On the shore of Lake Nicaragua

solentiname
Solentiname, Nicaragua

On the shore of Lake Nicaragua

The light of the new moon
strewn across the surface
of the land-locked sea
the waters gently lapping
the rugged shore

the rise and fall of palm leaves
as the air made its way inland
our voices in the silence
celebrating the passage
from one year to the next

everything still to be made
every notion to be put
to the test
every breath to be measured
and put to good purpose

so much beauty to be held
in the hand and to be admired
so much love to be shared
and time at our beck and call
or so it seemed in those days

John Lyons

Ernesto Castillo – 4 poems

ernesto castillo salaverry
Ernesto Castillo

Ernesto Castillo Salaverry (1957-1978) was born in Managua, Nicaragua; he died barely two months before his 21st birthday, fighting against Somoza’s National Guard on the streets of Leon. His poetry reads like a diary of the daily struggle against the dictatorship, interwoven with love and nostalgia. Days before his death he wrote a letter to his parents:


Sunday, August 27, 1978.

To all those who love me, and among them, especially you.

I had thought not to write these lines, because you know I do not like goodbyes, I believe that every separation is temporary because when several people are together, when they love each other in the way that we love each other, it is impossible to forget each other, and at happy times, in the sad moments, we are together, sharing, as we have done so often. You are always with me. You are in the rain, you are on the streets mingling with the people, accompanying me every time I go to work. When I talk with colleagues, and we touch on family matters, matters of love, I just smile, because I have the good fortune to have your support; I am happy to know that you understand the need to fight; happy because the training I received made me aware of the need for change, for the revolutionary transformation of an unjust society.

In addition to having you, I am not alone; colleagues who work with me are very fraternal, we live together in danger, we share the same ideology, and our Sandinista convictions make us brothers. The people, the workers, the taxi driver, the newspaper seller, the cornershop keeper, they all accompany me. They trust me, without even knowing me, they love me, they have great faith in me, in us.

For you, for them, for Nicaragua, I am willing to fight to the end.

I cannot say that I don’t miss you, that would be a lie. I’d like to be with you, sharing every moment, enjoying every word, every gesture, every look. Today it’s not possible, but we must sacrifice ourselves, and I confess that I find it hard, we must fight in these conditions so that thousands of families can come together, so that Nicaraguan mothers do not continue to see their children murdered by the National Guard.

I’m not afraid, I know I’m going to brush with death, and I’m not afraid. You, and an entire nation, are with me. I love you.

Ernesto.


4 poems by Ernesto Castillo

The list of revolutionary
martyrs is long;
I know that the road
to Liberation is painful;
but if I fall,
another will take my place
and maybe fight
longer than me,
and his work combined
with what has been done,
may finally achieve
victory.

*
The streets wet with rain
reflect the night.
I crawl along the path
as though trying to prolong
the steps that must take me
to my death.

*

September 1978

Some are for your sister;
let her enjoy them
if she likes them ,
if not,
let her accept them,
because it was she
who created them;
not all,
just some.
The others are scattered
in women’s names
I’d already have forgotten,
had I not written them
in my poems.
The last ones,
the most recent,
are yours,
I wasn’t sure before.
These poems
and these feelings
are yours
because you earned them.

*
Thanks for having given me your kisses,
your moments of joy and loneliness
thanks for sharing
my problems.

I can only leave you my poems
and my memories, the memory of the silent
nights with my hands running across
your body and my eyes glistening
as our mouths met.

I see you rereading my letters and poems,
remembering the why of each sentence,
trying to revive my love in every
one of those pages.

I’ll leave my sensation of loneliness,
because where I’m going you cannot reach me;
and in your sleepless nights
you’ll remember that I can never
come running to you, that you’ll no longer
even have my distant presence,
because my body
will be eaten by worms
that will erase every trace of your
kisses on my neck.

Time will turn my bones to dust,
everyone will forget me, but you
will sometimes feel the urge to cry;
a veil of sadness will overwhelm you
and my memory will reappear in your eyes.

Translations by John Lyons


Following the United States occupation of Nicaragua from 1912 to 1933, during the so-called Banana Wars, the Somoza family political dynasty was installed, and, with US backing, would rule the country until the final dictator was ousted in the 1979 Nicaraguan Sandinista Revolution.

In the 1970s the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) had begun a guerrilla campaign with isolated attacks which led to national recognition of the group in the Nicaraguan media and solidification of the group as a force in opposition to the dictatorship. The Somoza regime, was defended by the National Guard, a force highly trained by the U.S. military, that used torture, and extra-judicial killing, intimidation and censorship of the press in order to combat the FSLN attacks. In 1977, mounting international condemnation of the regime’s human rights violations led the Carter Administration to cut off aid to the Somoza regime. By the end of January 1978, civil disobedience had turned into a full-scale popular uprising throughout the country, ending in July 1979 when Somoza abandoned Nicaragua and the first Sandinista government was installed.

Columbus Day – The Panels of Hell

Coronel_Urtecho
José Coronel Urtecho

The poem below was written by José Coronel Urtecho (1906-1994) in the months following the July 1979 Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua. These were the days of innocence and euphoria, the likes of which had never before been known in that very poor Central American country. In those early days of the revolution the whole country was undergoing a radical transformation; the young, educated few were going out in brigades into the countryside and the poor urban neighbourhoods bringing the gift of literacy to the hundreds of thousands who had been denied any sort of education under the successive governments of the US-backed Somoza dictatorship. Alongside, there were brigades of doctors and nurses and health workers taking healthcare, for the first time ever, to the same marginalized sectors of the population in order to vaccinate, to provide antenatal and perinatal care and to conduct an all-out offensive against infant mortality and preventable disease.

Coronel Urtecho, one of Nicaragua’s greatest poets, had earlier in his life been a supporter of the Somoza dictatorship but he was gradually radicalized through contact with members of the Sandinista National Liberation front, and Panels of Hell was written as an act of contrition for the sins of his earlier ideological beliefs.

My translation of the poem was eventually published by Harold Pinter in 1989 at the height of the illegal Contra war against the people of Nicaragua, instigated by Ronald Reagan and spearheaded by the Oliver North.

It is salutary, on this Columbus Day 2015, to reflect on the significance of today’s commemorations, to ask exactly who in the Amercias has anything to commemorate, to speculate how the native American peoples, for example, might be taking Christopher Columbus to their hearts, how the poor and dispossessed of the Americas might like to remember that fateful day, 12 October 1492, when according to his log, Columbus, in his search for a new route to the spice lands of the East, first sighted land in the West.

The two avatars of that discovery were (and remain to this day) wealth and poverty, or as they are known euphemistically: North and South! Happy Columbus Day!


PANELS OF HELL (extract)

Who remembers the octogenarian swine in his sedan chair the one who
          first stole Nicaragua the country the government the land for himself
                   and for his family
          the first one who saw Nicaragua as a business his own business
          the first one who in Nicaragua established the business of slaves the
                   exploitation and selling of slaves
          the first of the usurious foreign bankers and financiers in Nicaragua
          the one who first brought to Nicaragua his genocidal dogs
                   to guard over his minerals
          the one who first killed in Nicaragua ‘two million’ Indians (2,000,000)
          the first one who installed his dynasty in Nicaragua
          the first of the first dynasty in Nicaragua continued by his daughter and
          his son-in-law and his grandchildren tyrant usufructuaries of the Empire
who in Nicaragua today remembers the worst of all the Spanish
          conquerors of America and his murderous descendants?

All of them are submerged in the dung heap of History

What became of the cold paranoid filibuster robber of countries
          the ill-famed adventurer from Tennessee gone bust in Sonora
          ill-adapted in California who very nearly stole Nicaragua
          from the democrats and legitimists or Liberals and Conservatives
          who amongst themselves were killing each other to exploit
                   the Nicaraguan people
the first North American to see Nicaragua the country the
          government the land as a subsidiary business to
                   North American business
the first imperialist racist North American pro-slaver who tried
          in Nicaragua to introduce the black slave trade importing the
          slavery of the slave States of the South of North America
          through the elimination of Nicaragua’s Indians and mestizos
          but could get nowhere with the people of Nicaragua
          Costa Rica Honduras El Salvador and Guatemala

the first North American of the South or the North the East or
          the West who brought his dogs to Nicaragua and thugs or
          mercenary animals enlisted in New York and New Orleans
                   and San Francisco California

the first agent of the thieving bankers of Frisco competitors of
          the usurious bankers of Manhattan concessionaires of the
          inter-oceanic Transit of foreign passengers through Nicaragua

the first North American arsonist destroyer of Nicaraguan
          cities who would have reduced them all to ashes and left them
          in ruins and sown the land with wooden crosses and scattered
          cemeteries and common graves before handing it over empty
          to his pro-slaver filibusters but could get nowhere with the
          resistance of the people of Nicaragua Costa Rica Honduras El Salvador
                   and Guatemala

the first for us of the models of North American imperialism
          without a mask or with a mask in person or if not through an
          intermediary but in any case the model for the North American
          invaders interveners ambassadors swindlers mediators and
          for the North Americanizing dealers and businessmen and
          traffickers of the Nicaraguan patrimony-peddling bourgeoisie

the first of the first North American military occupation
          of Nicaragua never really discontinued rather immediately continued
          by the Conservative and Liberal oligarchies and from 1936 to the
         19th of July 1979 by the proconsular family of the pentagonal dynasty
          enthroned on Tiscapa Hill by the Yankee Empire
who today is aware in Nicaragua of the worst of all the filibusters of
          America—admired by Truman—and of his murderous successors?

All of them are at the bottom of the latrines of History

February 1980

Translation by John Lyons


A woman called Carmela, by Irma Prego,

irmaI can’t remember exactly how I met Irma Prego. I was living in Costa Rica in the early 1990s and teaching a course in Latin American literature in the National University there. Often I would go to the literary evenings organised at El Farolito, the international cultural arm of the Spanish government, and on one occasion Irma must have been there. We became friends immediately. Born in Nicaragua in 1933, Irma had at one time been engaged to the poet, Carlos Martínez Rivas, but her parents had eventually forced her to break off the relationship on the grounds that Carlos was too poor. Well he was poor except for his incredible gifts as a poet.

In 1956 Irma moved to Costa Rica and married a prominent journalist. It was an unhappy marriage and they eventually divorced. Although her ex-husband was still alive, at the time, whenever I saw Irma, she would refer to him as ‘el finado’, the deceased one. She was not very tall, about 5’ 2”, and slightly built, but at the age of sixty kept her hair long, though usually worn up. In her youth she had been incredibly beautiful, incredibly unconventional and the darling of all the young male poets of her day, and she still retained her good looks. She had sharp eyes and a sharp wit and conversing with her was a delight. She wrote her short stories with the same voice with which she spoke, full of irony and good humour, but deadly when it came to references to her ex. And in one way or another, all her fiction centred around him and the details of their unhappy union.

To me Irma was a treasure, and she read and commented on all my poetry and all the stories I was writing at the time. She was also very hospitable and had trained as a cordon bleu chef, and we enjoyed many meals together in our respective homes. A proud and gentle and very generous soul, she was much loved by everyone. The story below is taken from a collection entitled Mensajes al más allá, [Messages for the beyond] published in 1996. The irony is that the stories were intended reading for her ex-husband, el finado, in his premature afterlife.


A woman named Carmela, by Irma Prego

It was not for no reason that they called Carmela the Renegade. That silence, that oblique look, that sharp observation, that sudden leap into the most radical of rebellions.

Carmela married a workaholic, who hated Sundays, hated to relax, hated the silence or simple concentration. A hyperactive, psychotic obsessive, he murdered the atmosphere with all kinds of idiotic interventions: trivial and bad-tempered arguments, muttering, complaints, a real pain in the arse the whole time.

One day, because anything can happen in a day in life, one Friday as it happens, Carmela decided to put a bit of beauty into her Sunday, because Sundays should be lived in style, when time slows to a crawl out of the sheer pleasure of doing nothing, or at least the doing the minimum.

With her meagre housekeeping budget, she discovered in the market some splendid, round and compact tomatoes, some freshly picked peas, some tiny potatoes, some clean white Santa Ana onions, some red and green bell peppers, and some of those prawns that are “al dente” in eight minutes.

She prepared the mayonnaise with all fresh ingredients for the French dressing and as she did so her husband’s smiling face flashed through her mind.

Come Sunday Carmela got up early. She whistled in the kitchen, she sang while she bathed and dried the children, recited poetry as she picked things up off the floor, tidied, dusted and swept. She entered the bathroom singing opera at the top of her voice.

She placed the iceberg lettuce on the white wooden cutting board along with the other beautiful components of the salad. Still life, not at all! Wonderful life!

He became impatient because he couldn’t stand the spontaneous joy of those who got up in a good mood in the morning. So he just buried his head in his newspaper: an utterly compulsive reader, reading was for him just a means of escape, had nothing to do with improving the mind.

Carmela tacked the recipe to the wall (a recipe can also make a home) and began her great manoeuvres. She cut the top off the tomatoes, and how beautiful the rose window of Notre Dame turned out, the magnificent structure of a gothic rose window, and each tomato a different one.

At twelve-fifteen her preparations were ready, tomatoes stuffed with prawns, peas, diced potatoes and French dressing. She proudly plonked them on top of the crisp bed of lettuce and triumphantly decorated the crests with aromatic parsley. On top of the green tablecloth she had crocheted herself she laid out the yellow plates and the crystal glasses. Overjoyed she called out: “Lunch is served!”

He folded his newspaper grumpily. He sat at the table with a frown on his face.
With a vaguely threatening gesture he shook the serviette in the air and confronted the tomato as though it was an enemy!

Carmela could see the stinging indictment she was about to receive. With the stern look of a Juvenile judge he asked peremptorily: “What the hell is this, my girl?” Finding the strength to overcome her weakness and fatigue, Carmela responded boldly:

      “A stuffed tomato!” She felt almost ashamed with her wounded pride.

      “A stuffed tomato!” he exploded. “You know I love my tomatoes sliced,” he said bitterly, “but my tastes count for nothing in this house.”

However, deeply dejected and amid constant grumbles, he devoured four tomatoes with marinated chips, and downed two or three glasses of wine.

The silence at the table could have been cut with a knife, and the lunch intended to brighten up the Sunday had been a heartbreaking disaster.

From that day on she loathed markets, tomatoes and Sundays.

By the time of the siesta Carmela had begun to insult, to scold, to rebuke herself with real fury. Of course it was a disaster, she could get nothing right, life was too much for her, everything uphill all the way, and as for her, she was a silly fool, a hopeless case, a loser, a nobody. An internal speech delivered so angrily, so feverishly, with such intensity that she was convinced that she wasn’t worth a cent, that she was little more than a useless piece of trash. Not surprising that nothing went right for her and she’d never merited a single sincere compliment, nor the slightest recognition, nor even the slightest thanks.

It was then that she began to slink around in the corners as unnoticed as possible, as though she was invisible. She blended into the broom, the iron, the oven, the pressure cooker, the vacuum cleaner. They forgot about her at home, maybe they’d even forgotten before her pathetic attempt to disappear. Occasionally they wondered where she was, but they never saw her; on one occasion they wanted to mention something to her but couldn’t find her; and once they wanted to know when her birthday was but it wasn’t important enough for them to try to find her.

When they lost something, some faceless hand brought it to them, a bodiless cloth rinsed out the bathtub, a soulless creature prepared the meals, the beds were made by the hand and grace of inertia, and the house was cleaned by the electric appliances.

Carmela, an invisible faceless, silent, absent woman, who lived in a house on loan to her from her children who were just passing through, from a husband who was elsewhere, was a slave to them all every day. Carmela, this woman named Carmela, walked out one day for good and left a trail of threads and buttons and needles and dishes and linen and bedding and patches and resentment and empty hours and corners and recipes and shopping lists and thrift and silences upon that huge puddle of tears that she’d never cried.

Translation by John Lyons

Hey good looking, what you got cooking. . . ?

How about cooking something up for me?

Hank Williams
Hank Williams

To the immortal words of Hank Williams’ unforgettable song, our old sea-dog Jonah decides he’s going to share one of his culinary secrets. How come these old timers in Central America, who don’t have two beans to rub together, live to the ripe old age of 90 or more? The answer is diet, and hard work. You all know the saying, “Hard work never killed anyone.” The fact is that hard work saves more lives than it kills, way more!

So what about diet? What do the peasants in Nicaragua and Costa Rica have for breakfast, lunch and dinner? The answer is gallo pinto: a basic mixture of rice and black beans fried together with a little garlic, onion, salt and pepper. Eat it with maize tortillas, an egg (fried or omelette), or maybe a little meat (not too much) or on its own with plenty of chile sauce and you’re away. Live forever!

So how’s it done?

You need to cook your rice and your beans separately and remember that for gallo pinto they will be mixed 50/50 so I won’t give precise weights. Once the beans are cooked you drain off the liquid and let the beans dry.

Then in a large frying pan you fry a little minced garlic with a little finely chopped onion in a generous dose of good oil (sunflower or extra virgin), adding a little salt and pepper to taste. Once the onions are soft you slowly add the beans on a moderate heat. After a minute or two, you add a similar portion of rice and with the heat still low you stir the contents of the pan, noting how the beans and the rice are getting drier all the time. As the moisture begins to evaporate, the rice will take on a reddish hue having absorbed some of the colour from the beans. What this translates into is flavour. You now need to reduce the heat as low as possible so that the mixture continues to dry out, taking care, however not to burn it. Believe me, the mixture of rice and beans in gallo pinto is a marriage made in heaven!

Gallo pinto is often served with sliced fried plantain (either sweet, when skin is yellow, or savoury, when skin is green). Eggs, meat, tortillas are all optional extras. The beauty of this dish, apart from its simplicity and divine taste, is that it delivers in a very simple format, all the protein and carbohydrate you’re going to need if you intend to do a hard day’s work. And there’s an added bonus. By taking your main protein shot from pulses rather than from meat, you’re actually helping to save the planet. So go for it!


gallo pinto
gallo pinto Jonah made for lunch today

Ingredients
Black beans
Cooked rice
Clove or two of minced garlic
Half onion finely chopped
Cooking oil
Salt
Pepper

Final point. Keep the leftover gallo pinto in an airtight container in the fridge. When next required gently warm through. You’ll find that with every warm-up, the mixture will get drier, the rice and beans will eventually become crunchy and you will cross the taste barrier into ecstasy. By the way gallo pinto means spotted rooster in Spanish.