Eso es alcanzar lo más alto,

lo que tal vez nos dará el Cielo:

no admiraciones ni victorias

sino sencillamente ser admitidos

como parte de una Realidad innegable,

como las piedras y los árboles.

Jorge Luis Borges

Fervor de Buenos Aires (1923)

This is the best that can happen,

What heaven perhaps will grant us:

Not to be wondered at or required

To succeed

But simply to be let in

As part of an undeniable Reality,

Like stones of the road, like trees.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Poem of Love

I went to the Museum of the Word and the Image in San Salvador today.  It’s a place thick with sorrow and an energy that I can’t name, a place where a knot builds in your throat as you catch another glimpse of the incredible violence that this country lived through such a short time ago.  The Salvadoran civil war lasted from 1980 to 1992, and as I was looking at images I tried to place myself somehow in them, like, “this massacre happened when I was in grade 9”. 

I know embarrassingly little about El Salvador’s history.  But what I do know is that the ruling elite which were powerful families backed by the Salvadoran military owned virtually all of the country's wealth while the other 99 percent of El Salvador’s population lived in extreme poverty.  When populist movements tried to rectify this, they were branded communists by the American government who then pumped in money to train more of the country’s youth to kill their own people and maintain the status quo by military force. 

There’s a great little room in the museum called “The cave of the passions” which is a re-creation of the broadcasting booth for “FMLN venceremos”, the official voice of one of the protest movements.  It’s got the broadcasting equipment, and pictures and documents of the FMLN in action. 

But what got me thinking the most was how the US (and Canada, through complicity and silence) sacrificed countless lives in order to maintain Empire (world control and bargain prices for the north American consumer).  And it was an impossible situation for people to live in, so they made dangerous and sometimes deadly journeys to the north in search of a liveable life, just to become the serving class in our caste system.

One of the poems that grabbed me and shook me is by Roque Dalton (1935-1975), and it’s a love poem for his countrymen.

Poem of Love

The ones who widened the Panama Canal
(and were classified “silver roll” and not “gold roll”),
the ones who repaired the Pacific fleet
on the bases of California,
the ones who rotted in the jails of Guatemala,
Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua,
for stealing, smuggling, fraud,
for being hungry,
the always-suspected-of-everything
(“permit me to haul you in
for suspicious streetcorner loitering
with the aggravated charge of being Salvadoran”),
the women who filled the bars and whorehouses
of all the ports and capitals of the Zone
(“The Blue Cavern”, “Panties”, “Happyland”)
the planters of corn deep in foreign jungles,
the kings of the red page,
the ones no one ever knows where they’re from,
the best artisans in the world,
the ones who were stitched apart by bullets crossing the border,
the ones who died of malaria
or of scorpion bites or yellow fever
in the hells of banana plantations,
the ones who drunkenly cry for the national anthem
beneath Pacific cyclones or northern snows,
the moochers, the beggars, the pot-heads,
the guanacos sons of bitches,
the ones who were barely able to return,
the ones with a little more luck,
the eternal undocumented ones,
the jacks-of-all-trades, the salesmen-of-everything, the ones who’ll eat anything,
the first to pull out the knife,
the saddest of the world’s sad,
my compatriots,
my brothers.

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