George Franklin practices law on Miami Beach and teaches writing in Florida state prisons. His poems have been published in Gulf Stream, Matter, Salamander, The Threepenny Review, Verse, The Ghazal Page, and Vending Machine Press, and his criticism has been published in ELH.
Men in t-shirts drinking Cuban coffee
Outside a restaurant by the airport, the smell of
Roast pork and plantains, white rice and black
Beans, voices that have all known each
Other for years or sound like it, and the sun
That grows a little hotter each day of April—
Sometimes I wonder how I ended up here, a
Gringo par excellence, to mix up my languages,
No one less likely to tan on the beach or drive
A car that turns heads, no one less likely either
To smile at the pretty waitress, Afro-Cuban,
In a tight shirt and jeans. I fill a cup with
Ice water from the orange plastic cooler
On the counter and watch the planes skim over
The rooftops of warehouses on their way
To all the places I think of moving if life doesn’t
Work out for me here. I tell myself there’s always
Venice or some small town in Umbria,
Or a Greek island where every morning
The baker will take round loaves out of the oven
And every afternoon, fishermen will sell
Their catch on the sun-warmed sand. Everyone
Dreams of escape, but not always from the same
Thing. All I need, I think, is a café where they’ll
Let me sit over espresso, read books, and write.
None of this is true, though. I need more than
I can possibly imagine. I’m hopelessly American
And awful at speaking anything but English.
I don’t know even what it is I’m trying to leave.
I think of Cavafy’s poem, “The City,” with
Its warning that as you’ve wasted your life here,
You’ve wasted it everywhere else as well. I picture
His large eyebrows sticking out from behind his glasses,
Frowning at me, inquiring if I’ve learned absolutely
Nothing so far. So, I take a deep breath, ask the pretty
Waitress for another cortadito, and try
My best to smile.
Leaves falling on the roof, swish
Of wind late at night against the branches,
A sound almost like water moving against
Gravel. Once again, I’m up later than I should be,
My bed empty and uninviting. I scroll
Down a computer screen, listening
To the clock and the air conditioning
In counterpoint, the occasional
Click of the keyboard under my fingers, and
The dog breathing in the corner.
In front of me, tailored men in
Tailored suits give news conferences,
Trying to appear in charge. Others
Pretend to believe them and nod
Accordingly—down the page, the usual
Shots of casualties and collapsing
Cinderblocks. The large events of
The world are far away tonight, but
Regardless hover offshore, tropical
Storm systems that usually
Track north before they reach us.
From satellites, they appear as thick
Clouds moving in obscure, abstract
Patterns, the way God might view
A war, the sobbing and the wounds
Too small to notice.