Tag Archives: Perry Lopez

“Snapshot from the Revolution” – Fiction by Perry Lopez

Our Lady of El Cobre

Our Summer 2018 issue won’t rise from the deep until June 21, but should you care for a preview of what’s to come, here’s Perry Lopez‘s historical & horrific short story “Snapshot from the Revolution.”

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THE NIGHT WAVES WERE ROLLING TOWARD CUBA, beating their steady pulse against the hull of the yacht. A rhythmic skip and crash in perfect blackness, and all our bodies leaning together. A jump and plunge amidst the rattle of ammunition, the dishing of gasoline in drums that we had lashed to the handrails because the tank would not hold enough to get us there, the sky that was starless, pure blackout, and pressed down upon our heads. Petroleum and sulfur and potassium nitrate, human sweat and nervous breath, the various agents of conflagration—all inert for the moment, jostling together. My finger was on the shutter release. Across my chest there was a double-bandolier full of flashbulbs. Magnesium, the smell of magnesium powder, which burns with near the same quality as sunlight: 5500 Kelvin.

I try not to hear the Giant’s voice, but there it is anyway. Words which he never spoke but instead I gave to him and believed in absolutely, there in that moment of body-terror and doubt, seminal blindness across the Atlantic, which was the power he had over all of us. Have spirit, brother Gusano. We do not need the heavens to steer by, not when we have pinned fresh constellations to the roofs of our minds. Would the man himself have said that? I can see his face speaking the words clearly enough, but cannot say for sure. I have written far too many speeches for Fidel Castro in my thoughts, and now he is dead—idol dead, paper dead—heartbroken at the age of ninety and buried beneath a kernel of corn, as you already know.

So instead take my clearest picture, the only one I know for sure was captured with my own senses. Everything afterward will be lies: Graffiti on their monuments. I remember salt on my lips. Body salt, sea salt, and an accordion crush of lungs fighting for space to expand. The deck was not meant to hold so many bodies. A compression of moncadistas and stark-ribbed exiles on the pleasure boat that had seen happier voyages. Eighty-two men in total, all packed to the gunwales, hustled aboard the North American vessel with its engine that stalled and stuttered like my own flawed heart, sending up the first oily smoke of our revolution, some of them sitting upon the very edges and holding onto the shoulders of their comrades so that they would not fall into the sea. An orgiastic colony of sweaty limbs and whispered confidences—Sierra Maestra, José Martí, the Latifundia, Our Lady of El Cobre, Castro, Castro, Castro—the germ of a new country caught between two great slates of emptiness, the sea and the sky, and a few brave ones sitting atop the crates of grenades packed in straw. A man coughed up vomit to my right and another leaned over the side to dribble his empty stomach across the midnight rollers. From somewhere close to the bow a voice was singing out in a bold, solemn spinto: Cuba, oh Cuba, a bright red flower for Cuba / One which smells not so sweet / Nor which bears aught to eat / Yet will bloom on from Gitmo to Bauta, as his words were sucked away by the wind. Where in all this was Fidel? Where was Che? Which of these darkly groping forms were Raul and Camilo and Almeida? And whose voice was that singing? Never mind. It is wrong to ask. Let them be for an instant like what was promised. A hum of bodies and voices and futures converging.

But in this polyrhythm of heartbeats they had their guns and I had my camera. A 35mm Zeiss that would be the eye through which the world watched our revolution (Castro’s hopeful thinking) and the tool we would wield against Batista’s newspapers. It swung from its strap and knocked against my chest so I raised a hand to hold it still. Already a bruise had begun to form there, a distinct green and yellow impression of the metal case stamped upon my skin. Your press card, brother, said Raul the day before, giving the bruise a rap with his knuckles. Now they will know not to shoot you. A painful blemish that would only grow with time. But for the moment it was best not to take the camera from my neck, I had decided, because if it somehow got lost or broken they would give me a rifle to replace it. One of those old American Nazi-killers we had bought in bulk off the Mexican black market. Rusty barrels with warped wooden stocks—M1 Garands and weathered carbines, Springfields as likely to explode in your hands as kill anyone, a few German Mausers with their dull metal luster—weapons whose history I wanted no part of, yet I think the others were eager to see me burdened with.

Some of the men had already urged as much. Their spirits took a vicious turn after four days at sea in the cramped vessel and several of them had cornered me in the back of the yacht. Open spaces are bad for revolutions, and in all that vacant water and cloudless atmosphere they had turned their eyes away from the horizon and found me there with my camera. Why should Gusano’s burden be so little, they asked. Why should he have to do none of the killing? Is he a coward? Their faces drew close as they took the Zeiss away from my neck, passing it from man to man and judging its heft against the weight of their weapons. I thought for a second they might throw it into the waves and that would be that; I would have to become a Guerilla too. But it was Fidel himself who came to my rescue. “Leave Gusano be,” the Giant said. In the noon scorch our Comandante stood high upon the flying bridge with his body like a stain against the sun and all of us squinting up at him, his wolfish nose and wolfish eyes directed down upon his militia, his arms held out cruciform and his fatigues snapping in the breeze, saying, “The purity of our Mexican must be preserved at all costs. A steady hand and a steady conscience. How else will he take good pictures of us?” This had quieted them and I was left in peace, or at least what passes for peace aboard a boat crowded with barbudos trained to kill their own countrymen. So I waited for the nighttime when we would all be blinded together again.

Continue reading “Snapshot from the Revolution” – Fiction by Perry Lopez

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“Fire Ants” – Fiction by Perry Lopez

The Ants - Salvador Dali, 1929
The Ants – Salvador Dalí, 1929

Get toasty & tropical with “Fire Ants,” a surreal & revolutionary piece of short fiction by Perry Lopez from our Winter 2016 issue.

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THE CUBAN’S SKIN IS BLACK WITH SMOKE. He sits beneath the shade of the palm, cross-lashed with sunlight through the fronds, rolling a dead ant between his fingertips. As he toys with it, the soot comes off his pads and encases the ant in a sticky ball that grows and grows until there is no more ant-shape to it. Just a tiny planet of pitch, smoothly gyrating and gathering and dereticulate, obeying the laws of form. He is shirtless and shoeless and thin, his eyes are blood-webbed and watching. Thermo means heat means fire.

He cannot smell himself. Cannot smell the ocean either, though he can hear it. That mellow storm of crash and suck he has heard all his life. He cannot smell the rotting plantains, but tastes them when he breathes. Sweetness and salt in the air that burns in his raw throat, sticks there piquantly burning. His own smell covering everything, but then he cannot smell himself. All he smells is smoke.

“Ah Cristo, my eyes are stinging. I think I will go blind soon.”

Arlo is drunk. He may in fact go blind. They went to the University of Havana together where he studied science and Arlo studied culture. Now he is drunk with a bottle of fine spiced rum in each fist and is crouching over the anthill, squinting and rubbing at his eyelids with the back of his hand, spitting dark gobs full of cinder-grit down on the mound— the mound that sits between the two men and pulses with their frenzy, those thousands, those millions, their knobby red bodies strung together like simple molecules. Swarming along their prickly vortices, building up their warren of dirt on the shore.

He rolls the ball of grime back on his thumb then flicks it into the beach-grass, shooting out so fast and small that his eyes cannot follow as it disappears soundlessly into the airy shush between breakers. He looks back and searches for another.

“But so what if I do, eh? A man should go blind after seeing such a miracle as I have; the rest of the world would only disgust him! Make him wish he was in the dark, alone with just the memory.”

There are hundreds of them at his legs, drawn in by the acrid smell. They tickle-fight atop his toe-crests and caravan down along his shins; at his knees they eddy and trace out in strange ellipses, caught up in the foci of his body’s landscape, skirting his mountains. They are red and his flesh is black and they travel him without rest, cherry bright in the morning sunlight through the fronds, their tiny antennas held out like dowsing rods, silly stupid things, searching him for their need, something to carry back to the mound. They are hundreds but he cannot feel them. They cannot bite him and he cannot feel them. The smoke-crust is far too thick and they will find nothing to eat of his body today.

One ant stands motionless atop his kneecap, waggling its tendrils and watching the others scuttle-dance by. He reaches down and carefully crushes its head between his thumb and middle-finger, then pinches it up and sets to rolling again just like the last.

Across, Arlo spits and drinks and bares his teeth at nothing.

“And can you believe the fool had no guards posted? Only a Captain could be so stupid, so secure. Pah! What do you think it was that finally woke him, uh? The whole damn town knew his house was burning before he did, the pig! How he ran out still naked from sleep and batting embers from his beard to find everyone watching! How he looked back and screamed Oooooooh Mi Madre, Mi Madre, Dios ayuda a mi Madre…”

Between them and the sea is a comb of palms, their scaly shafts serried close like whale teeth, the kind used for straining. And will they hold out the tide? No, no, of course they mustn’t. See the salted, sandy bands about their trunks, a meter high where the surge-tide has risen and will rise and rise and rise again. Carrying it all back out to waste until…

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