El Salvador Tragic: 10 Roque Dalton Poems from 3 Books
By Luis Gonzalez Serrano
| 1 February 2013
The Warrior's Resting Place
The dead are getting more restless each day.
They used to be easy
we’d put on stiff collars flowers
praised their names on long lists
shrines of the homeland
The corpses signed away for posterity
returned to formation
and marched to the beat of our old music.
But not anymore
They get all ironic
they ask questions.
It seems to me they’ve started to realise
they’re becoming the majority!
Homeland you don’t exist
you’re just a bad outline of myself
words of the enemy I believed
Before I used to believe you were so small
you reached neither
north nor south
but now I know you don’t exist
and it doesn’t seem as though anybody needs you
I haven’t heard any mothers speak of you
That makes me happy
because it proves I made up a country
although I might end up in an institution for it
Then I am a little god at your coast
(I mean: if I am an expatriate
you are an ex-country)
The president of my country
these days is called Colonel Fidel Sanchez Hernandez
but General Somoza, the president of Nicaragua
is also president of my country.
And General Stroessner, the president of Paraguay,
is somewhat president of my country too, though not as
as the president of Honduras,
General Lopez Arellano, but a bit more than the president of
And the president of the United States is more president of
than the president of my country,
the one who, as I said, these days
is called Colonel Fidel Sanchez Hernandez.
Looking for Trouble
The night of my first political cell meeting it rained
my way of dripping was celebrated by four
or five characters straight out of a Goya painting
everyone in the room looked slightly bored
maybe of the persecution and even of the torture they
dreamed of daily.
Founders of confederations and strikers had
a certain huskiness and said that I had
to choose a pseudonym
that I had to pay five bucks a month
that we agreed to meet every Wednesday
and how was I going with my studies
and that today we were going to ready a Lenin pamphlet
and that we didn’t need to say comrade all the time.
It had stopped raining when we finished
mum told me off for getting home late.
I smell like the colour of mourning on those days
when flowers wilt due to their price
like a poor man dying in a drought
with the certainty that it will soon rain.
I smell like the history of a small catastrophe
that has kept all the corpses
I smell like an old mess turned into faith
its great flame anointed with respect.
I smell like too far from the sea I don’t make excuses
I’ll die a little bit from this smell
I smell like meagre condolences
like pale shadow like dead house.
I smell like the sweat of iron like dust
land-sliding in the moonlight
like a bone left at the entrance to the labyrinth
in the dawn vapours.
I smell like an animal only known to me
faint over velvet
I smell like a child’s bad drawing
like eternity no-one would look for.
I smell like when it’s too late for anything.
It’s great being a communist
although it gives you many headaches.
Because communists’ headaches
are historical, that is
they won’t go away with painkillers
only with the realisation of Paradise on Earth.
That’s how it is.
Under capitalism our heads hurt
and our heads are ripped off.
In the struggle for Revolution the head is a delayed-action bomb.
In the construction of socialism
we plan for the headache
which doesn’t alleviate it – quite the contrary.
Communism will be, among other things,
an aspirin the size of the sun.
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Luis Gonzalez Serrano is a Melbourne poet. He came to Australia from El Salvador in 1988 as a refugee. In 2003 he founded the poetry journal Salt-lick Quarterly
, which he co-edited until 2005. He was artistic director of the Melbourne Overload Poetry Festival from 2010 to 2011 and has been a regular of the Melbourne poetry reading circles. His first poetry book, Cities with Moveable Parts
, was published by NSW Poets Union Publications in 2005.
The ERP was not “the most extreme faction,” they were all equally left; Daltons murder led to the creation of the RN, the 5th org if the FMLN, so Dalton had joined 1of 4 existing orgs; and while his books were “banned,” most were piblished by the press st the Jesuit University — the UCA— and were widely known and available.