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by Rita Dove

Part 2, Stanzas 11 & 12 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Stanza 11: Lines 50-56

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 with R's
as they swing the great machetes:
Katalina, they sing, Katalina,

  • Hey. Those first few lines look mildly familiar.
  • This poem is very into repetition – again, the point is probably to hammer home the truth of this atrocity, even though Dove, by her own admission, makes up some of the details.
  • It's not arbitrary repetition, either. The "lashed by rain and streaming," as we've been through, is probably the most poignant slavery-imagery in the whole poem. So now, essentially, Trujillo returns to thinking about the Haitians workers that he has enslaved.
  • And then there's yet another repetition – the "teeth / gnawed to arrowheads." Except this time it's part of a sentence that's linked to Trujillo's mother. Yikes!
  • Now again, her teeth are not literal arrowheads. But the violence that that imagery implies gives us a lot of insight into just how enraged Trujillo is over his mother's death – rage being his way of dealing with crushing grief, presumably. Thus he sees in his mother's death some need for violence, some retribution for something no one has done. It explains a little, but certainly not a lot.
  • Interestingly enough, Trujillo's mother was half-Haitian. Something to think about.
  • So from this rage we move to the Haitians back in the cane fields, singing "with R's" – which doesn't make a whole lot of sense, really, because they cannot pronounce the letter. Hmm.

Stanza 12: Lines 57-63

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

  • Well, if you know any Spanish, you'll recognize that that first line isn't quite right – it's Spanish but without all the "r"s. This is how the Haitians would have pronounced these song lyrics, which should look like this: "mi madre, mi amor en muerte," which then translates to this: "my mother, my love in death."
  • Trujillo equates this inability to pronounce a letter with stupidity; he notes that his mother could pronounce the letter "r" "like a queen." (Again with the rich/poor dichotomy. It's all over the place.)
  • And then, in a stunning move of dehumanization, Trujillo places the parrot above the Haitians: "even a parrot can roll an R!" To Trujillo, the Haitians thus become something even lower than a pet bird, something that is easier to despise because it's not even human.
  • This is, horrifyingly enough, a common war tactic – the less able you are to think of your enemy as human, the easier it is to kill them. The poem brings the full weight of that tactic into these lines, preparing us for the ending.
  • But we're not done with the parrot yet. We are, after all, still in the mother's room, which contains nothing but the parrot and its pastries.
  • So the parrot, then, is stretching its wings, and the poem calls it a "parody / of greenery." This echoes back to the parrot's imitation of spring, but now we've moved into slightly more pejorative (read: insulting) territory here: the parrot is now making a mockery of spring.
  • The beauty (of spring), in the end, is false – it cannot be replicated. This is not to say that the parrot is implicit in murder (how could it be? It's a parrot!), but it does certainly seem to say that in the end, the horror eclipses everything. Even this beautiful thing becomes a horrible joke, perhaps because it is so beautiful in spite of the surrounding tragedy.
  • As if the parody of spring wasn't enough, the parrot in these few lines also finishes up eating his pastry – the pastry that Trujillo hates, and the pastry that symbolizes the difference between the haves and the have-nots in this poem. The blackness of the parrot's tongue makes the bird significantly less beautiful, as well.
  • Overall, these last few lines in this stanza do a whopper of a job taking away all semblance of actual beauty in this scene. The parrot is innocent, as a creature, but its innocence does nothing to overcome the circumstances in which it exists. The terror wins.

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