THE CIGAR ROLLER by Pablo Medina (Grove), 176 pages, $21 cloth. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Read the cigar roller and your experience of eating a mango will never be the same. You will always think of poet Pablo Medina's description of Amadeo, a stroke patient desperate to taste one but unable to say so. A man paralyzed by a stroke sits in his nursing home bed and remembers.
Not exactly a warm and toasty premise. But in Medina's hands it becomes something truly beautiful.
The story veers from the nursing home, where Amadeo cannot control his bodily functions, to his past, where he was never able to control his basic desires.
As a young man, he emigrates to Tampa from pre-revolutionary Cuba and continues to ply his trade as a cigar roller and indulge his appetites for food, drink and women. He can't shake those desires even as his useless shell of a body is treated by a scolding nurse, an abusive orderly and the nun who prays for him. While the sister intones her Hail Marys, he speculates about what's going on under her habit.
The people tending him in his hospital bed assume he's a vegetable, unable to move, hear, feel or think. But he can hear everything, the clock ticking, the garbage being collected outside his window, the orderly spewing contempt for his diaper-wrapped body.
And he's thinking all the time: of his two sons who never visit, of the third who died, of the wives he betrayed and of the glorious precision demanded by the craft of rolling tobacco into a perfectly proportioned cigar.
As you read this slim, beautiful book, you'll probably detest Amadeo. But I promise you will feel for him.