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Margarita Engle



Is it true that nothing reveals more
about a person's secret heart
than the adult memory of a favorite
childhood fairy tale?

I never understood all the fuss
about princesses poisoned
or rescued from dragons.
Hansel and Gretel seemed like a recitation
of the sorrowful evening news
a serial killer, the ovens, absent parents
a famine, crumbs...

Instead of magic beanstalks and man-eating giants
or wolves disguised as gentle grandmas
I chose the tale of a bird with a voice that could soothe
the melancholic spirit of an emperor
helpless despite his wealth and power.

Of all tales, only The Nightingale felt
like a story I knew before I was born
about Orpheus calming wild beasts with his lyre
King David's harp easing Saul's despair
Saint Francis with his curious flocks of birds
singing back and forth in a language of wishing
that even the wolf understood.




When songs were alive
they needed no mouths
to send them flying.

Melodies grew
their own wings.

Rhythms knew
how to leap.

The lost tribe
of lyrics
rose without effort
seeking its own form
of peace.



Variations on a Theme

hanging garden
sunken garden
floating garden
flying garden

cool, dark, mysterious
underground garden
treetops at toe level
a reverent gardener bows down to meet
hot earth
the search
for ripe fruit


Margarita Engle is a botanist and agronomist and the Cuban-American author of Singing to Cuba (Arte Publico Press), Skywriting (Bantam), and The Poet-Slave: A Biography in Poems of Juan Francisco Manzano (Henry Holt). Her work has appeared in Atlanta Review, California Quarterly, Caribbean Writer, and Thema. Her most recent book is Word Wings, a collection of poems for children (Elin Grace Publishing).
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