Once, there was, and was not, a young man who was forced
to labor all day in the hot sun. Each evening, a magical horse
took the young slave out running in the forest, free. . .
Each night, the slave saw a girl with living fireflies decorating her hair.
The fireflies flashed and blinked, like stars.
The girl fell in love with the slave, and when he rode past her house,
she stood on the balcony, and asked him to stop.
When he stopped his magical horse, she climbed down from the balcony,
and mounted the horse. Together, the slave and the girl galloped away.
The girl's father pursued them.
He caught them, and chopped off the young man's head with his sword.
Now, on certain nights, the horse with two riders can still be seen,
galloping into the green forest.
The girl has fireflies in her hair.
The young man is headless, but he is alive,
and the two are still in love.
Now, the tale is over.
About the Author: Margarita Engle is a botanist and the Cuban–American author of three books about the island, most recently The Poet Slave of Cuba, a Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano (Henry Holt & Co, 2006), currently nominated as an American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults. Short works appear in a wide variety of journals, including previous issues of the Journal of Mythic Arts. Current honors include a Pushcart Prize nomination, and semi–finalist selection for the Nimrod/Hardman Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry. Margarita lives in California, where she enjoys hiking and helping her husband with his volunteer work for wilderness search and rescue dog training programs.
"The Headless Horseman of Cuba" copyright © 2007 by Margarita Engle. This poem may not be reproduced in any form without the author's express written permission.