Nicaragua Libré Full Moon
AUGUSTO C. SANDINO INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT.
The same full moon I saw
over the runway at O’Hare this morning
rising young and strong
over the airport palms at twilight:
A committee from the barrio is here to greet us.
“Don't be afraid. Before anyone could
touch your body, they would have to pass
over the corpses of our bodies.”
(How can I stand
on a ground
matted with the fallen hands
of the trees? Comfortably.
But when I notice the faces
covered by those fingers,
the eyes peering through
every crack in the forest floor ...)
BARRIO ARNOLDO REAL ESPINOSA, MANAGUA.
Gather it all in: noises
of the barrio before dawn,
bare feet in the dirt,
dogs with those perpetual
grins on their faces, toilet seat
leaning on the the wall by the john—
Start with the premise that
The hook of his elbow caught
and lifted our bag off its wheels, swung it
across the sawdust and cement
of the living room floor. The elbow with no hand.
I felt those tiny wheels when they
touched down again, bearing that honor, that
She slept on a pallet in the corner of that
concrete slab. I lay listening
through her pillow in the master bedroom,
sweating through my sheets into her best mattress.
A parrot with opinions. Then roosters
and the radio in the black pre-dawn. In the morning
the sawdust was swept and gone, her living room
Start with the premise that everybody hurts
I came here to learn what I
People live here. Each one has a name.
They have eyelashes and fingernails.
They drink beer and go to church.
They laugh with the laughtrack on T.V., each
in a different voice.
They decorate the house for the holidays.
They have faces. A few bear
the scars of the science of torture.
A few still look out from their solitary cells.
The rest bear the sign
etched in their foreheads
of unforgettable remembering.
(Yes, they have barbershops.)
THE BENJAMIN LINDER SCHOOL.
Jot this down, another
glimpse: handcart and bulldozer,
Santas in every nativity scene,
a homemade Ferris wheel
of patio chairs, blowing horns and
speed bumps, the “policemen lying down—"
“This land was to be a park.
Due to the need we asked the city
to give it for a school.”
I wore my calluses off
swinging this shovel down in a hole,
pala, poking with a chisel-pointed bara
to loosen the soft dark soil
for la escuela
(Where we piled dirt, a scooped-out hollow:
the kids are helping us again.
One pushing each arm of the wheelbarrow,
at least one riding every load—)
The foreman comes by at last,
hooks his Soviet fishing line to its nail
across my hole, drops his measuring stick
to the scraped clay floor. He nods, no smile—
but that evening when I go by,
this school has a corner: concrete post,
the reinforcing steel we cut, the wires
(Workmen watching the ball game
over their shoulders, setting
another pre-fab concrete pillar in its hole
just outside the base path
at the broken cinderblock of second base
—the builder’s apprentices
not so long ago players in that game ...)
“When one of our sons dies, the mother says
‘My son lives.’ But where does he live?
He lives in the place where he spoke and people listened.
Perhaps now there is a school there—
that is where he lives.”
Take it home for a souvenir:
masking tape instead of
adhesive in surgery, no spare parts
for the fluoroscope and x-ray
made in the U.S.A., adult-size
I.V. needles even for the kids—
In the mornings we build a school.
In the afternoons we are students
ready with our pens, scribbling
out the blood of the spilled hearts
of ten years (all the centuries of warfare—)
“It is sad to die, but even more sad to die forever.”
“They burned our houses and they
burned everything we owned.”
“You can’t condemn someone for their past until they die.”
“There have been errors and mistakes.
But the government hasn’t tried to hide them.
It has confessed to the people,
‘Here we were wrong. But let’s go ahead.’”
"There is not a chemically pure revolution."
(Some of the most poetic words
I’ve ever heard
come out of the mouths of translators of Spanish.)
“It was hard to leave the city. We had the memory
in our hearts of all the people who had died.”
That universal gesture, handing one
cigarette across to light the other—
these injured war veterans from El Salvador
could be any huddle of teenage
football heroes . . .
“Death squads walked down the street
just like a soccer team might, with guns."
They’ve just had a different
MOTHERS OF THE HEROES AND MARTYRS, MATAGALPA.
File the images away: grass
growing on the telephone wires
and clay tile roofs, water hurrying in its
irrigation ditch under the highway,
oxcarts full of firewood, windmill
turning under the first of the stars—
“When my son died I closed myself
in my house and would not come out.”
The Mothers’ meeting house:
a cement floor, framed two-by-fours,
a corrugated tin roof look like
they’ve been here forever.
(But I remember the bare ground
that birthed a school: I imagine the day
they swung hammers, poured cement
and made it real)
Sing, laugh, cry, dance:
“Can there be more pain that one
can suffer than to lose a son?”
the mothers of the kidnapped
who still don’t know
(100,000 mothers understand
who still pay interest on the cost
“I am proud now as if you were my own children.”
You disappointed idealists
are a plague on the world
If the people don’t rule
the way Democracy requires,
line them up and
even down the numbers a little
“He is of the dead that never die.”
ON THE BUS TO THE BEACH.
Point your camera through the glass:
ruin of the hacienda, cactus pillars
still standing, cross on the church,
radio tower on the mountain,
by the speed-limit sign—
This countryside keeps
pulling my eyes from poetry,
drowning the letters in green:
wild mountains and the hollows of corn,
shadows plunging down the hill,
sunlight lifted on rearing grasses,
vulture scooping out the mountainside
on its wings, jungle climbing on
roots and flowers to the sky’s blue crags—
“We as Nicaraguans want to make our own history.”
and the road all the while
tracking the telephone wires
on their concrete poles to the sea
“I thank God you have not abandoned us and left us alone.”
We are almost alone on the beach:
a resort barren of turistas.
They have receded like a tide that never returned.
The waiters at the hotel,
kids selling necklaces of shells,
the thatched umbrellas
each dropping a well of shadow over the hot sand
and the insomniac sea
playing its never-tiring game with the beach—
“We’re always here struggling . . .”
LA PLAZA DE LA REVOLUCION.
Play the game, bargain them down:
a coin worth less than its
metal, bright red, yellow, green
in the market poised for rotting,
the boneyard of automobiles, “Pluma,
la pluma!” a child, begging for my pen—
The artist employed: a girl with a paintbrush
and headphones, filling in the lines
of her lettering—
EN LA TIERRA PAZ
—working into the evening on a life-size
Christmas creche under a round-pillared
while a drowsy soldier leans
on the muzzle of a rifle slung from his own neck
“Christ was a man like we are— suffered like we do—”
Across the plaza
a broken-haloed saint holds one end of a banner:
DANIEL PRESIDENTE VOTA POR FSLN
“Although we were believers, in those days
we felt scared going out alone . . .”
Cathedral open to the sky,
a mass of weeds between thick columns
under the rusty skeleton of a roof,
mosaics and frescoes and saints
ascended into stone:
above the altar a dove
with no head
“Jesus too was killed for being on the side of the poor.”
People come to sit
high on the ruined ledges,
gaze down from the balconies
across the Plaza de la Revolucion
into the evening
“Russians are atheists; they eat their kids.
They make soap out of their old folk.
But they give us bread. The North Americans
send us missionaries to teach us of God.
But the evil Commies send us bread.”
DECEMBER 19, 1989: STILL AVENGING CUSTER.
Remember how far from
home you are— stickball in a dirt alley
under overhanging trees,
Star Trek in Spanish, Prince
and Michael Jackson commercials
in that idiom of synthesizers and hips—
On the morning after the U.S. invaded Panama,
my host mother washed my dirty jeans.
I hadn't asked her to.
(Had timidly tried scrubbing one
dirty t-shirt against the concrete washboard
in her sink—)
She hung them out in her courtyard
on a barbed-wire clothesline.
In another house a grandmother told the news
and then clasped herself in her own arms, all
goosebumps (she has had
no men at all in her family since the Revolution):
"I'm so cold," she said. "I'm so cold."
"We must forgive the Marines. They are used.
Can you imagine what kind of Merry Christmas
25 families will have when they receive their 25
Today Roberto our schoolteacher and our mayor Miguel
are dressed up as soldiers.
Last night at midnight, soldiers were
leaping out of airplanes into empty space,
the unknown new decade's dark
(This is the future swaying
dim below us as we dangle
under our parachutes, seeds of our
forefathers' sins drifting down
on the zodiac of streetlights—)
the Panamanian defenders had quietly left town
an hour before midnight,
and the bombs are in full bloom
in the streets of Panama City this morning
falling at random
like those telegrams announcing
you have just won the sweepstakes
And the angel marked
the houses of the faithful
so that death might pass over
(Heat-seeking missiles only know
one code, the B-52s
only follow orders)
And the nuns in the convent
caught between war zones spend the day
prostrate on the floor
American bombs fall
on the unjust as on the just,
and the Prince of Peace
returns this year in clouds of gore
The North Americans are crowding
into lofty malls to worship
The marketing computers are busy
dividing the kill
All over Latin America families gather around radios
spouting urgent Spanish into the cooling night
(This morning 150 civilian deaths
estimated in Panama: still
and on the Voice of America the President says
"We went in with maximum force
to ensure mimimal civilian casualties
No numbers, can't help you there
The hospital reports are unconfirmed—"
(A language must do many things:
advertise the college of beauty,
spit slogans on the cemetery wall,
turn the speechwriter's trick
But once in a while it is called on
to serve in the emergency telegram,
in the grief of a priest, in the transport
of the radio commentator—)
and the Panamanian ambassador says
"We were your friends,
the best friends you had in Central America . . ."
The tank is a filthy creature
When one after another goes clattering past
over the Somoza brick,
the air grows foul with their exhaust
(On their way to surround our Embassy,
we found out next morning—
crouched behind its double fence, twin coils of barbed wire blazing
like electric filaments in the sun . . .)
It's been too long
since the shelling of Vicksburg,
since the British burned Washington,
too long already since Vietnam
"To go out glorified with your equipment and backpack,
come back injured or dead . . .
They are manipulated by a system.
They are also our brothers."
Because we have forgotten who
we were, because we do not notice
what we have become,
the coffee comes dirt cheap this morning,
the dirt is dark with the drained
courage of corpses
and hardly anything is as profitable
as selling Coca Cola in a hot country
It is not possible to live on both sides
of that line.
Now I have told you:
taking one more breath is taking
All modesty of poets is
false modesty: I speak for the sunspots
and the larvae of fireflies. I speak for the icecaps
and the vapor of teardrops. I speak for the volcano
lying awake under the waning moon and I speak
for the patient remembering of the poor.
". . . the attempt to invade Nicaragua
would be the biggest mistake the U.S. ever made."
We don't see many smiles today
except for the children, thank God,
the children always smile
"A surgical strike"
—the phrase rings in every
stroke of the pick, down here
in my hole
trenches for the other war
To bury this country
they'll have to uproot these concrete
columns we have sunk into
dark beautiful dirt and clay
the many colors of these