Friday, 9 October 2020

Every week, poets, authors, educators, and librarians post a poem, poetry book review, or other poetic gem. Today, Bridget Magee is gathering all of the Poetry Friday links at her blog, Wee Words for Wee Ones. Join us!

Welcome, Poetry Friday friends.

My friend Michael Rothenberg introduced me to a new-to-me poet, Virgil Suarez.  Michael is a poet, founder of 100 Thousand Poets for Change, and art-collaborator with me on the monster poems I’ve shared in the past.

I visited Michael in Tallahassee, Florida in January — a few short weeks before the lockdown began. He recommended I read The Painted Bunting’s Last Molt, Suarez’s 2020 book.

Suarez’s roots are in Cuba, so many of the poems in this book deal with Cuba as a setting, culture, and home of the heart. The pain and dangers of migration and immigration are among the most powerful themes in the collection.

Flags and tags and bookmarks for poems that resonated with me.

Because I am working on a verse novel set on a body of water (the Chesapeake Bay), Suarez’s poems resonated with me. Today — with his permission — I’m sharing Virgil Suarez’s poem “When Leaving the Country of Your Birth.” The profound sense of loss in this poem is expressed through a series of questions, connecting the “you” to the land left behind.

The poem connected deeply for me as I think about the main character in my WIP, especially the section that begins, “Who will remember you, child?”



When Leaving the Country of Your Birth
By Virgil Suarez

Will the wind remember your body, its weight
slanted against a white wall?

Will the river flood the valleys, carve a new path
into the roots of mountains?

Will palm trees bend and birth coconuts,
these yellow beacons in the blinding light?

Will buildings crumble into rubble and dust,
ruins of memory’s instant flash?

Will your aunt’s parrot still hang by the doorway
that leads to the patio, calling out, “Mariposa!”

Will the sea rush El Malecón in dangerous weather?

Will your old house stand in the shadows
of all the plantains your father planted?

Will the baobab at the corner grow wider, it’s elephant
skin roots sunk deep into the earth?

Who will remember you, child? Who will sigh
your name?

Who will greet you there in the old neighborhood
upon your return?

Who will say that you are now a “mariposa,” not
a “gusano“?

Who will trace the bread crumbs this far out?

Posted with permission of the author — 
from The Painted Bunting’s Last Molt, by Virgil Suarez.

This book is available from University of Pittsburgh press.

I used “When Leaving the Country of Your Birth” as a mentor text for a new poem in the voice of my WIP character.

20 responses to “Poetry Friday: Virgil Suarez”

  1. Thank you for introducing me to Suarez’s poem, Laura. The loss that accompanies immigration comes through in every question he asks. I feel that loss on a small scale living in another country where I don’t speak the local language(s) and have no family or close friends. I’m intrigued by your WIP. I look forward to hearing more. : )
    Also, would you like me to add this post’s URL to the PF roundup?

  2. Linda Baie says:

    When I was growing up, we had a neighbor who had immigrated from Poland. We used to ask her questions about her country, but now I wonder if the adults ever talked about her sorrow of leaving after reading this, Laura? I’ve read a number of stories for children who have had to leave, either in a safe move or fleeing. There is so much heartbreak in those books, like in this poem. Thanks for the introduction. We’ve had a recent death of a friend in our family so this touched me as a different kind of goodbye: “Who will sigh
    your name?”

    • Laura Shovan says:

      Hi, Linda. Thank you for sharing this connection. Saadia and I speak about these issues quite a bit when we talk about A Place at the Table. Immigration — even when it’s planned and for positive reasons — can put so much strain on a family. I am sorry to hear that you’re grieving for a friend.

  3. Ruth says:

    I LOVE this. Going to look for more by this poet.

  4. Linda says:

    Laura, thank you for introducing me to Suarez. I love the use of questions in his poem. I’ll certainly look for more of his work.

    • Laura Shovan says:

      Hi, Linda. It’s a great strategy, in looking at poetic craft. The idea that a place could be longing for the child who once lived there resonated deeply for me.

  5. Molly Hogan says:

    Oh, this is beautiful. Like Linda, I love the use of questions in this poem–each one adding to the sense of love and loss. “Who will sigh your name?” And I was especially struck by the poignancy of that ending line: “Who will trace the breadcrumbs this far out?” Thanks for sharing!

    • Laura Shovan says:

      Hi, Molly. I wonder about those breadcrumbs also. My own kids are second generation American and I see how their ties to our family’s immigration experience are already fading. That saddens me.

  6. Linda Mitchell says:

    Oh, my! This poem really pokes at one’s emotions. I have enjoyed reading the comments as our friends respond. What a question this poet asks….who will? who will? Such an important question today. Who will rescue? Who will protect? Who will ensure future safety? I think I may need to get to know this poet more!
    I’m excited to know you are working on a verse novel. Hooray! And, the Chesapeake Bay area–Hooray, HOORAY!

    • Laura Shovan says:

      I feel the same way, Linda. This poem hit me emotionally, but also got me thinking about how a child would wonder if their old place (house, town, room) might miss them.

  7. Rose Cappelli says:

    So much emotion in this poem, Laura! Thanks for sharing it. I’m looking forward to your WIP.

  8. Laura, knowing several friends who fleed Cuba, Suarez’s poems cries with emotion. Each line probes and digs deeper into the narrator’s memory from Will the wind remember your body to the last line. In speaking with friends who had to flee Cuba with or without their family, there is a sting in their stories. Suarez captures that emotion. Thank you for sharing this poem that may be one for teachers to explore in their classrooms.

    • Laura Shovan says:

      I like what you say here about the way the poem builds and digs deeper, Carol. Yes, this would be a great poem to share with a book like Letters from Cuba by Ruth Behar.

  9. Sally Murphy says:

    Such a sense of loss and longing. Just beautiful.

  10. Such a poignant poem, Laura. Thanks for sharing.

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Laura Shovan

Laura Shovan is the author of the award-winning middle grade novel, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary. Her second book, Takedown, is a Junior Library Guild and PJ Our Way selection. Look for A Place at the Table, co-written with Saadia Faruqi, in 2020. Laura is a poet-in-the-schools Maryland.

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