Two Poems by Otto René Castillo

BOMB 9 Spring 1984
009 Spring Summer 1984

Exile

     I

My exile was made of cries.

The infinite face of police, grey
on my insufficient features.
The great tables of hunger beyond the fist
full of dollars that violates the land.
The bags packed every month,
ready to wrap up the exodus
of tears and dust.
 
I walked strange shores
in search of my country’s face.
Dawns of gulls followed me.
I received the brutal embraces
of he who discovers a cataclysm of roses
in the most hidden places of his soul;
touch of hands in the nights
of escape, where the liquid eyes
of our mother burned,
her ageless dimension of cottonwood,
branches up
defending the city of birds
from the endless assault of water.
 
I was a tear of my country
rolling down the face of america.
 
Because I am one of those
who still carry
maternal winds
in the pores of his blood.
One who cries swallows
when he dreams the face of his infancy.
One who runs after agile butterflies.
And who sails his paper boat
every winter afternoon
 
I am the only young tide
                                      of my people.
 
And yet I say:
tomorrow my long hair
of fish
will be white.
My face will be wiped out
by hands of fog.
The shape of my bones
will be lost in a wind
of ash.
           But my heart
will be a whole soldier
with flags flying.  
 
 
     II

You, who sell my country,
listen:
Have you heard the land walk
beyond your blood?
Did you ever wake up
crying from the sound of your pulse?
Sitting at the cafe in a far off land
one winter day
have you listened to men speaking
of your fight?
Have you seen the moribund exile,
in a dirty room, sprawled
on a bed of planks,
question the vague stature
of his children far from his love?
Have you heard him combing his laughter?
Have you once cried on the great belly
of our country? Have you been victim
of that accusation:
communist! because you were different
from the deifying sheep of the despot?
Have you watched as the sweet seamstress
planted a tender kiss on the oily cheek
of her prince the mechanic?
Or pressed the calloused hand
of the workers who build
the world’s collective destiny?
Have you seen poor children laugh
 
Salesman of my country, your silence
is greater than all your cash.
And you, the indifferent, what do you say?
Silence!
             You do not answer,
Don’t open your mouths
if you can’t
answer in protest.
 
One last painful question for all:
Do you even know what exile is?
Oh, you will know! I’ll tell you:
                                                 exile
is a long long avenue
where only sadness walks.
In exile every day
is called simply:             agony.
 
And one more thing, salesman and indifferent
of my land. In exile you can lose
your heart, but if you don’t
they’ll never be able to kill its tenderness
nor the powerful strength of its storms.

​Jean-Marie Simon 001

Jean-Marie Simon, Guerilla Soldier and Girl, Guatemala, 1983.

Something More Than Force
for you, who must feel the absence of this absence
 

     I

It’s a sharp august dusk
and I say to you all,
now I am sadder than ever.
Perhaps nobody knows
as you do, my love,
now that I’m only
a long succession of cries
                                          inside you.
 
Far away,
with blows they have broken my joy
in your body,
still they can’t understand my hands
that so suddenly ripped
the dark wind from your face.  
 
     II

They don’t want
                          my rivers
to flow in you
                      They don’t like
your wings
                  to fly to me.
 
They want to ignore
the gesture of your lips
and they’ve put a dark cross
on the name you love
                                  to repeat
over the planet.
 
But, love,
they cannot erase your heart
in the far away depths of your breast
as it beats my tenderness.
 
They can’t, love,
tear you from the heights
you live in my eyes.
 
They can’t my love,
rip you out of my life
because, like the sea,
I too keep something of your name
in me.    

Translated from the Spanish by Margaret Randall.


Margaret Randall’s translations of Castillo originally printed in Let’s Go, Cape Goliard Press. Currently being reprinted by Curbstone Press, Williamantic, Ct.


Otto René Castillo was born in Quezaltenango, Guatemala, in 1936. He was a student organizer from 1954 and was exiled for the first time at the age of 17. During the next ten years he was tortured and imprisoned several times but managed to study both at the University of Guatemala, and at the University of Leipzig. In 1955 he shared the Premio Centroamericana de Poesía with the Salvadorian poet Roque Dalton. Castillo came back to Guatemala for the last time in 1966 and joined the ranks of the F.A.R. (the Armed Revolutionary Front). In March 1967, after eating nothing but roots for 15 days, his guerilla group was ambushed and captured. After four days of torture Castillo was put to death and burnt on March 19.

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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