Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Rita Dove Parsley

1. The Cane Fields

There is a parrot imitating spring
in the palace, its feathers parsley green.   
Out of the swamp the cane appears
to haunt us, and we cut it down. El General   
searches for a word; he is all the world   
there is. Like a parrot imitating spring,

we lie down screaming as rain punches through   
and we come up green. We cannot speak an R—
out of the swamp, the cane appears

and then the mountain we call in whispers Katalina.
The children gnaw their teeth to arrowheads.   
There is a parrot imitating spring.

El General has found his word: perejil.
Who says it, lives. He laughs, teeth shining   
out of the swamp. The cane appears

in our dreams, lashed by wind and streaming.   
And we lie down. For every drop of blood   
there is a parrot imitating spring.
Out of the swamp the cane appears.

2. The Palace

The word the general’s chosen is parsley.   
It is fall, when thoughts turn                                                 
to love and death; the general thinks
of his mother, how she died in the fall
and he planted her walking cane at the grave   
and it flowered, each spring stolidly forming   
four-star blossoms. The general

pulls on his boots, he stomps to
her room in the palace, the one without   
curtains, the one with a parrot
in a brass ring. As he paces he wonders   
Who can I kill today. And for a moment   
the little knot of screams
is still. The parrot, who has traveled

all the way from Australia in an ivory   
cage, is, coy as a widow, practising   
spring. Ever since the morning   
his mother collapsed in the kitchen   
while baking skull-shaped candies   
for the Day of the Dead, the general   
has hated sweets. He orders pastries   
brought up for the bird; they arrive

dusted with sugar on a bed of lace.   
The knot in his throat starts to twitch;                     
he sees his boots the first day in battle   
splashed with mud and urine
as a soldier falls at his feet amazed—
how stupid he looked!— at the sound
of artillery. I never thought it would sing   
the soldier said, and died. Now

the general sees the fields of sugar   
cane, lashed by rain and streaming.   
He sees his mother’s smile, the teeth   
gnawed to arrowheads. He hears   
the Haitians sing without R’s
as they swing the great machetes:   
Katalina, they sing, Katalina,

mi madle, mi amol en muelte. God knows   
his mother was no stupid woman; she   
could roll an R like a queen. Even   
a parrot can roll an R! In the bare room   
the bright feathers arch in a parody   
of greenery, as the last pale crumbs
disappear under the blackened tongue. Someone

calls out his name in a voice
so like his mother’s, a startled tear
splashes the tip of his right boot.
My mother, my love in death.
The general remembers the tiny green sprigs   
men of his village wore in their capes   
to honor the birth of a son. He will
order many, this time, to be killed

for a single, beautiful word.
NOTES: On October 2, 1937, Rafael Trujillo (1891-1961), dictator of the Dominican Republic, ordered 20,000 blacks killed because they could not pronounce the letter “r” in perejil, the Spanish word for parsley.


In October 1937 Rafael Trujillo(called "El General" in this poem), military dictator of the Dominican Republic, ordered nearly 20,000 migrant workers (from the neighboring country of Haiti) to be killed because they could not pronounce the Spanish word for "parsley" correctly. Specifically, they could not pronounce the letter "r" – "parsley" in Spanish is "perejil" – so if it came out "pelejil," the speaker was condemned to death for having a Haitian accent. 
  Okay i'm going to go through the poem stanza by stanza so prepare yourself, ( I had to read this poem like twenty times smh).  In the first stanza she uses symbolism with the palace, parrot, and sugar canes. The palace and parrot shows wealth, whereas when you think of sugar canes you think of slaves which relates to the Haitians. Going on to stanza two Dove identifies that the first part of this poem is from the Haitians point of view by using the word "we." In stanza three I believe Dove is showing how unpleasant it is to work for " El General," and once again she shows us that this is from the Haitians point of view. Stanza four the Haitians seem to be looking for hope in a witty way as "we call in whispers Katalina." In line 11 Dove shows how scared they are as "the children gnaw their teeth to arrowheads." Okay this part was just pure evil to me but in the fifth stanza, Dove shows how monstrous El General is by laughing at the fact that he know that the Haitians can't pronounce the "r" in perejil. Stanza six tells hows the Haitians are enslaved and are being beaten by the general. The parrot is going back to symbolism because the parrot means wealth, so it states that the "rich kills the poor."
  Now we can finally go into part two( almost there). This is when a shift happens from the Haitians point of view to the general's perspective.This stanza also tells us that the general mother has deceased. This part also tells about the general's past. The next stanza talks about the general going into his mother's room which has no curtains and a parrot sitting on a brass ring. After reading a couple of times it seems to me that the general kills to make himself happy. I didn't really understand stanza nine that much but I know that he reminiscences his mother dying after making candies, so he orders them for his bird. Stanza ten shows imagery on how a man is bleeding to death at the general's feet. This shows how unmerciful he was. Rage from the general is shown in stanza eleven. The Spanish words in the beginning of the stanza are missing r's ( thanks to Google translate i know that), this shows how stupid he thought the Haitians where. The last stanza shoes melancholy, as he sheds a tear for his mother before killing the Haitians for a simple word.
 It took me a while to breakdown this poem but this poem was worth it and it brought about so many emotions. The theme of this poem was to show how power and wealth can cause so much, such as hate.


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