POSTCARDS FROM CUBA: in bed with Jane Austen in Cuba, thinking of you (end, series 1)

For… you, of course. Always.



I am in Cuba, and I am in bed with Jane Austen, reading Sense and Sensibility, a book I have read perhaps a thousand times over the years. No. Wait. Ridiculous exaggeration. And I can do the math, quickly. I first read it 20 years ago, precisely. This month, in fact, exactly. And I’ve re-read it, the entire Austen oeuvre, at least three times a year, sometimes five or six, since. Let’s keep it to three. So. I’ve read each Austen book at least 60 times.

I’m in bed with Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility for the sixty first time, and she’s still surprising me.

Today, what catches my attention is this brutal portrait of John Dashwood, the older step-brother of the book’s heroines, and the inheritor of all the family wealth (because, patriarchy):

“He was not an ill-disposed young man, unless to be rather cold hearted and rather selfish is to be ill-disposed: but he was, in general, well respected; for he conducted himself with propriety in the discharge of his ordinary duties.”

But wait. There was hope for John. In his wife:

“Had he married a more amiable woman, he might have been made still more respectable than he was:–he might even have been amiable himself. …

But, alas, it was not to be. His wife:

“…was a strong caricature of himself;–more narrow-minded and selfish.”

God, I love me my Jane.

I am struggling—have been for the past two years, almost three, more, possibly—with the discharge of some of my ordinary duties. You know what I mean. Christmas cards, birthday presents, polite conversation… those social niceties that the Dashwoods, cold, selfish, unfeeling but oh-so-proper excel at and use as the yardstick to measure the quality of others.



I’m in Cuba. In bed with Jane Austen. I’ve been binging on Hemingway—because, Cuba—but I am overdosed on maleness and testosterone and terse sentences. Give me semicolons, em-dashes and affairs of the heart told from the point of a view of the women to whom they are everything.



Cuba. Jane Austen. Affairs of the heart. Writing.

What I love about Sense and Sensibility is… well, everything, actually. All the men—especially the libertine Willoughby. I could love every one of them, although Edward Ferrars would bore me after six weeks, Willoughby and I would make each other miserable within two years, and I’d break Colonel Brandon’s heart. The one I’d really like to take on, though, is Mr. Palmer. Charlotte Palmer’s rude husband? Yeah. He has potential.

I love the women too. I love Mrs. Dashwood as a mother—the vulgarity of Mrs. Jennings. Lucy Steele is an absolutely brilliant creation. And Elinor and Marianne are me. And you. Don’t you think? Each so exaggerated, each of us carries both within ourselves. I am both. I love Marianne more—I know it’s safer to be Elinor—but Elinor will only lead a half-life.



Writing. Half-life. Bed. Austen. Caricature. Ordinary duties.

Do you ever wonder what Jane Austen would have written like if she’d had children? I do, by the time I get to the end of each of her novels—especially Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion. I think, holy fuck, what insight, what wit, what perception, what talent.

And yet. So much she doesn’t know, suspect—cannot imagine because it cannot be imagined.

You: “Or she wouldn’t have written at all because she had children.”

No. Impossible. You know she would have. And it all would have been better.



Duties. Children. Excuses.


Alone in Cuba with three children, 24/7.


Status report, five weeks in: 16,000 words on major pet project. 30-odd essays, vignettes, sketches. Six experiments no one will ever see, but oh, I’m so happy I wrote them.

She wouldn’t have written because she had children?


Not my Jane. Nor yours.

And baby—you know I’m writing this for you, right? In bed, with Jane Austen, I am, as always, thinking of you. Dearest. No excuses. No half-life. And if you need to ditch “propriety in the discharge of [your] ordinary duties” … do it.



It’s almost time to leave Havana, and Postcards from Cuba is taking a break for the summer while I scour for the funding I need to bring you the second and third parts of the project. You are invited to help any way you can:

PayPal - The safer, easier way to pay online!

… and the rest of the postcards will start flowing your way in September.

If today’s your first time here, and you want to catch up on the Postcards from Cuba project, visit the ANNOTATED table of contents.

Jane Austen Banner


Although #postcardsfromcuba is taking a break, Nothing By The Book is not. The theme for the summer is “practice and play.”

Expect a new post most Wednesdays.

You: “Practice and play?”

Jane: “Practice and play. You’ll see. And maybe join. Because—no half-life, no excuses, love. Ordinary duties be damned.”





For Saeed. Who understands “homesick” … and the trouble with defining “home” when one is in motion.


and read:


I am exploring Havana at the pace of three children, and for this, I am very grateful. Left to myself, I would binge and get drunk on this city, make myself sick with too much experience crammed into (always) too little time. The children force me to move slower—to pace myself and so to look carefully, to reflect… to digest.

They also force me to pay attention to the mundane. I could not eat—today, tomorrow—or eat badly. They must be fed and fed well, every day, and so in the act of feeding them, I experience the Havana a Cuban mother would, at least a little. Imperfectly, I know. After all, I can waltz into any of the tiendas panmericanas and buy anything—pay with credit card at Mercado 70—and even as I say, “Holy fuck that’s expensive”—expensive for me does not hold the same meaning as expensive does to the woman who lives next door, the woman who cleans the house where I live or the woman—her face so beautiful and so tired—jostling next to me on the overcrowded bus.

“Are they all yours, all three?” she asks. I nod.

“A big family,” she says. “We don’t have big families here, now.”

I nod…

I think I understand.

I probably don’t—I can’t, can I? But, on the bus to and from the market, an exhausted six-year-old asleep in my arms, an equally exhausted eleven-year-old who refuses the proffered seat (“I think that old lady needed it more than I did”), and a claustrophobic/probably ochlophobic thirteen-year-old agitating to get off now and walk the rest of the way home, I come closer than I would if I were moving through Havana alone.




What is “home,” when you’re travelling?


Cinder is unhappy, homesick.

I knew, always, this adventure would be most difficult for him. He is, always has been, my most “stay at home” child. His perfect day consists of… nothing much. His familiar routine—what I know is his immensely rich inner life, best experienced in the safety, tranquility, predictability of home.

He and I are both consciously trying to create routine, stability, tranquility here—but Havana exhausts him. And when we are out, not matter how cool the experience, he most looks forward to getting back “home,” to our casa, our home base here—and this eagerness, if anything, is my proof that I’ve done something right, that I’ve managed to create “home” for him here, a little.

Today, mid-day, he crashes hard. We’ve planned to be out—we know we need to be out until 2 p.m. because today’s the mega-cleaning day for Jorge and his housekeeper—and we have been. We’ve taken a new bus, walked a new part of the Malecon, ended up at Coppellia Park for ice cream—and still ended up “home” too early. She wasn’t done—I grabbed towels and swim suits, and shepherded us over to a nearby hotel’s swimming pool.

We planned to do that anyway, later. But in the meantime, Cinder planned to be home—to recharge.



I miss its onset, and only see the result—his siblings jump in the pool and he refuses, goes off into the hotel’s garden courtyard, walks a lap, and when he comes back, it takes me one look to see, feel that he is unwell. Sick? Sunstroke? As I start to form the words, “Are you all right?” he snarls-growls at me and storms off.

I give him a minute or two. Follow.

He evades me in the courtyard, changing directions.

Jane: “Cinder, my love, you don’t have to tell me anything, but I need to hold you and hug you.”

He lets me.

Cinder: “I want to go home, I want to go home.”

We both know he doesn’t mean our casa particular.

Jane: “I know.”

I stand there, holding him, saying nothing.

This is the hardest thing I can do.

I am holding him, loving him, and reminding myself: he does not want to be here. I am not having this experience for him. I am having it for me, and I am dragging him along. When I started planning this trip, his position, from the outset, was that he wanted to stay at home with Sean. (My position, of course, was that thirteen was way too young to spend 10+ hours a day in total solitude while his daddy was at work. Cinder’s position—and my thirteen year old self peeks over my shoulder, empathizes, agrees—was that that would be kind of heaven…)

Holding him, I tell him this—that I know. That I know he doesn’t want to be here, didn’t choose to be here. That I understand, accept his feelings.

Cinder: “I really, really want to go home.”

Jane: “I know.”


After he shows me his home, Lazaro asks me, “Are you homesick? Do you miss your home?” And is shocked when I say, I don’t. Doesn’t believe me. “You must miss home,” he says, and the children pipe up, “We do!” And it’s true. It’s worst for Cinder, but it hits the other two as well. They’re homesick. For their dad, their dog, their friends, their beds and their routines—in roughly that order.

Me? I’ll be happy to get back to toilets that flush and grocery stores stacked to the ceiling with everything I might want and more than anyone should ever need, but right now…

“I’m so interested in, stimulated by everything here,” I try to put it into words for Lazaro. “And I have such a short time here…” And, of course, my children are here with me, and they’re what I would most miss about home, and so…

Do I miss home?

As you’re reading that, are you thinking, “Do you miss me?” Because frankly, love… yes, at those moments at night, and in the morning, sometimes, and every once in a while when I see something beautiful or think something so strange that won’t feel real until I tell you about it—yes, at those moments, I miss you. Madly. But most of the time? Not so much. I’m here, you see, and I know I’ll be back, and I’m here for such a short time, and I need to be here so fucking completely and fully, and I can barely manage it, being here, being present in the intensity of here is exhausting, and it would be so easy to retreat to missing and longing—so no.

I don’t miss home.

I will be glad to be back, of course. And I will be so glad to see you again.

But I am so happy to be here, right now.

Cinder isn’t.



When we finally get “home” that day, I make everyone—especially Cinder—comfort food. I fry up the cheese balls we bought from a newly discovered merchant, and make grilled tuna sandwiches. We watch Horrible Histories together, and as I watch Cinder regroup, I change the week’s plans. Tomorrow’s Sunday, and the plan, all week, was to go to Old Havana and into Salvador’s Alley, and listen to music and experience the chaos and intensity of Havana on a Sunday.

Jane: “Stay at home chill day tomorrow, what do you think, dudes?”

The little ones don’t care. Cinder knows this is for him.

Cinder: “But you really want to go to Salvador’s Alley.”

Jane: “We’ll go next week. Tomorrow, we stay home.”

He nods. A few minutes later, hugs me from behind, suddenly. “Thank you, Mom,” he whispers in my ear. I kiss his. “I’d like to wash my clothes tomorrow, too.”

Sounds like a plan.



“You really don’t miss home?” Lazaro asks again, and I’m starting to feel a really defensive. I know my sense of “home” is not… He lives in the house his wife’s great-grandfather built. I had, what, seven, eight different “homes” before I was 10, and then three within the first year of coming to Canada, and then…

“Home” was people, my family.

My kids are here. Their daddy will be here in a few days. Suddenly, I miss him, you, her so badly my belly hurts.

“I miss my people,” I tell Lazaro.

And for a few minutes, I do… And then…

Jane: “What the hell is that?”

I’m looking at something strange-beautiful-amazing, I’m in Havana, at a key historical moment in Cuba’s continuing Revolution-Evolution, and I’m just here, and I’m not thinking about you at all.


But in the evening, at “home,” on the verandah that is my writing room, in the quiet of a noisy Havana night–I’m thinking about you. Yes, now, right now, I’m thinking about you. There are so many things I want to tell you about. I’m worried that when I get back home, though, the intensity of what I thought, felt will be gone, replaced by the record of iPhone photos and a fading memory. Will I be able to really tell you what effect this city, this country had on me?

Probably not.

So. I write it down. Messily. Urgently. Before the intensity of “here, now” is diluted, habituated.

I write:

“I am exploring Havana at the pace of three children, and for this, I am very grateful. Left to myself, I would binge and get drunk on this city, make myself sick with too much experience crammed into (always) too little time. The children force me to move more slowly—to pace myself and so to look carefully, to reflect… to digest.”



And then, I go to bed, not with Jose Marti or Carlos Pintado, but with Rumi:

Soul comes wearing a shape,
with fragrance,
with the new green,
with a trembling hand,
with generosity.

No, that implies a being apart.
Companion and confessor at once,
red and yellow,
you join me in the gathering,
and you stay away.

You come late.
You are the source of two lovings,
fire one day,
ice another.

– Rumi

catch up: ANNOTATED table of contents for #postcardsfromcuba project


Trio on benches at laundry park3

Admit it–you’ve always wanted to be a patron of the arts. If you enjoy the Postcards project, please express your delight and support by making a donation via PayPal:

PayPal - The safer, easier way to pay online!

You: “But how much should I give?”

Jane: “I get $1 each time a sell a traditionally published book, so my bar’s set really low, love. Want to buy me a cup of coffee? That’s $4.75 if you’ll spring for a mocha or latte. If you’re feeling extra-generous–let’s split a bottle of $25 wine, shall we?”

If you’d like to make a contribution but have PayPal issues, email me at nothingbythebook@ and we’ll work something out.

Or, ya know. Just hang out with us and enjoy. That be cool too.


“Jane” / Tweet tweet @NothingBTBook / Instagram NothingByTheBook


LANDED here for the first time? Let me catch you up:

Series 1 of Postcards from Cuba is now fully live. Check out the annotated table of contents for a tour, or, if you prefer, hop over to the chronological table of contents.

And if you like what you read/hear/see, please consider expressing your delight by becoming a patron of this project via PayPal:

PayPal - The safer, easier way to pay online!

You: Why?

Jane: Because you’ve always wanted to be a patron of the arts. / Tweet tweet @NothingBTBook / Instagram NothingByTheBook

Cigar Smoke Selfie Modified


For Mom. Who reminded me I come from a people who know how to shove.


Before you read and listen: 

The Northern Alberta fires are still raging. If you want to help—CASH IS KING. It gets people all the other stuff they need (and evacuees don’t have a place to put stuff anyway). If you have friends and family who are directly affected—or know that family or friends of friends  are directly affected—put cash or gift cards directly into their hands. Now.

Otherwise—give to the Red Cross. If you’re in Calgary, please consider visiting the Pop-Up Bake Sale Fundraiser for Fort McMurray organized by Sunnyside and Hillhurst kids on SATURDAY, MAY 7, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Kensington Road and 11th Street N.W. (between Pages Book Store and Peacock Boutique). 100% of the proceeds will be donated to the Red Cross Alberta Fires emergency fund.

For other ways to help from Calgary specifically, here is a list of “How To Help Fort McMurray” resources curated by the CBC. It includes Facebook groups that will connect you directly with evacuees looking for housing, clothing etc.

You can also donate to the Red Cross just by texting:

26-Fort McMurray

Our government is matching all donated funds. Text “REDCROSS” to 30333 to automatically donate $5; “REDCROSS” to 45678 to donate $10. Visit MobileGiving or the Red Cross Alberta Fires Emergency Appeal for more information.


Thank you. And now, your listening postcard…

…and its written version:


On the weekends, half the Cuban men who have a car are flat on their backs under it or bent in a J over its engine, finding ways of making it go. Half of the men who don’t have cars are doing the same thing, at the side of their brothers, uncles, or friends.

All the other men—and women and children—are crammed onto the bus.

Not a bus.

The bus.

This bus.

This bus I am trying to get onto myself, with three children who don’t know how to shove.

Every time we get on—and we do get on every time—it feels like a major miracle.

26-Bus Stop Sign


The first time we attempt to get off the bus, we have this conversation:

Jane: “The plan is—if you ever don’t get off the bus with us, get off at the next stop and WAIT there. I will be running in your direction as quickly as I can.”

Flora: “Shouldn’t I run to meet you?”

Jane: “No, god, no. Suppose the bus turns and you don’t? Stay at the stop. I will find you.”


The third time we ride the bus:

Ender: “I miss Daddy. And I miss Maggie.” (That’s our piddly Boston Terrier.) “But what I really miss is our car.”

26-Ender riding shotgun


The twenty-fourth (or so ) time we ride the bus:

Cinder: “You know what my favourite thing about being back home will be?”

Flora: “Flushing toilet paper down the toilet after you wipe your ass?”

Cinder: “No. That will be my second favourite thing. My first favourite thing will be not riding the bus.”

Jane: “Really? Cause I rather like it.”


They don’t believe me. Do you?

Listen. This is what you see on a bus in Havana:


He’s carrying a flat of 30 eggs, and yes,
he’s going to do it, he is going to get on that bus
–how else will he get home?
Permiso, and bodies surge, squish, make room.
“Those eggs won’t survive,” says my son
and I see us, covered in yolks, head to toe
–but they survive, they must, he bought them
and he is going to get them home, he is.


We won’t get on. I don’t see how, there are
too many people and you’re so little, no,
we’re going to get squished and die—Nino!
someone yells, the sea of people parts, and
we flow onto the bus—I count heads, yes,
all three children made it, no thank you,
I don’t need a seat—oh, for the little one,
yes thank you, can I hold your bag, gracias.


It looks like a date, and he is so in love with her
and she with him, hands dancing around
each other’s bodies, faces, tangled in her hair
–he makes sure she does not fall when
the curves and sudden stops come, and she
leans into him much more often than she needs to
but now, she’s getting off here, Ciao, no kiss
–could they have just been strangers?



But what I will remember the most, I think… is this:

Ender, bored, exhausted, sinking onto the floor of a filthy Havana bus… and poking his fingers into the holes of Flora and Cinder’s crocs.

Cinder: “Can you make him stop?”

Jane: “At least he’s not touching other people’s feet.”

Ender: “Can I?”



This is the part where I usually beg for money.

This week, instead of asking you to donate to the Postcards from Cuba project, I’m asking you to make a small donation to the Red Cross to support the people affected by the on-going wildfires in Northern Alberta. Our government is matching all donated funds. Text “REDCROSS” to 30333 to automatically donate $5; “REDCROSS” to 45678 to donate $10. Visit MobileGiving or the Red Cross Alberta Fires Emergency Appeal for more information.

If you’re in Calgary, please consider visiting the Pop-Up Bake Sale Fundraiser for Fort McMurray organized by Sunnyside and Hillhurst kids on SATURDAY, MAY 7, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Kensington Road and 11th Street N.W. (between Pages Book Store and Peacock Boutique). 100% of the proceeds will be donated to the Red Cross Alberta Fires emergency fund.


catch up

I was in Cuba before Obama. And I want to tell you all about it… in pictures… in words… through sound:

PfC: introduction

So, I introduce the project, and then…
…I shower you with pictures:

PfC: I haven’t found a post office yet… (image)
PfC: what are you looking at? (image)
PfC: Acuario Nacional de Cuba (image)
PfC: zombie Fiat (image)
PfC: sharp edges & powerlines (image)

Then (drum roll, please) release the first listening postcard:

PfC: blame it on Hemingway (post + photographs + podcast)

It’s not really about Hemingway, but you know, #hemingway is a good hashtag.

Next I show you:

PfC: the ugliest building in Havana (image)

& then I teach you some

PfC: Cuban math (post + photographs + podcast) & I also pick up / get picked up by a 25 year old Cuban boy. Seriously. Check it out, and then check out

PfC: this is also Havana (image)

& find out why I’m going to hell:

PfC: Necropolis (images + riffs)

after which you can watch how the entire country of Cuba is trying to prevent me from buying eggs:

PfC: egg hunt (post + photographs + podcast)

then try to figure out what this photo’s all about:

PfC: the view from here (image)

& then pray for me. Just pray:

PfC: we will survive (post + photographs + podcast)

Thank you. Now come with me to a beach. No, not that kind of the beach. The kind of beach that isn’t kept pristine for tourists:

PfC: but you’re not going to make us swim there, are you? (image)

& now you’ve got to meet Jack Gilbert, and understand what having children (in Cuba, anywhere) really means:

PfC: and she asks, is being childless good for a poet (post + photographs + podcast)

Now, have a look at a haunted house:

PfC: haunted house (image)

& then cringe as I explain to Flora the relationship between poverty and crime:

PfC: but is it safe? (post + photographs + podcast)

Then meditate on this photo

PfC: through bent bars (image)

& listen to me try to buy matches:

PfC: matches (post + totally unrelated photographs + podcast)

then take on a hustler:

PfC: get out of my dreams get into my car & pay me 2.5X the going rate pls (images + riff)

& then fall in love:

PfC: Lazaro’s farm (post + photographs + podcast)

and then decompress with:

PfC: a splash of orange, three versions (images)

Now get ready to get all political and cultural with:

PfC: flora, fauna + waiting (post+ images + podcast)

& now you’re all caught up. Until next week…


“Jane” / Tweet tweet @NothingBTBook / Instagram NothingByTheBook


LANDED here for the first time? Let me catch you up:

Series 1 of Postcards from Cuba is now fully live. Check out the annotated table of contents for a tour, or, if you prefer, hop over to the chronological table of contents.


POSTCARDS FROM CUBA: and she asks, is being childless good for a poet?

“for the women I have
been privileged to
in extreme.”

Today’s postcard is very special. Listen:


and/or read… and tell me what you think.


I’m on the verandah, smoking a cigar—yes, again, no, I’m not violating the spirit of our agreement at all—and…

Actually, first this:


I’m in the bathroom, about to sit on the toilet and…

Jane: “Why? Why? Why? Why do you guys always come in and ask me questions when I’m trying to pee? Can’t it wait?

Flora: “Well, it could. But you see, when you’re peeing, you’re sitting down and not moving and not writing, and so it’s pretty easy to get your attention.”

Jane: “Get! Out!”

Cinder: “She’s cranky. Maybe she needs to poop.”

Jane: “Out! Out! Just wait for me outside the door.”

Cinder: “We’d do that, Mom, but we’ve figured out…

Flora: “…that sometimes you go to the bathroom just to hide.”

Well. True that.



So. I’m sitting on the verandah, smoking a cigar, because…

Ender: “Are you done yet?”

Jane: “No, not yet.”

…they’re good 21st century children and they know second-hand smoke, as well as the smoking act itself, gives you cancer, and so…

…for the time that it takes me to smoke a cigar, I am on the verandah, completely, blissfully…

Ender: “Are you done now?”

Jane: “Not quite.”


Well, mostly.


My reading while here is the Paris Review Interviews, and I’ve now left Ernest Hemingway for Jack Gilbert—it’s okay if you haven’t heard of him, I haven’t either until the interview—and now I wonder how it is possible I have lived a life, at all, without him in it, and so you must meet him too.

A quote from Jack:

“Being alive is so extraordinary I don’t know why people limit it to riches, pride, security—all of those things life is built on. People miss so much because they want money and comfort and pride, a house and a job to pay for the house. And they have to get a car. You can’t see anything from a car. It’s moving too fast. People take vacations. That’s their reward—the vacation. Why not the life? Vacations are second-rate. People deprive themselves of so much of their lives—until it’s too late. Though I understand that often you don’t have a choice.”

I fall for Gilbert but hard. But then, there’s this exchange:

“Interviewer: Is being childless good for a poet?

Gilbert: I could never have lived my life the way I have if I had children. There used to be a saying that every baby is a failed novel. I couldn’t have roamed or taken so many chances or lived a life of deprivation. I couldn’t have wasted great chunks of my life.”



Jack, sweetheart…

Actually, it’s not the answer. It’s the question.

Despite the brilliance and aliveness of Gilbert’s responses, I’ve been struggling with the quality of the interviewer’s questions from question two (“Did you ever think you’d live this long?”—what the fuck?), and at this “is being childless good for a poet” question, before I read Gilbert’s answer, I want to throttle her. (What will she ask next? “Is being a man good for a poet?” “Has being a vegetarian affected your writing?” “Do you write better in cold weather or hot weather?”)

After I read Gilbert’s answer, I laugh.

Like most breeders, I find the childless so sweetly naïve.

I would never, ever presume to tell anyone to have children. (Although, to be frank, I have at times been tempted to tell people they should not have children, frequently after they’ve already reproduced without asking me whether they should do so, but I do keep my mouth shut then as well, most of the time.)

If you do have children already, I do want to tell you this: do not use them an excuse to NOT do the things you need to do.

Because… martyrs make terrible parents. Not particularly good lovers or life partners either.



I want you to forgive Jack, though, in case you got angry with him when you read that quote—did you, my love?


Doing Poetry / Jack Gilbert

Poem, you sonofabitch, it’s bad enough
that I embarrass myself working so hard
to get it right even a little,
and that little grudging and awkward.
But it’s afterwards I resent, when
the sweet sure should hold me like
a trout in the bright summer stream.
There should be at least briefly
access to your glamour and tenderness.
But there’s always this same old
dissatisfaction instead.

Precisely, that, yes. And also, this:

The Great Fires / Jack Gilbert

Love is apart from all things.
Desire and excitement are nothing beside it.
It is not the body that finds love.
What leads us there is the body.
What is not love provokes it.
What is not love quenches it.
Love lays hold of everything we know.
The passions which are called love
also change everything to a newness
at first. Passion is clearly the path
but does not bring us to love.
It opens the castle of our spirit
so that we might find the love which is
a mystery hidden there.
Love is one of many great fires.
Passion is a fire made of many woods,
each of which gives off its special odor
so we can know the many kinds
that are not love. Passion is the paper
and twigs that kindle the flames
but cannot sustain them. Desire perishes
because it tries to be love.
Love is eaten away by appetite.
Love does not last, but it is different
from the passions that do not last.
Love lasts by not lasting.
Isaiah said each man walks in his own fire
for his sins. Love allows us to walk
in the sweet music of our particular heart.

…oh, and just one more. This is one of his first, first poems, from 1962, before he had really lived…

Between Poems / Jack Gilbert

A lady asked me
what poets do
between poems.
Between passions
and visions. I said
that between poems
I provided for death.
She meant as to jobs
and commonly.
Commonly, I provide
against my death,
which comes on.
And give thanks
for the women I have
been privileged to
in extreme.


You’re not tempted to ask, are you, what any of this has to do with Havana and Cuba? Because the answer is—everything—but I sure as fuck am not planning to connect Jack Gilbert to Che Guavara.

Flora, by the way, keeps on forgetting Che’s name and calls him “That hipster-looking cute guy who’s on all the posters? You know, the one who had the good luck to get assassinated before he got old and ugly? ”



Back to Jack Gilbert:

“This is hard—when I try to explain, it sounds false. But I don’t know any other way to say it. I’m so grateful. There’s nothing I’ve wanted that I haven’t had. Michiko dying, I regret terribly, and losing Linda’s love, I regret equally. … But I still feel grateful. It’s almost unfair to have been as happy as I’ve been. I didn’t earn it: I had a lot of luck. But I was also very, very stubborn. I was determined to get what I wanted as a life.”

Me too, Jack. Me too.


On the verandah, cigar smoke sticking to my dressing gown, Ender in my lap. We watch geckos crawl on the ceiling, and the moon peek over the powerlines and old school television antenae.

Jane: “You ready to read books and do bedtime, dude?”

He nods. Negotiates for the right to light the incense stick. I read, caress, love. Turn out the light and sit beside him until I hear his breath turn to sleep. Something like a poem dances to the beat of our conjoined breaths; it goes…

My son’s breathing,
soft-yet-loud, my lullaby
as my heartbeat is his.

…look, it’s not quite a haiku. I laugh, love. Tiptoe out of the bedroom, and gather up the elder two. Read them their bedtime novel—which is The City of Ember, by Jeanne DuPrau—a post-apocalyptic young adult novel, strangely apropos to be reading in Havana, but more on that in another postcard)… and then, back to the verandah.

Rum. Laptop. Notebooks.


I’m in Havana

I. Am. In. Havana.

16-Favourite light

I am so stupidly happy in this moment, I’m having a hard time breathing.

It’s not the diesel stink from the street, or the fumes from generator that’s just kicked in ‘cause we’ve had another blackout.

It’s exhilaration and gratitude.

I realize this will be in violation of the spirit if not the letter of our agreement… but I think I might… I think I might smoke one more cigar now.

You understand why?


LANDED here for the first time? Let me catch you up:

Series 1 of Postcards from Cuba is now fully live. Check out the annotated table of contents for a tour, or, if you prefer, hop over to the chronological table of contents.

If you enjoy the postcard project, you can express your delight and support by  sponsoring a Postcard or  making a donation via PayPal:

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Be a patron, not just a consumer.

(All the cool kids are doing it. Truth.)

($1 is about what a writer gets every time she sells a traditionally published book. $5 is over the top generosity. Feel free to add as many zeros as your affluence allows. 😉 )

If you’d like to make a contribution but have PayPal issues, email me at nothingbythebook@ and we’ll work something out.

Or, ya know. Just hang out with us and enjoy.


“Jane” / Tweet tweet @NothingBTBook / Instagram NothingByTheBook

16-Childless Poet Banner

Road trip survival tips when travelling with infants–not

We leave for Manitoba tomorrow, a 1600-or-so kilometre drive (1000 miles) that we’re planning to do over two leisurely days of at least eight hours in the car each day. The kids are aged 10, 7.5 and 2.8 now. The elder two are awesome road trippers. The littlest one… well, there’s a reason we didn’t go anywhere last year. We think we’re prepared (we’ve got snacks, games, electronics, strategies galore AND ear plugs)… but we’re also a little worried.

On the plus side, no matter what happens, it can’t be worse than our first car trip after Flora was born. In this vignette, she’s five months old. Cinder’s three. Their parents are in… hell.

June 27, 2005—Calgary to Edmonton. 300 km. 

6:45 a.m.—Both children in the car, unfortunately awake but, fortunately, notscreaming. So far, so good. We’re leaving only 15 minutes later than planned.We will still beat the rush hour out of town. We hope.

6:53 a.m.—Speeding at 120 km/h in the far left lane on Deerfoot Trail whenCinder starts rocking back and forth and saying, “Oh, oh, oh, oh.” “Do you have to pee?” Sean cries out, panicked about spending the next 300 km in a pee-smelling car. “No,” says Cinder. “Oh, oh, oh. Yes. Oh, yes! Oh, oh,oh! I have to pee! I have to pee right now!” “Hold it, sweetie, hold it!” Sean hollers. “Mama’s going to pull right over. No, what are you doing, not onDeerfoot! Wait until 32nd…” Mama pulls off a wicked lane change, screeches around the corner on the 32nd Avenue exit, and comes to a bumpy stop at ared light. “Oh, oh, oh!” cries Cinder. “Hold it, hold it, hold it!” screams Sean.

“We’re almost there,” say I as I take a sharp right into a parking lot. Sean leaps out of the car before I stop and runs around to get Cinder out. He scoops him out of the car seat and pulls off his pajama pants just as a fountain of pee starts flowing. And back into the car. A quick wave to the building security guard, who watches, mildly amused, or possibly disgusted, as he chews on the end of a cigarette.

6:54 a.m.—Aborted attempt to get coffee and TimBits (“for the peeing, Mama, I need a treat for the peeing!”) at the 32nd Avenue Tim Horton’s. There are two dozen cars lined up at the drive-through, and, with the three-year-old freshly peed and the five-month-old not-yet-screaming, we are not wasting any time waiting in line. We pull back onto Deerfoot.

6:55 a.m.—Three-year-old starts agitating for his TimBit. The commotion starts the five-month-old meowing.

7:00 a.m.—The meowing escalates into shrieking.

7:05 a.m.—The shrieking starts shattering eardrums. “Cinder,” Mama pleads into the back seat. “Can you give Flora a toy to settle her?”

7:06 a.m.—Exalted silence.

“Thank you, Cinder,” I say. “What did you give Flora?”

“My toe to suck, Mama,” Cinder says happily.


“Don’t worry, Mommy. I remembered. I took off my shoe.”

7:20 a.m.—We pull into the Tim Horton’s at Airdrie, Cinder’s toe no longer inFlora’s mouth (“Flora’s trying to bite my toe, Mommy! I’m taking it back!”) .Sean goes in to get coffee and TimBits. I free Flora from the restrains of thecarseat; she latches onto the nipple while I’m still struggling with the buckles.“Can I go in with Daddy?” Cinder asks. I counter with the “you have no shoes”argument. “But, Mommy,” he says, “I took my shoes off so Flora could suck my toes. We can just put them back on.”

7:25 a.m.—Flora interrupts her boobie-sucking to explode. I commence changing her, in the car, on my lap. “Stinky!” cries Cinder, not being of the camp that maintains breastfed baby poops don’t smell. “Gross!” cry I, as Irealize that the diaper contains only about a quarter of the total poop amount.

7:35 a.m.—Sean returns with the coffee and TimBits. He stares at the dirty diaper and pile of mustard-coloured wipes on his seat. He thinks about saying something, then sighs instead and gathers them up. “Give me the sleeper,” he says, extrapolating from the number of wipes—and the fact that Flora is now wearing new clothes—that we had a blow out. “I’ll go rinse it off,” I say. “I have to wash my hands anyway.” “I wasn’t going to wash it,” he says, appalled. “I was just going to throw it out with the diaper.” “But it’s a brand new sleeper!”I protest.

7:37 a.m. —Having succeeded in transferring some of the poop on the sleeper to my hands, elbows, and clothes, I toss the sleeper into the Tim Horton’s garbage.

7:45 a.m.—We leave Airdrie. “It took us an hour to get to Airdrie?” Sean laments. “The TimBits are all gone,” Cinder announces. Flora falls asleep. “Don’t worry,” I say. “They’ll both sleep the rest of the way.”

7:50 a.m.—I stand knee-deep in water in a ditch beside Highway 2, a barefoot Cinder, pants around his ankles, squirming in my arms. “Okay, baby, pee,” I say. He squirms some more. “Mommy, take off my pants. Quick! Quick! I’m going to poop.” And a row of transport trucks zooms by……

11:45 a.m.—We meander through the extremely slow traffic on GatewayBoulevard past the Edmonton city limits sign. “Remember when this used to be a less-than-three hour drive?” I say wistfully. Cinder, who fell asleep a mere four minutes earlier, snores gently. Flora lets out a loud belch.

A more common losing cup.

I’m on the road and then in the wilds for the next 10-12 days, and generally unplugged. I’ve got a few posts auto-scheduled for your enjoyment, but I won’t be able to respond to comments until I get back.

Did you catch Happy Canada Day, made complicated yesterday? It’s worth reading.