Pobrecito poeta que era yo... [excerpt] / Roque Dalton

It was transcribed in Nature’s memorandum down to the very details that this would be the day of my second birth. In less than ten minutes, when I still hadn’t normalized my breathing which had been altered by the rough run, the largest moon I’ve ever seen in my life started to rise in the center of the black sky, a moon like a photographer’s curtain at a fair or, to reduce myself to absurdity, a jungle cloth from the customs worker Rousseau. Everything was clear as day. Obviously, I decided to keep walking, no longer carrying the disadvantages of the black run. I walked, walked and walked, furiously. I walked until I fell to the ground exhausted, after nearly four hours of climbing and descending hills. I’ve always been a good walker despite my nicotine and all-night lungs with their hundred theater seasons (well, let’s say twenty), always full of tempermental and emtional second actresses at the exact instant. As I fell on the ground, before falling asleep, I thought I must have walked at least twelve kilometers and that I had twenty to go until San Salvador. I also thought: what type of persecution have they set up against me? Patrols, or have they surrounded me? Both at the same time?

When I awoke it must have been four in the morning. I tried to orient myself. But the night
’s silence wouldn’t guide me and dawn’s lights had erased San Salvador’s glow from the firmament, which I’d been able to see before, each time I got to the top of a hill. After a while I heard the noise of a truck or bus and I could situate the highway. Despite the dangers I decided to reach it so I could see how far I’d advanced in parallel. A tough surprise awaited me at the highway, another “crater moment”: I was only two and a half kilometers away from Cojutepeque. In other words: still within reach of the hands of my jailers and more than thirty kilometers from the city where Id seek shelter. The anguished walk had been invested in climbing and descending hills without moving farther away from the place I was escaping in a straight line like the highway. To console myself I recalled the imbecile Salvadoran soldier who in 1944, during the preparations for the student invasion from Guatemala to defeat Osmín Aguirre, calculated the distances on the map tracing straight lines from one point to another, without paying attention to the curves of surface level. Many of those invaders were killed by the National Guard when they’d fallen asleep along the way, dying of exhaustion. Those with the best luck had to execute their prisoners, accustomed to walking without cartographic limits, before falling asleep in their arms. I decided to walk on the highway a while, seeking out a better place to reenter the wilderness again, since the route I’d followed up until now cut through many paths. Darkness was still helping me. After about fifty meters I came across a group of campesinos headed to work. The bells of a nearby church rang, calling for the first service. I was in the outskirts of Santa Cruz Michapa, a little town I used to visit frequently as a child. I greeted the campesinos and picked up my pace. What to do? Cut through the little town and enter the wilderness through the street that goes to Tenancingo or keep going further down this road? I was meditating on this when a crosstown bus appeared rattling from the east, stuffed with passengers. Without thinking too much, almost automatically and not even believing he was going to stop for me, I gestured to the driver. I was surprised when the clunker stopped a few meters away. I got on. There was a National Guardsman riding with his machine gun. He looked straight at me, but did nothing else. My look, my torn clothes, my filth, enough to fail me at an auto-stop restaurant, were nonetheless not much of a spectacle: rags are the social uniform of extensive levels of El Salvador’s rural population. I still had sixty-five cents left over from the peso the gullible police officer had given me and the fare to San Salvador cost me fifty. For a minute I had thought of getting off mid-way there, in a little town called San Martín where I remembered a friend of mine and fellow student named Elías Herrera lived, but then I thought it was still possible to gain some time against the eventual trap they’d lay for me. Plus, it would soon be dawn, it was nearly five in the morning. Since the bus was packed I consciously hid amid the squeeze of bodies, smells and colors: an amorphous mass of my people, recently awoken and still sleepy, lap of us all.

The journey unfolded without incident for about twenty kilometers and I was thinking a great deal about how I would enter the city, how I needed to find a friendly house before the sun came up. Cursing the hour it ever ocurred to me to live a life so full of interviews and big photographs in all the newspapers, I thought they would surely be waiting for me already at the bus terminal and that going all the way there would be a stupid mistake. The presence of a high level CIA agent in the interrogation had forced me to accept that the Salvadoran repressive organs act with the methods of their masters
, the North American secret service. The matter of mobilizing and eluding the persecution was becoming seriously more complicated due to my lack of knowledge of how the city and its surroundings function today. Since I’d been out of the country for two years and since the criteria of the Salvadoran authorities who monitor traffic are as variable as the interests at play, I made a chaos of the bus route numbers, their schedules, names and bus stop locations. In concrete terms, I didn’t know when to get off the bus so I could be as close to the city as possible without arriving at the terminal. Suddenly, the bus stopped, very close to the Ilopango airport. Because of the crush of bodies that absorbed my view of the entire panorama outside, I didn’t realize at the time why we’d stopped. An old man who was sitting next to me told his wife that a bus had stopped behind us, a city bus already, and he asked her to confirm if it was one from route 29, which goes between the airport and the Hotel El Salvador, at the other end of the city, at the foothills of the great volcano. When the woman, with her better vantage point, was able to confirm that it was indeed one of those buses, they both decided to get off and get on to the other bus. Since that route was also convenient for me, since it would resolve all my problems for getting into the city, since it crossed it lengthwise, I descended after them and likewise got on the other one. It was a very lit-up bus, a Berliet or Mercedes Benz. The fare was ten cents to downtown.

When I sat down and took a first glance through the ample windows, I realized why they had stopped the other bus. Stretched out across the highway, in the section that goes into San Salvador, were two cars from the police Special Investigations Unit. A group of plainclothes agents with machine guns, among whom were several who had guarded me in the gasconniére, were pulling people out of their cars and shining flashlights in their faces, checking the trunks and looking under seats. Two army officials were leading the operation. A couple got on the bus and sat behind me. The man was a fellow student of mine at Law School, for several years, but he didn
’t recognize me when he looked at me as he passed by. The driver closed the door and beeped the horn asking for them to let him go through right at the moment when the police were making the passengers get off the bus I’d just abandoned (including the National Guardsman with his machinegun). Because of how the cars were parked they hadn’t seen me get off the bus, even though everything happened within a radius of about twenty meters. Our driver was behind schedule and he pressed the accelerator, starting the maneuver to back up and then go around the road block. But they blew a whistle at him and he stopped the bus, turning the ignition off. I thought they’d already seen me and that this was as far as my escape would go. I consoled myself thinking that my recapture would be witnessed by my old buddy from Law School and that through him people would know about the event until news reached the Party. As for me, I would make a big scandal and would shout out my name in order to leave evidence that I would still be held (or be killed) at the hands of the government, that was still denying any involvement in my kidnapping. But no one came over and the driver turned on the bus again, grumbling angrily that he was in no mood for losing time and that he had a schedule to follow. He passed the old bus and when a policeman tried to stop him, another one shouted: “Let it through, it’s a city bus and it starts from here.” As we went through the road block, the heads of the army officers passed by just below the level of my jaw.

{ Roque Dalton,
Pobrecito poeta que era yo..., San Salvador: UCA Editores, 1994, pp. 439-442 }


Nimaloreth said...

Hi - thanks for the translation. I was trying to find out whether there finally was a translation of "Pobrecito Poeta" (there isn't, for all I know), and stumbled upon your blog. Added to my personal reading list!

Guillermo Parra said...

Thanks for reading! You're right, no English translation exists of Dalton's amazing novel. I hope one day someone brings his book into English.