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After Pangaea

By Margarita Engle

The land of my mother's ancestors moved from the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean Sea.  Green sea turtles remember this improbable voyage.  During the Ice Ages, sea level fell, and the island of Cuba grew.  Shorelines became swamps.  Forests were rooted in solid coral rock.  Pink flamingos recall the wild dance of trees uprooted by storms.  Between the Ice Ages, sea level rose.  Cuba was simultaneously reduced and multiplied, transformed into an archipelago of mountaintops.  Lowlands became submerged coral reefs.  Blue lizards retreated to the high peaks, where they were camouflaged by proximity to sky.
 
The floating island continues to drift.  Modern human inhabitants cannot help wondering where the journey will end.  Cuba could become one of the Florida Keys, reuniting exiled family members with those who still dwell on their wandering homeland.  An alternate route would be a continuation of the eastward trek, into the vast Atlantic.  The island could then move northward, and grow cold.
 
In preparation for any one of these strange migration paths, frogs and hummingbirds have been miniaturized.  Bats the size of butterflies sip nectar from night-blooming, ghostly white, cinderella blossoms.  Land crabs dwell high in the mountains, instead of in tide pools.  Pygmy owls are diurnal, iguanas enormous, mammals tiny.  Crocodiles know how to leap, seizing prey from the branches of trees.  Blind cave boas hunt by listening to the wing beats of bats.  Everything is backwards in time, place, or size.  Even the existence of floating islands seems impossible.  Whenever a Cuban nightingale sings, there is the uncanny feeling that certain lands truly belong to the realm of fairy tales.  Vagrant tundra swans, blown off their migration path by monstrous hurricanes, can attest to the otherworldly songs, colors, and fragrances of a tropical microcosm, searching for home in the shifting, elusive, legendary sea.
 
 
  
Margarita Engle is a botanist and the Cuban-American author of books about the island, most recently The Poet Slave of Cuba, a Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano (Henry Holt & Co., 2006).  Short works appear in journals such as Atlanta Review, Caribbean Writer, Hawai'i Pacific Review, Nimrod, and VerbSap.  Recent honors include the Americas Award, an International Reading Association Award, and a Pushcart Prize nomination.  Margarita lives in central California, where she enjoys hiking and helping her husband with his volunteer work for wilderness search-and-rescue dog training programs.

Photo of Earth courtesy of NASA.


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