Nicaragua

Poetry

 

Nicaragua has been described as a nation of poets. It has a long and venerable tradition of support and admiration for its poets, some of whom have importance far beyond the confines of the country itself. My experiences in Nicaragua have on occasion inspired me to join with them in verse. My father, Bill Daniel, who helped to found the organization, Bridges to Community, also wrote poetry and some of mine are based on work that he began before he died in 2001. Those are identified with both names. The unidentified ones are mine alone.

Gathering

Tierra Colorada, Nicaragua

Muy differente,” the interpreter said;
es muy, muy differente!

And they nodded, understanding only
the essential incomprehensibility
of the abyss
between us
                     unutterable
a limitless, unseen ocean on a moonless night
beyond language
                             distance
                                             transience
an impenetrable darkness
but also a light so brilliant
we must shut our eyes

avoiding the dissonance
of rocks and glass cities
pigs and domed stadiums
starlight and smog.

In a village with no electricity
                           no running water,
                                                no telephones
seven kilometers from the end of the gravel road
without a single store:
                                    with nothing to buy…
we gather
in the only place there is to be together:
in the church
in the evening
in the sputtering light of a single candle
we asked--
                         innocent
of covert intent
but unconsciously guilty
impulsive, and obtuse—

“What is your life here like?”

They answered
simply
like drawing water from a well

then asked in return:
                                 our cup
came up empty
our thoughts
                        untranslatable
our resistance palpable and electric
like static crackling in high tension wires.

“What is life like in the United States?”

“Muy, muy differente,”
said the inarticulate interpreter
as the candle in our midst
burned

Water

Water was always something that poured over me
when I turned on the shower.
Then one day I followed a boy
four miles along a muddy trail
to take a bath in a stream.

Water was always something that automatically
filled the washing machine.
Then I followed a woman
carrying a basket of clothes on her head
to a dry river bed
where she dug out a hole among the rocks
for her laundry.

Water was always thoughtlessly at hand
to spray on the lawn
or drink fresh from the faucet.
Until I spent a week
digging the only well
in a village of dust and stone.

Bill and Eddee Daniel

Pocahontas
Tierra Colorada, Nicaragua

Village without a Center

Francia Dos, Nicaragua

A thick acrid pall
like unfulfilled promises
obscures the crescent of mountains
surrounding Francia Dos
                —a village without a center.
Nearer fields fold
                        like a faded curtain
                                                        draped
loosely on the bones of the land
printed in an extravagant but colorless pattern
of interlaced pineapple stalks
like the dusty sabers of dead conquistadors.

A village of fifty families
stretches into the haze
                                 disappearing in both directions
resting precariously along the
                                               steeply
                                                        sloping
                                                                  ridge top
as if on the sharp edge of a machete.

Fifty families
hidden amongst tropical vegetation
                                                      coconut palms
mango and lime and other utilitarian trees
their dwellings
                        —a few can be called houses
many merely inadequate enclosures
assembled in haste
                             plastic tarps hung over sticks
whatever materials were at hand
after the earthquake
                             —strung out in a long
                                                              ragged line…

The wind shifts
                       drags up the plume of the volcano
like the smoky breath of a recalcitrant dragon.
Densely foliated mountains reappear in brilliant greens
along with the unexpected drama of pineapple spears
in surprisingly harmonious shades of orange, green and
                                                                                      purple.

And then the people appear
                                            noiselessly
on foot
on bicycles
out of makeshift shacks
with dirt floors, dirt yards
down the length of the undulating dirt road
that ties together the long, narrow village
of fifty families.

They arrive somehow immaculate
in creased trousers and pressed shirts
and their names roll softly off their tongues:
Don Santiago, Doña Haydee, Don Mario,
Don Cirilo, Doña María Elena

and in the clear air
in the lee of the volcano
I finally fathom
                        the center of Francia Dos

in their exquisite faces.

Thicket of Thorns

Tierra Colorada, Nicaragua

In Nicaragua I cleared a piece
of the jungle
alongside a girl
whose shy smile arrested me.
Lacking her language
I could only smile in return.
Together we built a church
out of bricks
for her village where
houses are made of mud.

Later I learned that
her brothers had been shot
by Contra soldiers;
an elite unit
trained in the United States.
                                                  
That was years ago, I’m told
reassuringly.
Today we build a church
for her God
who hangs on the wall
twisted in pain
                             eternally
           bleeding

Young Vendor
Managua, Nicaragua

   

My Father’s Spirit

Why am I here?
I am asked that question
in two languages
each time I return:
Why am I in Nicaragua?
Neither language provides an answer
and the question contains shadows
from which the spectral presence of my father
                                                                  beckons.

I am not here
to revisit my father’s insignificant grave
                                                  in the Teustepe cemetery
a rectangular patch of dry weeds
                                                   surrounded
by marble sepulchers
lavish, regularly refreshed bouquets
gently resting spirits
                                attended religiously
by families who live in Teustepe.

I went there once
after he died, but
my father’s spirit does not rest
in that unkempt scrap of circumscribed ground.

I am not here
to complete my father’s
                                      unfinished work.
He was not content to reach for unattainable stars;
he was after constellations:
                                          prosperity
in one of the poorest of countries;
                                          harmony
between two peoples whose eyes have grown weary
with seeing through telescopes
                                            of oppression
                                                exploitation
                                                      violence
                                                            distrust.
This work cannot be completed within a lifetime;
not his
            not mine.
My father’s spirit does not rest
in the limitless stars of the Nicaraguan night.

I am here because
in 1992 my father came to dig a well;
because
where others with their telescopes
saw uncrossable canyons
                                         he saw bridges;
because where others saw poverty
he saw community;
because
when he decided to dig wells
                                            and build houses
he knew he couldn’t do it alone.

I am here to mix some concrete
to carry a few blocks
to help build one wall
raise a single, simple house
on a cleared rectangle of fertile Nicaraguan earth.

I am here because
                             during a pause when mixing concrete
one of the villagers hands me an incomparably juicy
                                                                        slice of pineapple
cut with a machete from the field a few feet away;
because
a classroom full of young school children suddenly empties
to help carry heavy blocks of concrete, two kids to a block;
because
as I work on the wall I see Roberto
                                            who has lived in a plastic shelter
                                                with his wife and three children
                                                     for five years
                                            who will live in this house next week
laying three blocks for my every one;
                                                           because
when the house is complete
my father’s spirit will come to rest in it.

Until we begin the next one.

Empty Buckets

Managua, Nicaragua, 1999

Two little boys crouch against the wall
at the far end of the restaurant
with buckets in the their hands
watching for table scraps.
Four eyes
without expression
patiently waiting
like ravens.

They walk away
flightless
hand in hand
their buckets banging together
arhythmically
hollowly.

I cannot save them.
I cannot feed them all.
But neither can I swallow the last of my meal
paid for with foreign credit
in a tourist restaurant
where phantom children
still crouch against the wall
with empty buckets.

Bill and Eddee Daniel

Portrait of my Father
Tierra Colorada, Nicaragua

Heliconia
Ticuantepe, Nicaragua

   

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