Endangered Birds of Cuba
by Margarita Engle
They survive in a book on my shelf.
Extinction is attractively presented, vivid paintings,
not sepia photographs or simple line drawings.
The tales of disappearance are imaginary.
No one really knows how the last Cuban tricolor macaw vanished.
Oral history has decided that the brilliant plumage must have been plucked,
the flesh roasted and eaten by enemy soldiers
during the last of three wars for independence from Imperial Spain.
Rarity is even more extravagantly illustrated than finite extinction.
The last sightings of ivory-billed woodpeckers on the island occurred
in remote forests, where the bird is still known as a guardian spirit,
a powder made from its crushed bones said to be the best magic
for warding away the evil eye. The call of the bird is that of a toy trumpet,
so modest for such a spectacular creature, with its pale beak like the tusk
of a winged elephant, prized by hunters for carving sacred ornaments.
The last ivory-billed woodpecker sightings on the island were on doors,
above thresholds, wings and tails outspread
and nailed to the wood in the shape of a cross.
Ornithologists still roam the forest,
hoping for resurrection.
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). Her short works have appeared in journals such as
Atlanta Review, California Quarterly, Caribbean Writer,
Hawai’i Pacific Review, and Poetry Salzburg. Recent honors
include a 2005 Willow Review Poetry Award, a VerbSap Mind’s
Eye Competition Award, and semi-finalist selection for the 2006
Nimrod Hardman/Pablo Neruda Poetry Prize. Engle lives in
central California, where she enjoys hiking and helping her husband
with his volunteer work for a wilderness search-and-rescue dog
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Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of Contemporary
Volume 1, Number 2
Copyright © 2006
by Leah Browning, Editor.
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Valley Review are retained
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