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Margarita Engle


The Land Crabs of Cuba

When land crabs migrate
from tide pools up into green forest
the rhythmic urge to reach high ground
leads to chaos, a stampede through windows
into rooms, then out again, through open doors,
scrambling over each other
one orange claw at a time
until a road is found
and followed.

Hungry villagers gather the massive, armored creatures
into burlap sacks, while trucks speed along the highway,
crushing black and orange shells by the thousands.

In the mountains it is always twilight
the dark spell of forest shade cast by vines
and leafy branches, welcoming the land crabs
into half-night, a secrecy of purpose
as mysterious as the submerged shadows
of black and orange coral
in tide pools—
the next destination
a return
to the sea.



Saffron Rice

My mother speaks of stamens
gathered in the courtyard of her childhood home in Cuba—
golden pollen from purple crocus blossoms

just enough gold to spice and color
a kettle of rice with green olives, red pimentos,
and a sea breeze

flavoring the yellow meal
in an open-air kitchen
where everyone wanted to sit in shade
while eating the gold of island heat

tasting sunlight
the centers of flowers.



Portrait of the Artist as an Islander

The study of pastoral, romantic landscapes in Paris
leads her to la naturaleza muerte, dead nature, the still life,
an arrangement of motionless leaves, stones and feathers,
the wistful satisfaction as each painting is finished.

Cubism, and then the journey home,
rediscovery of cubanidad, Cubanism,
tropical sunlight in stained glass colors, flora and fruit,
dolphins, flying fish, sharks, arabesques of flowering vines,
the baroque, wrought-iron flourishes of colonial memory.

Deceptive tranquility, a female figure at rest indoors, la siesta,
Woman Dreaming Titles:  Woman on a Terrace With Fish,
Woman of Birds and Trees, Woman With Horse on a Beach,
Winged Centauress, View of the Island From Clouds.

The spilling of wildly romantic landscapes,
la naturaleza viva, living nature, a whirling disarray
of dancing leaves, stones and feathers,
and the wistful yearning, this sudden understanding, knowing
that every island is always unfinished.



Margarita Engle is a botanist and the Cuban-American author of several books about the island. The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano (Henry Holt, 2006) is the recipient of the Americas Award, and an International Reading Association Award, and is a finalist for a PEN Center USA Literary Award.
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