Jorge Arqueta, illustrated by Lucía Angela Pérez,
Talking to Mother Earth/Hablando con Madre Tierra
Groundwood Books, 2006.
Salvadorean Poet and Pipil Nahua Indian, Jorge Argueta delivers another treat to fans of his previous award-winning bilingual poetry books. Talking to Mother Earth/Hablando con Madre Tierra is a new series of lavishly illustrated patch-work-like poems, and an affecting account of a young boy's experience of heritage and the sweet and sour ways in which it affected him.
Nature and its power to communicate and heal are given center stage, and crucial turning-points in the building of Tetl's (Argueta's native name, given to him by his grandparents) character are conveyed open-heartedly. As taught by his Aztec grandmother, he learns to listen to, respect and honor Mother Earth, so it's no wonder he's always barefoot: there shouldn't be anything between him and the earth he walks on, for he's learned to become one with it. In one of the poems he's teased by other children as being a "Cracked-foot Indian". Even though at moments of racism such as that his "heart would boil like a volcano getting ready to explode", he keeps working at learning the lessons of his ancestors well, and with time is able to understand his true worth and teach the world about it. In this book Argueta/Tetl's poetry wells up with a generosity that can only have come from a childhood spent in such close contact with the gifts of nature.
The words vibrate to the rhythm of the trees, rivers, wind and sky, and Perez's bountiful illustrations, like nature itself, are at once powerful, soft and miraculous. Amongst the wealth of details readers will enjoy looking at, are lots of birds and feathers, which were associated by the Aztecs with the heavenly spirits of the ancestors, who guard and guide us.
Each poem stands alone, but there is an intense satisfaction in seeing them link up so movingly, and with such warmth. They make you stop and wonder whether and how you might be implicated in their fabric. Disarming and enlightening from beginning to end.