Archive for October 8th, 2011

by lizard

Roque Dalton is a fascinating poetic figure. Born in San Salvador in 1935, his father was one of the outlaw Dalton brothers who robbed banks in Kansas, then fled south, landing in El Salvador. Early in his life, Roque became ensnared in the revolutionary fervor sweeping across Latin America. You can read more about this legendary figure from the forward of his collection of poems, titled Small Hours Of The Night.

The poem I’ve selected from this collection comes from Roque’s experience of imprisonment. It’s an interesting piece that I hope has some resonance for today’s struggle.

*

NUMBER 357

The guards are divided into several groups. For instance, those who throw stones at rabbits as they scramble out of the garden with daisies in their mouths. Those who go hopping past my cell, shouting local words and looking at the rain’s foam inside their watches. And those who piss while they wake me up, at the crack of dawn, with the light from their lanterns licking my face, and growl at me that it’s even colder today. 357, who used to be shepherd and musician, doesn’t belong to any of these groups and is now a cop only because of an act of revenge that’s not clear at all; they’ll discharge him (number 357, I mean) at the end of this month. Just because one night he sneaked off to go sleep with his wife till nine in the morning, something strictly against regulations. Several days ago 357 gave me a cigarette. Yesterday, watching me munch on an anise herb’s leaf (I had managed to pull it over to the bars with a hooked stick I fixed), he asked me about Cuba. And today he suggested that maybe I could write a short poem about the Chimaltenango mountains for him to have as a keepsake after they kill me.

(translated by Hardie St. Martin)

—Roque Dalton

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