Poems for April 19: Otto Rene Castillo, Barry Cotter, Jack Hirschman (What’s Politics Got to Do With It?)

Apolitical Intellectuals by Otto Rene Castillo

One day
the apolitical
of my country

Otto Rene Castillo

will be interrogated
by the simplest
of our people.

They will be asked
what they did
when their nation died out
like a sweet fire,
small and alone.

No one will ask them
about their dress,
their long siestas
after lunch,
no one will want to know
about their sterile combats
with “the idea
of the nothing”
no one will care about
their higher financial learning.

They won’t be questioned
on Greek mythology,
or regarding their self-disgust
when someone within them
begins to die
the coward’s death.

They’ll be asked nothing
about their absurd
born in the shadow
of the total lie.

On that day
the simple men will come.

Those who had no place
in the books and poems
of the apolitical intellectuals,
but daily delivered
their bread and milk,
their tortillas and eggs,

those who mended their clothes,
those who drove their cars,
who cared for their dogs and gardens
and worked for them,
and they’ll ask:

“What did you do when the poor
suffered, when tenderness
and life
burned out in them?”

Apolitical intellectuals
of my sweet country,
you will not be able to answer.

A vulture of silence
will eat your gut.

Your own misery
will pick at your soul.

And you will be mute

in your shame.

–by Otto Rene Castillo, translated by Margaret Randall, from the Curbstone Press anthology Poetry Like Bread

[Otto Rene Castillo, born 1936, was a Guatemalan revolutionary, a guerilla  fighter, and a poet. Following the 1954 CIA-sponsored coup that overthrew the democratic Arbenz government, Castillo went into exile in El Salvador, where he met Roque Dalton and other writers who helped him publish his early works. When the dictator Armas died in 1957 he returned to Guatemala and in 1959 went to the German Democratic Republic to study, where he received a Masters degree. Castillo returned to Guatemala in 1964 and became active in the Workers Party, founded the Experimental Theater of the Capital City Municipality, and wrote and published numerous poems. That same year, he was arrested but managed to escape, going into exile once again, this time in Europe. Later that year he went back to Guatemala secretly and joined one of the armed guerilla movements operating in the Zacapa mountains. In 1967, Castillo and other revolutionary fighters were captured; he, along with his comrades and some local campesinos, were brutally tortured and then burned alive.  — follow this link for more on Otto Rene Castillo]


Aesthetic Theory by Barry Cotter

If your words don’t touch

the place that bleeds,

your poem’s a waste of time.

Tears in the dirt, flowers in the rock,

sills worn smooth with leaning hope:

if your words don’t touch,

the lines are thrown in vain.

For a long long time the words rose free

of sorrow’s root in the small man’s day,

the woman’s you’d never think knew

Rome could burn or Troy fall down

on children’s beds, the dogs at play —

but, we do: that’s where we live.

On hubcap row my jewels are broken glass.

If your words don’t touch the thing that shines,

your poem’s a waste of time.

[Barry Cotter lives and writes (in retirement from several occupations) in Evanston, Illinois.]


That Poet by Jack Hirschman
That poet you admire so–

Jack Hirschman, drawing by Sue Ying

in my fifteen years
in the workers movement
I’ve never seen him
in attendance at
a demonstration against
social injustice, or at
a memorial honoring
a revolutionary hero,
or at a rally in support
of an uprising people–
is not even a fighting
but a bibelot
dribbling over
with obsolete pus.
From Endless Threshold (Willimantic, CT: Curbstone Press, 1992)


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