Transplanted to California
from her native sugar-island of Cuba
my mother made us eat wheat germ and carob.
She swore that sodas and candy bars
were poisonous. There were no Cuban treats in our house, no dulce de leche or coconut flan,
no slivers of candied pineapple or merengue, no peanut ice cream, guava paste,or Cuban coffee--
equal parts syrupy liquid, crystals of sugar, and thick, pale cream.
It was only after I'd grown up and moved away that I would come back to Los Angeles for a visit
and find my mother in the kitchen
boiling an unopened can of condensed milk
for one full hour, until the shiny metal cylinder
submerged in roiling bubbles
was filled with caramelized Cuba
instead of ordinary sugar and cream.
We ate the dense, improvised dulce de leche
with a spoon--sweetness of milk, essence of lean island cattle, and emerald green fields
of sugarcane, a tropical image so rich
that we both grew dizzy
with sunlight and palm trees--