Five Poems by Roque Dalton

BOMB 9 Spring 1984
009 Spring Summer 1984

El Salvador Will Be

El Salvador will be a beautiful
and without exception, a dignified country
when the working class and the people of the countryside
enrich it, bathe, powder and groom it,
when they cure the historical hangover
and add enough to it by a hundred fold
to reconstitute it
and start it moving along.

The problem is that today El Salvador
has a thousand incentives and a hundred thousand inequalities,
cancers, castoffs, dandruff, filth,
sores, fractures, weak knees and offensive breath.

A few machetes will be given it
also restored self esteem, turpentine, penicillin,
bathrooms with toilets and toilets with seats,
kisses and gunpowder.

Translated from the Spanish by Zoë Anglesey.

From Poesía Elegida, Guaymuras, Tegucigalpa, Honduras, 1981.


The New Schools

In ancient Greece
Aristotle taught philosophy to his disciples
while they walked across a large courtyard.

Because of this his school was called “the peripatetic.”

Fighting poets
are peripateticker than those Aristotelian peripatetics
because we apprehend the philosophy and poetry of the people
while traveling
through the cities and mountains of our land.

Translated from the Spanish by Jack Hirschman.

From The Dalmo’ma Anthology, Empty Bowl Press, Port Townsend, 1982.


No I Wasn’t Always So Ugly

The thing is I have a fractured nose
the tico Lizano gave me with a brick
because I said it was obviously a foul
and he said no, no, no
I’ll never again turn my back on a Guatemalan soccer player
Father Achaerandio nearly died of fright
since in the end there was more blood than on an Aztec altar
and then it was Quique Soler who hit me in the right eye
with the most perfectly thrown rock you can imagine
sure we were only trying to reenact the landing on Okinawa
but what I got was a ruptured retina
a month confined to bed (at eleven!)
a visit to Doctor Quevedo in Guatemala
and to Doctor Bidford who wore a red wig
that’s why I sometimes squint
and look like a dazed drug addict when I come out the movies
the other reason is the rum bottle blow
Maria Elena’s husband gave me
I really meant no harm
but then every husband is a world
and if we consider that he thought I was an Argentine diplomat
we have to say thank God
the next time was in Prague we never knew who did it
four thugs jumped me in a dark alley
two blocks from the Ministry of Defense
and four blocks from the offices of State Security
it was the night before the opening of the Party Congress
for which reason someone said it was an anti-Congress demonstration
(at the hospital I ran into two more delegates
who had come out of their respective assaults
with more bones than ever)
someone else thought it was the CIA trying to get even for my escape
from jail
still others that is was an example of anti-Latin American racism
and some of nothing more than the universal appetite for robbery
Comrade Sobolev came to ask me
if I hadn’t pinched the ass of some escorted woman
before protesting to the Ministry of the Interior
in the name of the Russian Party
there were finally no leads
and again we have to say thank God
that I continued as the offended party to the end
during an investigation carried out in Kafka’s homeland
in any case (and for what’s of interest to me here)
the results were
a double fracture of the lower maxillary
a severe cerebral concussion
a month and a half in the hospital
and two more months swallowing even beefsteaks as a liquid
and the last time
was when I was coming down a hillside in the rain
with an iron pipe in my arms
when suddenly a bull comes out of who knows where
I got my ankles tangled in the weeds and started to fall
the bull rushed by but since it was a huge prick
it wouldn’t turn around to finish me off
still it wasn’t necessary because
as I was saying I fell on the pipe
which didn’t know what else to do except spring back like a revolution
in Africa
and it broke my zygomatic arch (which is crucial
to the aesthetic quality of the cheekbones) into three pieces
That at least in part explains my problem

Translated from the Spanish by Robert Marquez The Massachusetts Review, 1974.

170885159 06042015 Italo Scanga 01 Bomb 09

Poem of Love

They who widened the Panama Canal
(and were classified “silver roll” and “gold roll”),
they who repaired the Pacific fleet at California bases,
they who rotted in the jails of Guatemala,
Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua *
for being thieves, smugglers, swindlers, for being hungry,
they always suspicious of everything
(“permit me to haul you in as a suspect
for hanging out on corners suspiciously, and furthermore
with the pretentious air of being Salvadorian”),
they who packed the bars and brothels of all the ports
and capitals of the region
(“The Blue Cave,” “Hot Pants,” “Happyland”),
the planters of corn deep in foreign jungles,
the kings of cheap porn,
they who no one knows where they come from,
the best artisans of the world,
they who were stitched by bullets crossing the border,
they who died of malaria
or by the sting of scorpions or yellow fever
in the hell of banana plantations,
the drunkards who cried for the national anthem
under a cyclone of the Pacific or northern snows,
the moochers, the beggars, the dope pushers,
guanaco sons of bitches,
they who hardly made it back,
they who had a little more luck,
the eternally undocumented,
the jack-of-all trades, the hustlers, the gluts,
the first the flash a knife,
the sad, the saddest of all,
my people, my brothers.

*Somoza’s era in Nicaragua.

Translated from the Spanish by Zoë Anglesey and Daniel Flores Ascencio.

Zoë Anglesey’s poetry has appeared in Another Chicago Magazine, Colorado State Review,Dalmo’ma Anthology, Poetry East, NER/BLO*,and Nighthouse Anthology. Her book,Something More Than Force, Poems for Guatemala, 1971–1982, Adastra Press, East Hampton, Massachusetts, received an honorable mention at the 1983 American Book Awards.


Third Poem of Love

Whoever tells you our love is extraordinary
because it was born of extraordinary circumstances
tell him we’re struggling now
so that a love like ours
(a love among comrades in battle)
the most ordinary and flowing,
almost unparalleled,
love in El Salvador.

From The Dalmo’ma Anthology, Empty Bowl Press, Port Townsend, 1982.

Roque Dalton was born in El Salvador in 1935. He lived as a political exile in Guatemala, Mexico, Czechoslovakia, and Cuba. In his own country he was hunted and imprisoned several times. As an internationally prize-winning poet he also published books on literature, social science and political theory. He returned to El Salvador to join a revolutionary army. As part of a misdirected internal struggle later repudiated by all parties, Roque Dalton was killed in 1975.

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Originally published in

BOMB 9, Spring 1984

Nicolas Echevarria, Pam Yates, art by James Nares and Tom Otterness, writing by Daisy Zamora, Kathy Acker, Glenn O’Brien, and more.

Read the issue
009 Spring Summer 1984