarah, share with me this life, because it is not life without you. I want to enter in yours. I want your nights to be mine eternally, and we will age together.”
            I was aging now. Each turn of the moon shone empty space in my womb. My eyes closed against the backdrop of the early winter sun in Maryland. My mind settled on a memory

            He sits on the edge of the bed, naked. “I’m sorry. I forgot to be careful.”
            “I know.”
            His spine cuts an uneven river of bumps up his back and moves heavily up and down with his smoker's breath.
            I lay across the bed gripped in the immediacy of the moment and tied into an uncertain future.
            “Will you send me Cuban pesos when I have the baby?”
            He chuckles deeply and turns around resting his cheek on my belly. “Sarah, stay. You can live here. We can make it work. Everything that is mine is yours, Gatita. Everything.”
            “I could never go home if I stayed here.”
            He shook his head. “This will end. You'll be able to go see your family. They could come visit. I know this will end.” Cuban optimism always tastes like hope and chocolate, sweet endorphins covering up the reality of injustice. 
            I imagined the people and places I would never see again. It was the first time I thought of my freedom. Up to that point, when I thought of home, I thought of loneliness and a culture devoid of cafecito in the late afternoon sun. It was easy to think this way because I was returning home. Cuba had become everything the United States was not, and I savored the differences because I still had both. Now, thinking what it would be like to make the choice to stay which was also a choice not to return, my view of Cuba closed into a small pinhole, like the pupil of an eye that had suddenly seen too much light. But even in my contracting state, a small part of me hoped for a ball of dividing cells that would fill my belly and my life with something unexpected and lovely.


  1. Wonderful. Potent. I drop a tear reading what you tried to explain before. How could I ever understand?
    (Is there supposed to be a video above the text?)

  2. Thank you, TJ. No video ~
    I am sure you do understand -- I feel our personal losses are losses felt by the collective -- related to by those who have lost loved ones in our lives, as you have, too.