March of the Ashes

From Studio B’s 2017 Poetry book

By Jay Ressler

Wizened and nine decades wise
Student of Martí and Maceo
And of The Moor* too;
Gabo’s** friend died
An old man’s death.

Gold Medal winner
Of an Olympic event never sanctioned
“Assassination Attempt Survivor,”
With 638 wins.

Tainted milkshakes and poisoned cigars;
Bomb plots and sniper shots;
Lover’s treachery and mobsters’ plots;
CIA-masterpieces from afar
Foiled every one,
He suffered without a scar.

Hundreds danced in glee
In the sinking city by the sea
When his passing
Made history.

But multitudes mourned,
Freedom Caravaners by the throng,
Streamed from Plain and Mountain abode,
To proclaim “I am He” in a song.

Large in life was he,
Orator for peasants and working women
And laboring men too,
Leader in battle — el commandante,
Though hated by barons and capitalist lords;
By wretched and oppressed
The Old Man was adored.

His emblazoned battle banner
“¡Si Se Puede!”
“Yes, we can! Yes, We Will!”
Heartened fighters at
Moncada and Alegria de Pio,
Sierra Maestra and Playa Giron,
In Angola and Cuito Caunavale,
In the war against illiteracy,
Also in the Special Period
That emerged from a bitter sea.

Likened to David challenging Goliath
For him, Internationalism did prevail,
Troops to defend Angola
Doctors abroad wherever need bloomed,
(More than those of the WHO)
His strategic daring tipped the scale
Assuring Nelson’s freedom and Apartheid’s doom.

Revolutionary worker and peasant organizer
With Vladimir Illych he stormed the heavens
Without falling to Stalin’s vials of poison***
The Old Man died an Old Man’s death
A spoiler of all the aggressions.

A reader and man of letters too
The Old Man scolded Gabo
That in the fictions he conjured
Real-world facts
Need be written true.

That is the story of how the commander-in-chief
Became the fact-checker-in-chief,
Even before a soldier’s fatigues, he did quit
To sport a blue and white leisure outfit
In service of the man who imagined a century of solitude
A general’s labyrinth, and love when cholera throve.

Along the 500-mile march
Of the Old Man’s ashes
Thousands showed their homage
And millions made a pledge.

The procession’s final halt
Crowded under the shadow
Of the Titan of Bronze****—
Martyr of Punta Brava to exalt.

Beside a thousand raised machetes
His brother, The President, made clear
The terms of the Will of the Bearded One:
There would be no statue or public place
On which the Old Man’s name or frame would appear.

The lone monument would be
The will and pledge of the fighting people
To defend their sovereignty
And integrity against arrogant hostility,
Multiplied by imperialist voracity,
By Leviathan of the North.

The Old Man’s ashes were fated
For a grotto quite small
Near the Mausoleum for Martí
In a crowded veterans’ stall
Bearing only his Christian name
On a humble cement wall.

Before the cremated remains
Of Gabo’s friend received their final rest
Maceo’s vow and warning were summoned,
“Whoever attempts to conquer Cuba
will gain nothing but the dust of her blood-soaked soil
— if they do not perish in the struggle!”
‘Tis the honor the Old Man’s life possessed.

*Karl Marx
**Gabriel Garcia Marquez
***Allusion to widely held speculation (including by his widow and by Leon Trotsky) that Lenin’s doctors poisoned him under Stalin’s orders.
****Antonio Maceo