Las Sirenas

Ana’s Pick
Margarita Engle

They only danced
when the wind was strong
and the waves were wild

the old folks of Trinidad de Cuba, my mother’s hometown
used to climb the hills to watch the rumba of mermaids
las sirenas, the sirens, so gracefully dancing
to the music of storms

sometimes the flutes of wind screeched
and drums of thunder could not be heard
above the crashing of waves, liquid cymbals

that’s when the mermaids grew legs and emerged
refugees on the beach, hurrying from one small thatched hut
to the next, asking for shelter

in the morning the families of fishermen
who’d shown mercy
discovered that the mermaids were gone
in their place a shimmering treasure, a pearl
gift of thanks for a safe place to rest
during the vigil
waiting for another rhythmic spell
of singing sky, dancing weather…


Margarita Engle is a botanist and the Cuban-American author of Singing to Cuba (Arte Publico Press), Skywriting (Bantam), and The Poet Slave of Cuba (forthcoming from Henry Holt). Short works appear in journals such as Atlanta Review, California Quarterly, Caribbean Writer, and Hawai’i Pacific Review. Awards include a Cintas Fellowship, a San Diego Book Award, and most recently, a 2005 Willow Review Poetry Award. Margarita lives in central California, where she enjoys hiking and helping her husband with his volunteer work for a wilderness search-and-rescue dog training program. E-mail: Englefam[at]

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