Dead Poets Society


Dead Poets Society

for Otto René Castillo (1936-1967), Roberto Obregon (1940-1970), Guadalupe Navas (1942-1980),  Luis de León (1939-1985), and all the poets and people of Guatemala who gave their lives for the people’s struggle

this is not a movie starring Robin Williams
this is not a white prep school teacher
secretly teaching dead white authors
to rich white schoolboys, God forbid

this is the highlands of Guatemala
the cloud forests of a genetically modified banana republic
indigenous colors masked by corporate logos
guarded by young soldiers carrying guns bigger then they are,
all clearly marked, Made in the USA

i am a poet
made in the u.s.a.
a land where the greatest risk
of my profession is answering
the Christmas party hosts’ ice-breaker,
“So what do you do for a living?”
and watching their mouths drop
in an eggnog mix of confusion and pity

but here in Guatemala
land of volcanoes and United Fruit plantations,
i have met peasants and ex-guerrillas
who during the war years
(when were they not war years?)
secretly passed poems amongst the hungry
like bread or rifles

every poet was a fighter
every fighter a poet
not everyone went up into the mountains
but they made their struggle on the pages
and streets of this beautiful, broken nation

Roberto Obregon
Guadalupe Navas
Luis de León
and of course
Otto René Castillo

you lived for your people
and were killed for your words
tortured for your stanzas
disappeared for your poems
but your poems did not disappear

Otto, the army took your ode of solidarity
and turned it into a torture manual

I will stay blind so that you can have eyes
I will stay without a voice so that you can sing
I have to die so that you don’t die

and so when those soldiers cut out your eyes,
removed your tongue, and carved out your heart
they thought they had finished their bloody job

but your voice still rings out
of the people’s lips
like the call of the quetzal
flying high above the mountains
never to be caged or buried

i don’t know if the pen
is mightier than the sword
but what is the meaning
of a poem in the first place?
to end its days, quiet and comfortable
in the pages of an anthology?
or to go out fighting, and perhaps survive
in the hearts of the people?

poetry gives life
poetry needs life
poetry is life!

¡Vámonos patria a caminar!