El Cabana

by suecartledge

hot-coffee-illustration-id487796658I wrote this poem back in 1994, in happy memory of my sister Elizabeth. She was still alive, but living in Adelaide, South Australia, hundreds of kilometres distant from Launceston, Tasmania, where we both grew up, and where I was still living at the time.

Elizabeth was nine years older than me, the oldest of the three children, and I was “the baby”.  She was the best big sister a little girl could have, and the best time of all was when she was “grown-up” enough to take me on short holidays with her, or to have little adventures together, such as I describe in this poem.

The chorus “Just knock three times…” was taken from a catchy Latin-American pop song from the late 1950s, Hernando’s Hideaway.

El Cabana

for Elizabeth

Just knock three times and whisper low

that you and I were sent by Joe,

then climb the stair and you are there –

you’re in Hernando’s Hideaway. Olé!

When I was eleven and you were twenty

the world began to spin faster

horizons that seemed firmly bounded

began to stretch and waver

shimmering like hot air or a blotchy mirror

as the old shellac 50s ground to a halt

scratching and crackling when the needle won’t lift

and the 60s swung onto the turntable.

Maybe the grownups didn’t notice but you and I

poised on the brink of adulthood and adolescence

caught the scent – coffee!

Just knock three times and whisper low

that you and I were sent by Joe,

then climb the stair and you are there –

you’re in Hernando’s Hideaway. Olé!

On the shady side of the square beyond

the furrier’s rich pelts and condescending airs

above the hairdresser and the greengrocer

climb a twisting stair and you are there

smoky haze hazy lights seductive smell

tiny tables black steel legs boomeranged laminex

ashtrays overflowing half smoked ends

steel Vesuvius hissing gushing dark liquor

sexy exciting threatening italian men

in white shirts tight pants sharp shoes

there was music or was it just the steam spurting

El Cabana.

Just knock three times and whisper low

that you and I were sent by Joe,

then climb the stair and you are there –

you’re in Hernando’s Hideaway. Olé!