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Poetry to the Rescue of America’s Soul

As President Donald Trump’s (is this true or is it only a passing nightmare?) wrecking machine continues its steady work of destroying everything that is dear to Americans, two poets, Roque Dalton (1935-1975), a Salvadoran poet and Langston Hughes (1902-1967), a poet of the dispossessed, seem to have presaged Trump presidency’s characteristics and effects.

In his poem “Variations on a Phrase by Christ” Roque Dalton says,

Give unto God that which is God’s

and to the government of the rich

that which belongs to the government of the rich.

But,

what more can we give the government of the rich

if with the help of its government the rich have already

finished

ripping us off for everything?

There doesn’t seem to be any escape from evil, any way in which common citizens can defend their hard-earned rights and liberties from Trump and his minions’ “carnage” (one of Trump’s favorite words). In his poem “Memory and Questions” Dalton says,

Oh night of fake lights,

glitter made of obscurity:

where should I run

other than to my own soul,

the soul that wanted to be a flag returning

and which they want to transform into a despicable rug

in this temple of merchants?

(translation by Jack Hirschman)

But if not for ourselves, at least for our children, we should unite to respond to these attacks on our lives, liberties and the environment. In his poem “Let America be America Again” Langston Hughes says,

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,

The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,

We, the people, must redeem

The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.

The mountains and the endless plain—

All, all the stretch of these great green states—

And make America again!

It is indeed possible that after this period of turmoil we may reach that beautiful stage when democracy and justice will come back to America. As Leonard Cohen says in his song “Democracy”,

I’m sentimental, if you know what I mean

I love the country but I can’t stand the scene.

And I’m neither left or right

I’m just staying home tonight,

getting lost in that hopeless little screen.

But I’m stubborn as those garbage bags

that Time cannot decay,

I’m junk but I’m still holding up

this little wild bouquet:

Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

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Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the article “Missing or Disappeared in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.”

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