Barbara Hamby
Ode on Killing Sadness

In the nursing home in Havana I can’t help but think

            of my mother who would be 91

as I take each old woman’s hand and say “Hola,”

            or “buenes tardes,” and I notice one lady

who is sitting off to the side with a look that says,

            “No one is going to say hello to me,”

so I walk over and take her hand, and she sits up

            and kisses me on the cheek, a hard peck

just like the kamikaze kisses of my mother,

            and through my tears I hear her say,

“You’re weak like your daddy,” and I am weak,

            because I still miss her so much

after five years, and I kiss the woman’s cheek

            and I want to take her home with me

but we don’t even speak the same language,

            which you could have said about me

and my own mother, and all these women in Havana

            have raised better daughters than I was,

and I feel like the creatures in Roberto Fabelo’s

            drawings, a woman with wings, yes,

but with the head of a bird, and a couple of nights

            before we saw the Buena Vista

Social Club, and the emcee said at the start

            of the evening, “Here we are killing

sadness,” and the music did take the sting

            out of the night, and I'm thinking of this

when we go to the cemetery and see the tomb

            of Amelia Goyri, who died in child birth

and was buried with her son between her legs,

            whose husband came every day

with flowers, and two years later when his own

            father died, and the tomb was opened,

he begged to have his wife’s coffin unsealed

            so he could see his beloved once again,

and when they pulled back the lid the child

            was in his mother’s arms. A miracle?

Who knows, but hundreds of plaques surround

            the tomb in gratitude for miraculous

births, restored eyesight, dissolved cancers,

            and the man who takes care of the site

says he has seen men step out of wheelchairs

            and women throw away crutches,

and on top of the tomb a marble woman

            is holding a child, and a living woman

with bright red hair shuffles up to the statue,

            touches the baby’s bottom, and backs

away from the tomb praying for her own

            miracle, and I say a prayer

for my mother whose hard kisses were so sweet

            and ask her to let me tell her story

as I know it, and when I stand near her grave

            in December on an island in the Pacific

I will thank her again for the hard kiss she sent

            special delivery through the little grandma

in the rest home in Havana, Cuba, another island

            in the middle of a great sea.




Found In Volume 46, No. 06
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Barbara Hamby
About the Author

Barbara Hamby's sixth book of poems, Bird Odyssey, will be published in Spring 2018 by the University of Pittsburgh Press, which also published her last book On the Street of Divine Love: New and Selected Poems. Her poems have appeared in many magazines, including The New Yorker, Poetry, Ploughshares, and Yale Review. She has also edited an anthology of poems, Seriously Funny (Georgia, 2009), with her husband David Kirby. She teaches at Florida State University where she is Distinguished University Scholar.