Monday, December 21, 2015


It's the first day of Winter (Christmas, to me) break. I will spend a good part of today visiting several different libraries, attempting to finish my CYBILS reading. Many of my students, immigrants from Mexico, are probably in vans or buses, headed home for the holidays. I think of them as I read Margarita Engle's memoir, ENCHANTED AIR: TWO CULTURES, TWO WINGS.

In an author's note, Engle says,
"ENCHANTED AIR: TWO CULTURES, TWO WINGS is the true story of my first fourteen years…I never thought I would be brave enough to write about my life as a Cuban American child growing up int he United States during the hostilities of the Cold War. I thought it would be too excruciating. That is why I have chosen to focus on travel memories. Travel is a magical experience. Travel opens the heart and challenges the mind. Travel gives us an opportunity to see how others live, whether they are relatives or strangers. Travel teaches compassion." 191
Engle and I share many things:

A lifetime love affair with books:
Books are enchanted. Books help me travel.
Books help me breathe.
When I climb a tree, I take a book with me.
When I walk home from school, I carry
my own poems, inside my mind,
where no one else
can reach the words
that are entirely
mine.   54
A city child's love of horses:
I can feel the hot air
steaming from horse sweat
a smell that will always
remind me of courage…
It doesn't matter because
with exhilarated breath
and a drumming heart,
I feel as if I've galloped
so far beyond anything
I've ever known before
that I'm already grown-up
and independent. 115
A love of poetry
At home, I scribble tiny poems
all over the walls of my room.
Inside those miniature verses,
I feel safe, as if I am a turtle
and the words
are my shells 134

I begin to understand
that each time I scribble
a poem on my wall
at home, I am not really
Certain longings
are shared
by all.
Even cavemen.
Teens.  (175-176)
I, too, was a child during the Cold War era. I remember my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Meyer, telling us that our families should have bags of groceries prepared for trips to Bomb Shelters. I laid awake at night that year, waiting for the sound of the air raid sirens.

One thing I do not share with Engle, is her life growing up as a child with who has roots in several worlds.
When Mami tells her flowery tales of Cuba
she fills the twining words with relatives.
But when I ask my
Ukranian-Jewish American grandma
about her childhood in a village
near snowy Kiev,
all she reveals is a single memory
of ice skating
on a frozen pond.
Apparently, the length
of a grown-up's
growing-up story
is determined
by the difference
between immigration
and escape. (28-29)
After those first soaring summers,
each time we fly back to our everyday
lives in California, one of my two selves
is left behind: the girl I would be
if we lived on Mami's island
instead of dad's continent.
Sometimes, I feel
like a rolling wave of the sea,
A wave that can only belong
in between
two solid shores.
Sometimes I feel
like a bridge,
or a storm. 11
Two countries.
Two families.
Two sets of words.
Am I free to need both,
or will I always have to choose
only one way
of thinking.  13

It really is possible to feel
like two people
at the same time,
when your parents
come from two
worlds.  58
It's as if my other self has been here
all along--
the invisible twin
who never left this island
and never
will.  102 

End matter includes  n author's note, a Cold War timeline and the poem, Una Rosa Blanca, by José Martí.

Another book I can't wait to share with my upper intermediate and middle school students.

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