In the beginning, before God created Cuba, the earth was chaos, empty of form and without music. The spirit of God stirred over the dark tropical waters and God said, “Let there be music.” And a soft conga began a one-two beat in background of the chaos.

Then God called up Yemayá and said, “Let the waters under heaven amass together and let dry land appear.” It was done. God called the fertile red earth Cuba and the massed waters the Atlantic. And God saw this was good, tapping his foot to the conga beat.

Then God said, “Let the earth sprout papaya and coco and white coco flesh; malanga roots and mangos in all shades of gold and amber; let there be tabaco and café and sugar for the café; let there be rum; let there be waving plaintains and guayabas and everything tropical-like.” God saw this was good, then fashioned palm trees—His pièce de résistance.

Then God said, “Let there be a moon and stars to light the nights over the Club Tropicana, and a sun for the 365 days of the year.” God saw that this was good, he called the night nightlife, the day he called paradise.

Then God said, “Let there be fish and fowl of every kind.” And there were spicy shrimp enchilado, chicken fricasé, codfish bacalao, and fritters. But He wanted something more exciting and said, “Enough. Let there be pork.” And there was pork—deep fried, whole roasted, pork rinds and sausage. He fashioned goats, used their skins for bongos and batús; he made claves and maracas and every kind of percussion instrument known to man.

Then out of a red lump of clay, God made a Taino and set him in a city He called Habana. Then He said, “It is not good that Taino be alone. Let me make him helpmates.” And so God created the mulata to dance guaguancó and son with Taino; the guajiro to cultivate his land and his folklore, Cachita the sorceress to strike the rhythm of his music, and a poet to work the verses of their paradise.

God gave them dominion over all the creatures and musical instruments and said unto them, “Be fruitful and multiply, eat pork, drink rum, make music and dance.” On the seventh day, God rested from the labors of his creation. He smiled upon the celebration and listened to their music.

“Havanasis” from City of a Hundred Fires by Richard Blanco, © 1998. Published by permission of University of Pittsburgh Press.

This poem was originally read in the On Being episode “How to Love a Country.”

Reflections