Havana, 1958: A Noir Sestina

Stephen Cloud Click to

Cloud_Shenandoah photoStephen Cloud lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  He has recently published poems in High Desert Journal, Valparaiso Poetry Review and New Madrid.

Havana, 1958: A Noir Sestina

Backdrop: Havana’s Hotel Capri, scorching heat;
I’m in the casino watching this gal
losing big at the roulette wheel. She aims a kiss
at some jackass in the corner, lurking in shadows.
He blanches and bolts—just another yellow gun
for hire. Me, I’ve been at it three days straight, no sleep.

But you know how it is—no chance of sleep,
not in Havana, not with things just about to overheat:
a staged melee, every jackass drawing a gun,
my cue to move in and hustle off the gal.
When I push her to the alley and into shadows,
she’s all pouty: “Hey, that’s no way to give a girl a kiss.”

She’s a looker, that’s for sure, the kind you could kiss
and more. Any other time, I’d want to sleep
with her; but just now I’m in a stew about these shadows
creeping closer—could be the Mob, could be the Heat.
“Keep it quiet,” I say, “and be a good gal.”
That’s when I see the dame has drawn a gun.

In Havana, someone’s always drawing a gun.
You’re more likely to get a bullet than a kiss.
Guess which one I’ve got coming from this gal.
Flash, bang, and I finally get my shot at sleep.
Two hours on a sidewalk, bleeding. You can’t take the heat,
I say, you don’t belong here in this city of shadows.

Long run, no big deal. Just my job. I’m paid to shadow
spoiled rich dames who like to fire off their guns
(if you know what I mean) with a little more heat
than light. Now and then you get one like the kiss
of death. Curtains, if you’re not careful. The big sleep.
No question now I’m dealing with that kind of gal.

Hours later, the Shanghai Theater: I track down my gal
backstage at a sex show, fixing her eye shadow.
“What’s with you,” I say, “gotta shoot a guy before you sleep
with him? Don’t give me that look, sugar, give me the gun.”
“Sure, Joe, whatever you want,” she purrs and blows a kiss.
There’s no use fighting when the cat’s in heat.

Now morning shadows cross the room. The heat is big.
I stir from sleep to see the gal leaning over me.
With one last kiss, she spins the chamber, aims the gun.