Cindy Kelly


Homesick Sestina


She was already old when I met her in South Beach.
Who knows, she might be dead now
but in 97, she was living in the back
room of a run-down all-night laundry just down
from that dance club we went to with those Cuban
boys, telling five-dollar fortunes just to pass the time.

She was in pin curls, waiting for the egg timer
to go off when I walked in, sandy feet from the beach.
She opened up her carpet bag, offered me a Cuban
cigar, straight from Havana, hard to get now.
Then she tossed a book of matches, said to sit down
in a rusty metal lawn chair with an itchy woven nylon back.

She steeped red tea smelling like flowers and licorice in the back
she moved slow, hunched up and groaning, made a miserable time
of it, came back out with a handmade tarot deck, put them down
on the card table, shuffled them around, asked me how I liked the beach.
I said better than Ohio, and she cut the deck, said the laundry's not busy now-
adays, the cards kept her mind going, so far from family, from her Cuba.

When she grew quiet, I said maybe someday I'll go to Cuba,
just to make conversation, and she said she'd probably never get back,
she sighed, said she'd probably die in Miami, she'd been there so long now.
My tea gone, she studied the cup, with closed eyes, deep breaths, said sometimes
leaves don't say much; sometimes they do the salty wind from the beach,
maybe that briny air had something to do with it made the future hard to pin down.

So she started. One by one, with a snap, she laid the cards face down
in the horseshoe shape her Orishan grandmother taught her in Cuba,
back when she lived on the sands of a different beach,
colonial Baracoa she told me, with a sadness that took her back
to the salty mouth of the Boca de Meil, took me with her to sometime,
someplace unfamiliar to me, and we stayed for a while, avoiding the now.

When she started turning cards over, she made a slow labor of it, said now
your future isn't certain change it if you don't like the way it's going down
but it's good to know to know before it happens so you have time
to change your mind that's how my father knew when to leave Cuba,
how he knew it was time to bring us to America and never look back
and then she stared at the moon shining over the beach.

She flipped the last card down, said South Beach is home.
Sometimes I miss Cuba, she sighed, too old for a pilgrimage now.
Seis de Copas, she said, go back home, you still have time.  


Cindy Kelly lives in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains with her Himalayan cat, Ursala Miner. Her poetry and short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in MiPOesias, Bakers Dozen, New Myths, and The Hiss Quarterly. She is a graduate of Kent State University and the editor of Plain Spoke, the quarterly literary publication of Amsterdam Press.
Email: cindykelly at gmail dot com


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