Carlos Cumpián

Baile Con Tito Puente

Dancers go, go, go---
Have merengue, will travel
across the night club floor
you might be making people
Cha-cha-cha to music in
Chicago or Mexico City,
San Juan or Honolulu,
far from your training grounds of 
The Palladium Theater in New York,
where going to the top meant
raining on your timbales
four times a week
a thunderous danceable storm.

It was after music studies in Cuba
that you joined other masters
of the urban Afro-Latino-Caribeño sound,
matching beat-for-beat energy
with the leaders: Mario Banza,
Novo Morales and, of course, 
Frank “Machito” Guillo
to perform before Blacks,
Latinos, and Whites who 
would venture into the night,
swayed by the power inside
your Puerto Rican decorated drums,
sizzling salsa compositions transforming
live audiences across the world’s seven continents.

Since you were a boy,
your guaguanco spirit has been burning
and churning your rhythmic hands,
expressed on the side of an empty coffee can,
or across the bridge connecting to Manhattan,
helping you become the “King of the drums”
whom we have loved for a weekend 
or for all of fifty years.

Because of your commitment to music,
beating praises for bamba-samba, and the mambo
Katapán-tum, Katapán-tum, Ti-to Ti-to Puen-te,
making powerful party music for half a century,
whenever a bembe-slapping conga meets you Tito,
an island sun shines in every Puerto Rican soul.

Carlos Cumpián a Chicagoan originally from Texas.  Human Cicada (Prickly Pear Publishing) marks his fifth poetry collection: Coyote Sun (March Abrazo Press), Latino Rainbow (Children’s Press/Scholastic Books) Armadillo Charm (Tia Chucha Press), and 14 Abriles: Poems. In 2000, he was recognized with a Gwendolyn Brooks Significant Illinois Poet Award. Cumpián has been included in more than thirty poetry anthologies, including the Norton Anthology Telling Stories.  Before becoming a teacher, he worked with various social service organizations such as ASPIRA and public relations for the Chicago Public Library.