The Bomba Man and The Blues Man want me to play a set.The Bomba Man unstraps and sets down his tattered leather drumand The Blues Man stretches his beaten-down guitaragainst it and they tell me Escoge, Choose. And I still hear the echofrom their last duet, how the strings bounce off the drum’s skin, make ghostout of the atmosphere, bend the soundwaves, wonder how I’ll help this jam
session expand. And I’m aware of how this has always been my jam—choosing between percussion and string, pound and stroke. So I sit,fully aware that the audience is waiting. Do they know what goeson in my blood? How often I’m told to choose between a barril’sheartbeat and the breath of guitar strings? How often echoesof both slosh around in my veins? My English name picks guitar
and bluesy murmurs pound my ears so of course I turn guitarrainto cuá, try to beat this drum with it but the sound jamsitself down my ears and into the crowd. And the boos echoagainst my skin, this piel café. How the notes siftinto my tissues and as they crawl through my genes I drownin the crowd’s harsh glares. How I take this as sign they want drum’s ghosting.
And I pick up the cuá, think the trucutú trucutú fantasmawill make up for my failed bomba but hear Pa’l carajo and grab the guitar,try to pluck its strings with the stick and my eardrumstell me what I already know: how the crowd will jeer and jamtheir disapproval in my face. My stomach starts to unsettleand I can feel The Bomba Man and The Blues Man’s fingers echoing
inside of me, pounding my colon, strumming my intestines ’til they echolike the perfect duet, blending of leather skin and string, singing niche spiritualsall throughout my insides. My lungs fill with their song, make my breath setfire and I’m forced to repent for my failed blues, fall to my knees, drop the guitar.The Blues Man cradles it, instructs Boy, don’t you know the feeling is in the funk, enjambednotes and chords? The Bomba Man tells me It’s in the harmony of subidor and buleador,
m’ijo as he reclaims his cuá and saunters off, dragging away his misused drum.And as the two start to play again I hear their lesson, how the guitar-strings echotie themselves around the heavy wood of the drum. How their perfect descargahas never been about separation, but about letting all the ghostsrise from their sleep and sing. And as The Blues Man’s fingers glide the guitarI realize the audience are those ghosts, cheering on how The Bomba Man’s hands set.
And how could this set be anything but dream? Hypnotism of drumaided by ethereal float of guitar notes. And of course I hear its echoas I wake. I’m always chasing ghosts—can’t you see that’s my jam?