Monday, September 04, 2006

RIP LEONEL RUGAMA

Leonel Rugama, 1949-1970


R.I.P. LEONEL RUGAMA


One afternoon Leonel recommended
-- to improve my vitality, strength -- that I exercise
going on to say that by this he did not mean
"spiritual exercises."
We talked also about the girls
who passed on their way from work or school
about others that went into and came out of a certain
shoe store
about another on the corner selling fried pork
then he read me a poem about a young girl
who had died in Vietnam.
Today, another afternoon,
I see on the front page of a daily
the photo of his body riddled by the
G.N.
and recall how José Coronel Urtecho
once said to me,
"Poets? They're good for nothing."


That's my translation. Here's the original:

R.I.P. LEONEL RUGAMA

Una tarde Leonel me recomendó
-- para la flacura -- hacer ejercicios
aclarándome que no se trataba de
"ejercicios espirituales"
Hablamos acerca de las muchachas
que iban o venían del trabajo o del colegio
de las que entraban o salían de una tienda
de zapatos
de otra que pasaba vendiendo chancho
también me leyó un poema sobre una guerrillera
Vietnamita.
Ahora -- otra tarde que veo su cuerpo acribillado
por la G.N. en la foto de un diario
recuerdo que José Coronel Urtecho
una vez me dijo: "Los poetas no sirven para nada."



Leonel Rugama, Nicaragua's best-known Sandinista guerrilla poet, died in combat against Somoza's infamous Guardia Nacional at the age of twenty. José Coronel Urtecho was a widely respected older poet who survived peacefully through both the Somoza and Sandinista regimes.

Apparently (in a scene whose description irresistably brings to mind the denoument of Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid -- please pardon my semi-relevant synapses) Rugama and two others held off an entire batallion of armed regulars, including tanks and cannons, for quite a long while before they were finally killed.

His death profoundly affected an entire generation of Nicaraguan writers.

At least one talented contemporary -- Franklin Caldera (who has written some words of praise for the jacket of our upcoming bilingual edition, translated by yours truly) -- writes in a highly engaging account that he was so affected by Rugama's death that he stopped writing poetry for 30 years out of the feeling that as he himself didn't have the courage to die for his convictions as his friend had, he would always be unworthy to be a poet. Francisco Santos, also a personal friend, responded with the elegy above.

Looking up Rugama on the net, I discovered he was indeed quite a poet. A bilingual edition of his work can be found here. Quite a few poems of his can be found here.

Below is a translation I just did of perhaps his most famous poem. Well, actually, it's a "composite" translation, because in researching what follows I came across at another translation of the same poem on the net, and as mine was still a bit rough in spots, I adopted a few nice turns of phrase (particularly the ringing final phrase) from that one.

A fact that is worth knowing before reading the poem: Acahualinca is the Nahua name of the area of present-day Managua. In the lower class barrio that bears that name (where Francisco's parents now live, incidentally), near Lago de managua (Lake Managua, also known by its Nahua name, Lago Xolotlan), anthropologists found a lengthy track of deep, perfectly preserved human footprints all going in one direction, towards the lake. The prints, buried under layers of hardened lava, have been dated at six thousand years old. Part of the excavation is on display -- a mysterious, peculiarly awe-inspiring site, if only because it is so old... I've seen it, and you can see pictures of it and a good account of it here. A number of Nicaraguan poets have written about it, and perhaps some day I will too. Anthropologists speculated for the longest time that the footprints were made by people fleeing a volcanic eruption. That's what it looks like to the casual eye. Now, though, it is known that they were simply walking.

Clearly, though, "the people of Acahualinca" are an extinct people -- but their blood flows in the veins of any Mestizo or native person from Nicaragua today.

Anyway, here goes. I hope I (rather, we) managed evoke at least some of the spellbinding qualities in the original.

THE EARTH IS A SATELLITE OF THE MOON
Leonel Rugama

Apollo 2 cost more than Apollo 1
and Apollo 1 cost a lot.

Apollo 3 cost more than Apollo 2
Apollo 2 cost more than Apollo 1
and Apollo 1 cost a lot.

Apollo 4 cost more than Apollo 3
Apollo 3 cost more than Apollo 2
Apollo 2 cost more than Apollo 1
and Apollo 1 cost a lot.

Apollo 8 cost an enormous sum, but no one minded
as the astronauts were Protestant
and from the Moon they read the Bible
to the joy and amazement of all Christians.
On their return Pope Paul VI gave them his blessing.

Apollo 9 cost more than all these put together,
including Apollo 1, which cost a lot.
The great-grandparents of the people of Acahualinca were
less hungry

than the grandparents.

The great-grandparents died of hunger.
The grandparents of the people of Acahualinca were less hungry
than the parents.
The grandparents died of hunger.
The parents of the people of Acahualinca were less hungry
than their children.
The parents died of hunger.
The children of the people of Acahualinca will not be born
because of hunger,

and they hunger to be born, only to die of hunger.

Blessed are the poor, for they shall inherit the Moon.



-- From Out of the Woodwork, April 13, 2005

3 Comments:

Blogger A. J. Patrick Liszkiewicz said...

I feel a bit like the top of my head has been taken off. ; )

Thanks for sharing this, Brian.

12:30 PM  
Blogger Pris said...

I'm still reeling. When a poem does that to me, I have nothing sensible to say except thanks for posting this!

1:08 PM  
Blogger C said...

What an impact. Stopped writing for 30 years.

9:04 PM  

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