Friday, June 13, 2008

Poetry Friday: The Surrender Tree (Review)

Engle, Margarita. 2008. The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom.

Set in the last half of the nineteenth century (1850-1900), The Surrender Tree traces the struggle of Cuba's freedom and independence movements. Told through multiple narrators (Rosa, Silvia, Jose, etc.), the poems are strong, vivid, and powerful. They capture the gritty hardships of a life lived on the run, in hiding. These freedom fighters and these nurses have a price on their head. They were especially hunted down by slavehunters.
When the slavehunter brings back
runaways he captures,
he receives seventeen silver pesos
per cimarron,
unless the runaway is dead.
Four pesos is the price of an ear,
shown as proof that the runaway slave
died fighting, resisting capture.

The sick and injured
are brought to us, to the women,
for healing.

When a runaway is well again,
he will either choose to go back to work
in the coffee groves and sugarcane fields,
or run away again
secretly, silently alone.
How much is life worth? How much is freedom worth? Cuba has fought three wars for independence, and still she is not free. Her people have been rounded up in reconcentration camps, where there is always too little food and too much illness. Rosa knows how to heal sickness with medicines made from wild plants. But with a price on her head for helping the rebels, Rosa dares not go out in the open. Instead, she turns hidden caves into hospitals for those who know how to find her. Black, white, Cuban, Spanish--Rosa does her best for everyone, even Lieutenant Death, who has sworn to kill her. Yet who can heal a country so torn apart by war? In this history in verse, acclaimed poet Margarita Engle has created a lyrical yet powerful portrait of Cuba.
The wounded are sacred.
We never leave them.
When everyone else
flees the battlefield,
nurses are the ones
who rush to carry
the wounded
to Rosa.

I am learning
how to stay
far too busy
for worries
about dying.
The Surrender Tree is well-written, powerful, and bold.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Anonymous said...

Wow. Gritty is the perfect word for these. That first one made me flinch...

Andromeda Jazmon said...

I am looking for this book. It sounds like one I need to have. Thanks for the review!