week of June 19 - 25, 2006
Margarita Engle and CL Bledsoe
BECOME A POET OF THE WEEK
click. here.for. submission .guidelines
Margarita Engle is a botanist and the Cuban-American author of three books about the island, most recently The Poet Slave of Cuba, a Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano (Henry Holt & Co., 2006). Short works appear in a wide variety of anthologies, chapbooks, and journals such as Atlanta Review, Bilingual Review, California Quarterly, Caribbean Writer, Hawai'i Pacific Review, and Poetry Salzburg. Recent awards include a 2005 Willow Review Poetry Award, and semi-finalist selection for the 2006 Nimrod Hardman/Pablo Neruda Poetry Prize. Margarita lives in Clovis, California, where she enjoys hiking and helping her husband with his volunteer work for a wilderness search-and-rescue dog training program.
The following work is Copyright © 2006, and owned by Margarita Engle and may not be distributed or reprinted in any form whatsoever without written permission from the author.
A Poet Speaks to Birds
I was born in miniature
never heroic, always secretive.
When you sang in my presence
I daydreamed a courtyard, walls of air, roof of sky.
When you flew above me
I grew wings of palm leaf and wind-harp.
Your hollow bones recognized me
by the melody of flutes never carved.
Our short lives became entwined
like guitar strings or waves at high tide.
Feel free to change my life story---
you can say that I was born small and featherless
haunted by such a powerful need to migrate back to the floating island
that like a swan with clipped wings, I set out on foot
crossing savannahs and oceans
the natural homelands of wildcats and sharks.
In a high Andean village
where all the men have gone away
to work in distant lands, money appears
as if conjured.
The women use it to build sturdy houses
with brightly painted walls.
In the patios they plant roses in rainbow hues
and speak of a time when their ancestors
Strands of cotton and wool glide through their hands
like rivers. Kettles of heated water are stirred
dyes brewed from wildflower bracts
steeping like tea.
The colored threads are dried in sunlight.
Warp and weft become the latitude and longitude
of circular hopes.
The woven shawls are embroidered
with roses and birds, a garden of petals and wings
wrapped around the shoulders of macaw-women
accustomed to waiting
Each blossom lasts only one night,
then droops and closes.
The climbing stems are scalloped and spiny,
clambering up walls, trees, and river banks.
To watch a flower open,
sit in moonlight, and wait.
At the heart of a nest of pale gold male stamens,
the female style resembles a silvery star
glowing within the huge white blossom,
surrounded by an enormous calyx
of sharp red spears, as if the flower,
with the help of birds and mice,
has dressed herself in an armored collar
provided by her fairy godmother.
They call her the Cinderella Plant.
She never stays long, but insomniacs and princes
are always overjoyed that she came to visit.
My house is filled with objects so familiar
that I rarely notice their beauty.
The Apache burden basket and Cuban musical instruments,
carved gourds and miniature elephants.
A carousel horse enclosed in the silent glass globe
of a music box so seldom played.
My father's painting of the last cornfield in Los Angeles
just before the rich soil was paved.
My mother's geometrically embroidered ornamental spheres
made from scraps of shimmering thread.
Framed photographs of my husband and children standing
in the rainbow-striped glory of a flowering Ranunculus field.
Viewed through dust and distractions, each parcel of beauty
mails itself across the room, into my eyes.
The world is unwrapped---even a stray speck of dust
reveals its true nature---the intricate prism.
Each of my refugee grandmothers lost
her second language upon reaching
the age of childhood reclaimed.
English became a mere wisp
of nursing home half-dreams.
First my Ukrainian-Jewish grandma began speaking
only in the near-silence of ice skates
on the shimmering ponds of her youth
Then my Cuban-Catholic abuelita
who had always chattered like wild parrots
in palm fronds high above red tile roofs
began murmuring softly
her voice a mere shadow of feathers
He preached with food and clothes
instead of words.
On Christmas, he preached with a turkey
and bread, carried out to the strawberry fields
where Guatemaltecos and Mixtecas were hidden
in shanties of cardboard and plastic.
He never spoke of his own exile
from Cuba, the island of his birth.
He did not try to change the flow
of history or rivers,
but each Sunday morning,
in tomato fields
along a southern California river's
he offered the farworkers his companionship
of breakfast, hats, shirts, and boots.
Others watched him, and learned
how to dress the weary world
in hot meals and wide-brimmed
halos of shade.
Lost explorers wander across the wide pages
of ornithological tomes.
Tundra swans in tropical Cuba,
an Orinoco goose, the northern wheatear---
avian travelers too weary for the ordeal
of migration, they pause to rest
on the island--some stay.
Vagrancy is reciprocal, birds of the tropics
roam northward, the magnificent frigate bird
blown off its course by hurricane winds
ends its days as a curiosity for birdwatchers
in New Jersey.
A stray lazuli bunting
perceived as too beautiful for freedom
is caged and exhibited
on a distant shore.
CL Bledsoe's first poetry collection Anthem is forthcoming in 2007. He was nominated for a 2006 Pushcart and is an editor for Ghoti Magazine http://www.ghotimag.com
The following work is Copyright © 2006, and owned by CL Bledsoe and may not be distributed or reprinted in any form whatsoever without written permission from the author.
We'd hoped to be a certain kind of people
who'd donate regularly to charities,
phone the ASPCA and report the couple
across the street for letting their dog
wander in traffic, eat what we knead, and share
the produce from the garden we'd plant
as soon as we had soil to call our own - so many truths
we'd hoped to live up to.
Instead we listen to the screech of brakes
dodging the stray dog, and shake our heads,
stick solicitations for donations in a pile we call Someday;
but it takes up so much room. Dinner from a box
is boiling over on a stove we manage to keep
moderately clean. Dust doesn't cover our things
as much as our plans. This is something to be proud of,
at least. A person must find solace wherever
it lands; brush the crumbs of others' sloppy
meals from its wings, and place it somewhere it will keep,
like a leftover piece of chicken and some peas
in the fridge - so you have something to take with you tomorrow.
(originally published in Margie)
Driving Around, Looking in Other People's Windows
We were surprised that so many of you sit, fully clothed,
in separate rooms, watching TV. Sometimes you have fences,
and through the cracks we see your pale, bored children awash
in the glow of video games while not doing drugs.
More of you than you would think leave your blinds open
in rooms where you don't commit murder,
your bloodless hands stained with popcorn butter which you eat
on clean, soft sofas we say we'll have some day.
We've seen you, hairy and shirtless with veined, white paunches
standing over the bodies of lawnmowers you wished you knew how to fix.
Whole families of you not speaking, sitting separate in the same rooms
with living room sets we'd like to find for a good price.
We soak the scenes of your tasteful kitchens up like gravy on biscuits,
savoring all the lives we might someday lead.
This is how we digest our one meal out a week; our Saturday night splurge.
"You should've known it would be like this," she says, turning back
onto a major artery and angling towards home, "when the first time
I told you I loved you, I was drunk."
(originally published in Amherst Review)
Tornado in the Garden
The soil is dark and heavy with rain,
but not heavy enough. Soon, all we've planted
will fly into the vortex. Radish leaves shake
as the wind scrapes its belly along our garden
like a snake and pounds its head against our walls.
The cucumbers abandon their vines and bend down
to touch the earth in a limbo. Clouds argue overhead
while we huddle in the doorway like eavesdropping children.
She is humming a piece she's been practicing for weeks.
Her fingers find their places in the air,
her arm glides to move the bow
along the body of the violin in her mind.
"We're gonna lose it," I say.
"Radio said one's already touched down in Prairie Grove."
"It's music," she says. "All music comes from wind."
The tornado siren shrieks downtown.
I turn to drag her inside but she's already gone and instead
I hear music. She's standing in the hall, playing.
"Tornado," I yell, "in town!"
But she's not listening. There's a crack,
as though the wind has broken the back of the day
and the lights go out. I race to find candles, matches,
but she never stops. "Listen," she says
as I huddle beside her in the hallway, and she plays.
Outside, the wind is whipping the ground like a father's belt.
"Listen," she says. "I've got it."
(originally published in The Potomac Review)