To Fight in El Salvador, 1969 by Nina Serrano
TO ROQUE DALTON BEFORE LEAVING TO FIGHT IN EL SALVADOR
I began writing in 1968 at age 36, when I wrote a video drama with Roque Dalton for Cuban TV. Dalton was an exiled Salvadoran writer in Havana. My concern for his safety inspired “To Roque Dalton Before Leaving To Fight in El Salvador,” my first poem in 1969, as he prepared to join the Salvadoran revolutionaries to liberate his country from the military dictatorship. At the time of the poem’s publication in an alternative SF newspaper, Express, I could only use his initials in the title and refer to El Salvador as “unknown terrain.” From Heart Songs Collected Poems by Nina Serrano 1969 – 1979
TO ROQUE DALTON BEFORE LEAVING
Mass media I adore you.
With a whisper in the microphone
I touch the mass belly against mine
like on a rush hour bus
but with no sweat and no embarrassment.
“Don’t die,” I whispered, in person.
Only the air and revolutionary slogans hung
“When I die I’ll wear a big smile.”
And with his finger painted a clown’s smile
on his Indian face
“Don’t die!” the whisper beneath the call to battle.
My love of man in conflict
with my love for this man.
Women die too.
They let go their tight grip on breath and sigh,
and sigh to die.
They say that Tania died before Che.
I saw her die in a Hollywood movie.
Her blood floated in the river.
I stand in the street in Havana.
There are puddles here
but few consumer goods to float in them.
Here the blood is stirred by the sacrifice of smiles
to armed struggle.
A phrase and an act.
They leave one day and they are dead.
“Death to the known order. Birth to the unknown.”
Blood. Blood. Blood.
The warmth of it between the thighs
soothes the channel
the baby fights and tears.
I stand by a puddle in Havana
a woman full of blood
not yet spilled.
Can I spill blood by my own volition?
Now it flows from me by a call of the moon;
The moon …
a woman mopping her balcony
spills water from her bucket
on my hair, my breasts
and into the puddle.
The question is answered.
* Roque Dalton: Leading Salvadorian writer, killed in 1975
To Roque Dalton Before Leaving for El Salvador
was published in Heart Songs: The Collected Poems of Nina Serrano, 1969-1979, was first published by Editorial Pocho Che, a Latino literary collective, as part of a three-book 10th anniversary series. The other two books were Raul Salinas’ now classic Un Trip through the Mind Jail y Otras Excursions and Roberto Vargas’s legendary Nicaragua Yo To Canto Besos Balas y Suenos de Libertad. Estuary Press republished it as an ebook.
For more about Nina Serrano and Roque Dalton see https://estuarypress.com/ns-blog-post/poet-roque-dalton/.
I was walking down the hall of Casa de Las Americas, when a man popped out of one of the rooms, following me and quickly catching up. He introduced himself and said his name was Roque Dalton, a Salvadoran poet. He’d been in a meeting of male poets and they noticed me go by. So, he was sent to see who I was. Until then, I thought of poets as a very serious bunch. Now, I saw that clearly they indulged in the favorite Cuban pastime of the era- girl watching.
I commented that in my country, the United States, the Dalton Gang members were legendary folk heroes, like Jesse James.
“Yes,” he said.” I am related to them.”
We walked back to my hotel for lunch, He was very witty, and we laughed with every step under hot sun and palms trees, passing the Caribbean splashing against the malecon, dodging cars, and entering the limply air-conditioned Habana Libre Hotel.