Dido’s Lament by Orlando Ricardo MENES

Habaneros—high and low—have been obsessed
with la diva Maria Signorelli
since she arrived from Saint-Domingue
aboard a sloop crammed with French refugees.
Besides the usual décima verses,
minuets, and statues of Florentine marble
allegorizing La Siciliana
as Venus de Milo, the Bishop declares
that her voice is identical to Eve’s
and should thus be venerated by way
of novenas, although his black
cook Delfina tells everyone at the Market
His Excellency is merely an infatuated
lover. Slaves recently brought from Lagos
swear La Diva is really an orisha
having seen her talk to manatees,
take flight with olivaceous cormorants.
Enemies rumor she’s not Italian at all
but a quadroon tavernwench from Santiago
who sang salacious guarachas for a piece of eight.
Her décolleté and extravagant
coquetries scandalize les grandes dames
who call her Whore of Babylon, which makes her laugh,
dangerous Jacobin for giving alms
of emerald and allowing her Haitian seamstress
Cécile to stroll alongside, arms entwined.

Blacks and poor whites—a few aristocrats
in disguise—gather at Cathedral Square
to watch La Venus Siciliana float on gold-
thread Turkish sandals; a threadbare guajirito—
country boy—darts toward her touching the train
of an exquisite muslin dress; she takes out
marzipan todies from hair coifed with meringue
rosebuds, hurling the birds with flourish,
sings Dido’s Lament in bravura—
ascending to four-line C. Frenzied men and women
breach the civil guards’ line of bayonets,
crush her lungs as they strip hair, clothes to sell or keep
for scapulars. La Habana mourns in round-the-clock
corteges, the Bishop sermonizes
for sainthood, her house on Aguacate Street
a temple for pilgrims whose lights,
boatswains affirm, can be seen from two leagues away.


Henequen habits, rawhide brogans drying
on tackle lines, twelve nuns sleep
in nets that snare squid, amberjack,
barracuda; bilge and sweat
mingle in their barracoon. By cold light
of wicker lanterns—cocullo fireflies—
insomniacs whittle hoestick Marias.

Erekusú’s Carmelites inhabit the ruins
of Gethsemane sugar mill. Before sunrise
Prioress Aurea ascends the watchtower
to sound the Ave, nine conch-shell blows;
work gangs hymn the Mater Dolorosa
marching on canefields gone wild to cultivate

yuca, beans, yams, ocra. Engraved limestones,
stations of the cross, girdle Iroko-
Arabá, ceiba that shelters Madonna
and child. Planters’ daughters take their vows
offering flan and callaloo
to Iroka, Sor Aurea bejewels night-blooming
flowers with phials of coconut water.

Feast of Her Assumption: lambent skies
overcast to sulfur, thunderclouds
pour acetic wine. The graveyard floods
erupting with bones of Kongo slaves,
which the convent’s curandera
gathers for making oils, poultices,
infusions. Nine nuns pull hogsheads heavy with rain,
a quintet performs on kettle, cowbell

and hoesticks. Novices—all shades—
rumba atop the stones
imitating cane cutters: some slash at the root
clutching the sharp stalks,
others scratch, dig, and sow next season’s crop.
Braids flail, anklets rattle
when tempo rises, cutters swirling
as la Virgen rides their heads. Sor Aurea

guzzles what falls from Iroko’s canopy,
prays—between hiccups—“Gracious Mater,
Yaya-Yeyé, Dulcis Parens Clementiae,
guard us from the foe, yémbe awán,
glorious anima, ayeré sánguereré.”

Issue Two

Editorial: Archipelagos and MFA's

Babylons: The Conclusion

Russian Poetry Now

Michael Anania

Joe Francis Doerr

Catherine Kasper

John Matthias

Orlando Ricardo Menes

Jeff Roessner

Reviews of: Janet Holmes and Stephanie Strickland

Samizdat Magazine, samizdatmagazine.com © 2000-2001 R. Archambeau

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