Subversive poetry tells of martyrs, peasants
By GARY MacEOIN
After the Bible, this is the most subversive book I ever read. It replaces Das Kapital as No. 2 on my list. Do not read it unless you are prepared to repent and believe the good news.
Its 23 poems, Golden tells us, aspire to be both poetry and social history. The voices in these poems -- clergy, human rights workers, peasants and guerrillas caught up in the wars that plagued Central America over the last couple of decades -- speak from Salvadoran graves, from Guatemalan highlands, from dank jails, from primitive hideouts, from ghost towns, from country churches. The poems are divided into two main sections: martyr poems and peasant poems. Each martyr and each peasant is presented first in a brief prose account, then in a poem.
One of the founders of the Sanctuary movement in the early 1980s, Golden went to El Salvador in 1985 to see for herself, and she has been visiting El Salvador and Guatemala almost every year since. I saw her in San Salvador for the 20th anniversary of Archbishop Oscar Romeros assassination in March.
Laura Lopez in 1981 chose to relocate with her five children as a pastoral worker to the guerrillas and their families on the Guazapa volcano in El Salvador. In the absence of a priest, she led all the services and became known as the bishop.
As the attacks of A-37 bombers intensified during Holy Week in 1985, she told the people in her Good Friday homily that the martyrs cross has been placed on our shoulders ... [but] the word of God has to be made a reality. A week later, during an intense bombardment, she gave up her space in the underground shelter to a family with small children, and with her 13-year-old daughter tried to outrun the ground patrols. A few extracts from the poem complete the story:
The people ordained you Bishop.
Mama tried to get up
On the path ahead your child
Carlos and his father
That is the month your oldest daughter
Ostmaro Caceres was killed in 1982. Golden walked a long day through the countryside with a guide who knew how to circumvent the military checkpoints to meet Caceres father.
In front of the priests house,
Even an oft-told story shines more brilliantly in her telling.
The executioners -- Sergeant Avalos,
The woman, M16 on shoulder, kisses her child in the cradle.
Good-bye, hijo, I say,
And the indomitable courage of the women.
Suddenly, up from the riverbed,
One guitar wails a ranchera.
So what has Golden learned? I have learned, she tells us, that insurgent hope, even in the midst of hideous repression, is a weapon that the powerful always underestimate.
Gary MacEoin may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
National Catholic Reporter, May 5, 2000