How do you follow up the multiple award winning book, The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano? Margarita Engle continues to provide a window into the rich and violent history of Cuba with this new collection of poems from multiple points of view on the several wars for independence from 1850-1900, The Surrender Tree; Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom.
The Surrender Tree also combines real life characters (the legendary healer Rosa la Bayamesa) with imagined individuals to construct a compelling narrative of escape and hiding, heroism and healing. A former slave, Rosa (and her husband) devotes her life to caring for people, both runaways and persecuting soldiers, using only native plants and herbal remedies with skill, compassion and faith—all while living in hiding and on the run.
Set in the lush landscape of Cuba’s jungles and caves, the story-poem moves forward moment to moment across three wars fought by natives and fueled by outsiders. The plight of the Cubans themselves is a dramatic counterpoint for any war waged in the name of power and possession. But the decency and dignity of our heroine, her husband, Jos, her young protégé, Silvia, and many who prevail despite overwhelming odds makes for an inspiring and humbling saga.
I marked several powerful poems to share out loud, but chose this one as my favorite here for its understated simplicity and layers of meaning:
This is how you heal a wound:
Clean the flesh.
Sew the skin.
Pray for the soul.
Engle, Margarita. 2008. The Surrender Tree; Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom. New York: Henry Holt, p. 73.
What a powerful poetic voice, inspiring Latina writer, and distinctive ambassador for Cuba’s history.
For more Poetry Friday gems, go to my former student's blog, Becky's Book Reviews. Go, Becky!
Picture credit: www.schoollibraryjournal.com