Roque Dalton

My First Poem: To Roque Dalton Before Leaving

. . . To Fight in El Salvador, 1969

Roque Dalton
Roque Dalton

(Havana, 1969)*

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 living in Havana. My concern for his safety inspired 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.”

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
between us.
“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

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