Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Story of Banderola the Worm and the Limo That Was Out of Gas

The Story of Banderola the Worm and the Limo That Was Out of Gas

            So this is the story of Banderola the worm, who was busy measuring a great big banana leaf when two ants dressed in black spotted him.  They were in a big hurry because they were on their way to a funeral and they said, "Hey, that worm Banderola can be our ride, he'd make a good limo."  So they followed him and they noticed that he was a seven-seater with furry, silver-colored upholstery and they said to him, "Mr. Banderola, Sir, how much would you charge to be our luxury limo?  And the worm stopped measuring the banana leaf (that he sold by the yard for making tamales) and he told them he was out of gas and his clutch needed adjusting and his horn didn't work either, that it used to go "Oww! Oww!" but today it had the whooping cough and it only went "Weeteetood! Weeteetood!" and that made him laugh and so no, no N-O!

            And the ants said yes, yes, Y-E-S.  And then they bit his foot and the worm turned around and shot a spitball at them and the ants took off running down the edge of the banana leaf and they went to the funeral which was for a dead beetle and they ate him all up and that's the end of the story.

The Story of Menchedita Copalchines's Very First Communion

The Story of Menchedita Copalchines's Very First Communion

            So, this is the story of Menchedita Copalchines, you know, the one who has the little brother and whose mother is the one, you know the one I mean, well she was going to make her first holy communion and they were making her a white dress with pink lilies and purple daisies on it and she got new shoes with pearls on them and real sapphire diamonds and silk shoe laces and a candle with a bowtie and she got a perm and a crown of white flowers to wear on her new hair-do.  And so since the communion was going to be in the morning of the next day after the day before yesterday, her parents made her go to convection.  The priest was in a box, sitting on a chair stuck to the wall (who knows how he could sit like that, "vertical" like my teacher says).  And she was really scared about sins because she didn't know how you're supposed to say your sins and if something was a sin or not, but just in case, Menchedita had hers written down on a piece of paper and so when she saw the girl wearing a shawl go out of the box, she went into the contentional all nervous her stomach was gurgling and she was cracking her knuckles and when the priest went like this in the window with his hand like he was telling the train to keep moving she knelt down quick and said, "Good afternoon, Father, is this where you go to tell your sins?"  "Yes, my child," he whispered, "you must say, 'Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.  I have done this, that and the other.'" And so she said, "Bless me Father, for I have sinned.  I have done this, that and the other," and the priest said no, that she should tell what her sins were and Mencheditas Copalchines said, "I confess, Father, that I have freckles." "What," he said, "you have what?"  "Oh, but it's not my fault, it's the hen's fault, she broke the jar of almond freckle cream my mother gave me."  "Oh, my goodness," said the priest to himself and was laughing inside.  "I confess, Sir," she continued, "that the other day I said Maurischevalié's name in vain, oh no, there, I just did it again!"  "But that's not a sin, my child," the priest said, trying to be a nice guy and pretending it was nothing serious.  "OK, then, if it's not a sin, I'm sorry I mentioned it," said Menchedita.  "I confess, Sir, that I dreamed about some crazy people and you know what, they pulled on my father's mustache and they stuck chewing gum in it and my mother was yelling about something they call distress and I hid under the sheets and prayed an Our Father I was so scared."  "But, my child, that's not a sin, either, dreams are just dreams!"  "Oh, well, sorry," said Menchedita. "Then I confess that my ears always have yellow goo in them."  "There, now that is bad, very bad!" the priest said, "because you should wash your ears every day with soap."  "But the yellow balls I take out of my ears are made of soap," she told him, "maybe it's because I wash too much, my mother says I should lather up good."  "Caramba," said the priest, "that's not much of a sin, either."  "Oh, I'm sorry," Menchedita said and then she said, ""Oh, no, I'm not going to be able to make my first communion because I don't have any sins!"  "What do you mean?" the priest asked her.  "And you're the ones whose fault it is, because you don't teach people the right way to make sins and oh, my dress is so pretty!" and she started to cry.   Then the priest said, "There you go, you see, now that's a sin, to be blaming adults for things.  And to be thinking a dress is so important, now that really is a sin!"  And then Menchedita said, "Thank God I finally have a sin because now I can have communion and I promise I won't wear my new dress tomorrow so I won't think it's too important and I'll save it to wear to the movies," and the priest couldn't hold it in and he let out a big laugh and seeing as he was inside the box it sounded really loud and Menchedita got scared and she ran out yelling, "Help! the priest is going crazy because I told him a sin, you better get him out of there and rub his back and settle him down!" and she went running home and that's the end of the story.

II. The Child in Me

II.  The Child in Me
            Salarrué’s headstone in El Panteón de los Ilustres, where distinguished citizens are buried in San Salvador, is inscribed with the words: Amó a los niños. Los niños lo aman (He loved children. Children love him.). His work that most clearly embodies the truth of this epithet is Cuentos de cipotes/Kids’ Stories, 155 delightful, whimsical, silly stories narrated with a sense of humor and an affectionate respect for the creative souls of children (first edition 1961 with illustrations by his wife Zelie Lardé; second edition 1971 illustrated by his daughter Maya). Invented words, malapropisms and fractured syntax make translating these stories a unique challenge but I think I have communicated their spirit.
            The following excerpt is from Salarrué’s prologue, in which he explains kids’ stories are.
What Are "Kids' Stories"?
[. . .] they are the stories that our child is telling us, in his own way.  Not in my way, but in his.  My way of telling stories is well known to you.  I tell them somewhat differently in Stories of Clay than I do in That and More and in O'Yarkandal, but the difference is just a matter of time and place and atmosphere.  I could also tell children's stories (and perhaps someday I will, God willing).  I might tell them in the style of Anderson or Wilde, who have written the most beautiful children's stories in the world.
            But my "kids' stories" are not stories for children, they are children's stories, first of all, and then Cuscatlecan children's stories.[1]
            Do kids tell these stories to one another?  Yes.  Do they tell them they way they are told in this book?
            Kids tell these stories everywhere, but adults don't hear them for one simple reason: because they don't believe children are capable of telling a story they would be interested in, they think kids only tell stories to each other.  Adults don't want to lower their attention to this insignificant level and so children aren't heard; perhaps their efforts are doomed to fail because they know from the start that adults don't understand their stories.  But they also know that their playmates understand them even less and so, not having the sustained attention of adults, kids stories become jokes, they entertain, they make us laugh, which is fine, but this doesn't allow us to see how enchanting they really are.  With these kids' stories, we hope to focus adults' attention on the story-telling abilities of children, their ability to entertain us, lighten our spirits and make us younger.  Children's stories are not stories for children but for adults.  If adults don't listen to them, the stories are lost.
            Why don't adults listen to these stories?  Well, when adults focus their attention and get in touch with the universal, immortal child (who is always hidden in them), they listen, as I have and as others have who have been touched by these stories.  In general, adults don't listen to kids' stories because they are so silly, yet that is their greatest merit. They are not dumb stories that are offensive, but silly stories that make us laugh, which is their appeal.  So, who is going to pay attention to the thousand and one inanities that an annoying little kid is telling us?  Not many of us.  Inside every adult there is a remembered child, just as inside every child there is a hoped-for adult.  They are usually asleep. Kids' stories are the magic that inspires the adult sleeping inside the child to comfort the child within the adult.  This is the profound mystery of those silly kids' stories.
            Where did the idea for these kids' stories come from?
            One long ago afternoon, the adult, the child and I found ourselves waiting for something at a three-way intersection.  What were we waiting for?  I no longer know, maybe it was these kids' stories, because that's where they were born.  The adult was a traffic cop; he was stationed there to take down the license numbers of cars entering and leaving the city and to say flattering things to the servant girls who crossed the street there.  The child was a street kid--most notably for me at the time--the unknown kid.  There were no cars going by; no girls were passing; the street was dark and practically deserted; the man was obviously bored.  I was waiting for the bus and observing the landscape and the two other people.  The little boy talked constantly, directing his conversation to the cop.  He seemed concerned about the policeman's boredom, as if he were trying to amuse him with his silly talk.  The man was tired and directed his gaze elsewhere without listening.  The boy told his story with all the interruptions and digressions typical of a kid's story, which is a story that flies on its own wings, pokes itself in the arm and laughs at itself.  After every paragraph there is a silly joke, an innocent swear word or an incongruous whistle. 
            I listened to you, I delighted in your crazy tale and I applauded your inimitable silliness, that enchanting silliness that you and I share.  I took into my heart the delectable foolishness of kids' stories, that I now share with all the bored policemen of the world, so they can stop being so important for a moment and turn to you, listen to you with pleasure and appreciate your worthy cause!
            [. . . ]

[1] Cuscatlán is the indigenous (Nahual) name for the approximate geographic area which is now the republic of El Salvador.  Salarrué's choice of the adjective cuscatleco rather than Salvadoran, pays homage to his indigenous roots.

Friday, June 12, 2015

This Small, Precious World

Mundo nomasito/This Small, Precious World, a book of 6o poems, published in 1975, just months before his death, was Salarrué’s last gift to Cuscatlán.  He subtitled the collection “an island in the sky.” He prefaces the book, characteristically, with an explanation to his readers.  This is yesterdays’s book, he says, written today.  When I was young, walking a path, I dropped a mirror; 30 years later I’ve returned; weeds covered the path but I found the mirror.  He has returned from New York to his home in El Salvador, able to see it and appreciate it with even greater love and compassion.  These poems are a lyrical complement to his earlier Tales of Clay.

The 3 poems I have translated exemplify his spirituality, simplicity and love for Cuscatlán’s natural world.

The Mango Trees

Three tall mango trees
on the hill,
three circles of mist
standing together amid wild grasses
wet with morning dew,
heavy with fragrance,
there, where yellow flowers cluster.

            Leafy islands.
            Seated shepherds
            wrapped in clouds,
            looking south . . .

With many tender hearts they love
the quiet on the hill.
They play their mockingbird flutes
for their flocks.
Their shoulders droop,
the years weigh on their knotted
and calloused roots.

            From afar you can see
            the three on the hill . . .
            You come closer:
            first they seem of the earth,
            then they are of the sky,
            heavy in the sultry clime;
            airborne between the rain and the mist;
            floating . . . according to the time and weather . . .

A shadow sleeps naked
under their solitude.
In the heat of the day
you embrace the shadow
and sleep beside her.
The smell of honey wakes you.

            Your eyes mistake
            the fruit for the bird.

            You listen, but what do you hear?
            Ah, yes! . . . harps strummed by the wind
            Ah, yes! . . . the rustling of leaves;
            shouts from the distant blue,
            from the faraway valley;
            shouts that are the echoes of shouts,
            someone calling, a muted bellowing:

bulls, ranch hands, school children
playing tag, a maiden pursued,
the blowing of a horn?

Screams of screams . . . ;
ghosts of howls . . .

And up there, eternal silence
and clouds that noiselessly collide:
ghosts of shadow and water,
never the same, always silent.

Among the clouds
pass years
that themselves are echoes of clouds more subtle,
more silent . . .

The Garden

My house sits so high, so high,
so high up
that my front yard
is the sky.

I have a garden for daylight
and another at night,
where bright stars flower
on crystal stems.

In the daytime garden three flowerpots
like canoes filled with violets
float on the horizon.

There are carnations in the window boxes;
wildflowers snake along the swail;
maguey on the hillside
and in the washtub in the East,
a grand and golden sunflower.

This garden is my world! . . .

The Path
A path
a hollow,
a tall and smiling
dancing a waltz as it dreams
on pillows of air
beside the laughing spring.

Grassy path . . . .
Mozotes that play a circle game
around the weeds
and cling to skirts
like children,
stick to pant legs,
hang on the dog's
shaggy tail.

The shade is like a cool shower.
The milky lily grows there,
the quequeishcón
(with its ivory-tipped
carnelian tongue);
“Mary’s Heart;"
ash-gray mushrooms,
and along the fence,
lemon grass
and "St. Peter's Tears."

Lonely path,
you hear the thud of the sapodilla plum
falling on the dried mud.
A songbird's desperate call, chío,
is repeated in the distance.
Is it an echo or his twin brother?
Both sing their shrill song
and fly from post to branch,
their breasts yellow
like the zapote flower.

What time is it? . . .

It is the deeply fragrant
hour of midday,
bluest of blue
lightest of light.
The wind sets the wire fence humming;
it blows on the back of the
brush-laden hill;
the flirtatious butterfly flutters
her yellow wings;
one, two, three,
like a litany
of rose petals falling.

Faintly marked path,
traces of absence,
ribbon of illusion,
a longing that disappears
like the trail of a snake:
a deep, unmarked longing
that we followed
like wandering sleepwalkers,
touching, smelling,
hearing everything
without analyzing . . .;
looking toward infinity,
where memory is a lavender pool
and a kiss is a tranquil island.

We are beside the rock,
among dry mango seeds,
where we roll on the grass
holding our head in our hands;
where we smell father-mud,
dung and carao honey,
and tannin that bleeds from the tree trunk
and a sweet, sweet aroma
of some unknown, hidden
What is this flower, Lord?
Is it the blossom
of the bee and the hummingbird,
or the "forget-me-not,"
or the flower of life,
that opens in the depth of feeling?

Dear solitary path,

I love you like a beast of burden.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


This selection, a continuation of Pedro Juan’s search for an explanation for the racial and political strife in his country, is also from Catleya luna, chapter 8, pp. 169-172.

Balsamera/Forest of Balsam Firs
            Deep and fragrant forest of balsam firs . . . steep and prickly sloping down to the blue sea that sleeps, resting from such tumbling and rolling in sad coves and inlets, while the waves chase each other like children in the sand.  Deep balsam forest! The air is charged with a mystical fragrance, the heart abandons itself to joy!
            The eastern sky was opening like a beehive. Silence, with gloved hands, held the golden combs up to the light and honey spilled through, delicately staining the smooth face of the sea.
            But a dense shadow still draped from the top of the forest in striped curtains of foliage, drawn aside capriciously by thick, snaking vines that transformed the tropical hillside into the head of an octopus.
            The tall fir trees appeared like a long procession of ragged, sleepwalking phantoms, their skeletons barely swaying in the early morning breeze, their hair and nails roughly clipped, their torsos bound with scraps, the only trees in the world that dress like men.
            They were all crosses without arms, Christs with holy wounds in their sides, their blood taken to heal the wounds of others, good thieves who steal the wealth of the soil of Cuscatlán.  The wandering wings of lavender-feathered tropical angels flutter above them.
            The talapo has seen the treetops turning blue and knows that dawn is near.  His song is like the sweet, hollow sound of the marimba.  Soon the sun will light up the forest and myriads of birds will sing.  For now the mountain is a closed temple whose portals and columns, recesses and drapes are softly illuminated by blue and green stained glass windows, tall windows that awaken and brighten with a premonition of dawn between sleep and watchfulness.   
            In the center of a wall of gray, moss-covered stones a spring trickles like a wound from a lion's flank. Near the spring is a pile of rocks and a wooden cross in whose silent embrace is a name written in crooked letters: Higinio Naba, November 2, 1931.
            Higinio Naba, a dead Indian or, more accurately a murdered Indian.  Leaning on their rifles, the deer hunters, who have been up all night and have not killed the deer who comes to quench its thirst at the spring, gaze inquiringly at the small green cross and try to make out the barely legible name.
            "Who's buried here?" asked the patrón.
            "Higinio Naba was the old man who owned these woods.  They say he was a shaman, but some say he was a saint.  All the Indians around here obeyed him and they called him Hoisil."
            "Who knows!  Old Genaya, the weaver, who was alive back then, says that hoisil means balsam, the sap of the fir tree.
            "That's strange.  And how did he die?"
            "A patrol, with machetes. Nobody knows what he did.  They said he turned himself into a deer.  That they shot him when he was drinking at the spring and when he tried to run away they cornered him against the wall and cut him up and that when he died he became a Christian.  I think he had some powerful enemies and they had him hunted down because they were afraid of him.
            The serpent who lives in the wind woke up and began to unwind.  Frightened shadows fled like field mice, scattering and hiding.  The sky lay like a small pink and blue carpet over the damp and yielding forest.  Then a ray of sun entered a clearing between trunks and branches, majestic, like a golden tree felled by the ax of day.  Irises and bellflowers sparkled and insects and butterflies fluttered in the light that was like fiery dust.
            Here the story divided in two.  The scene was the same but it was the hour of wandering souls.
            It was getting dark.  Hoisil was sitting on a stone beside his cross.  His straight gray hair fell in bangs over his clay-colored forehead, deeply furrowed by the plow of forbearance.  His smile was a yellow corncob that nourishes like a kindly father.  Nana Genaya, startled, stopped in her tracks, dropped her wood-ax and made the sign of the cross, praying in dialect.
            "Are you alive?" asked the frightened woman.
            "Yes, I'm alive, you're looking at me, Genaya, but what you're seeing is the soul of me.  They planted me here in the ground, just roots, now I'm the flower, do you know what I mean?  The flower doesn't die, even if you pick me now I would still be around. 
            He smiled weakly and almost fell over when he tried to stand up. A tremor of fear ran through the old woman's bones, but the mysterious shadow didn't come toward her but just watched her.  He looked at her and smiled.
            "So, why did they kill you?"
            "Because I insisted on following the law of the Lord.  They rewarded me, they didn't kill me; it was a reward the Lord sent me, my dear, for serving Him."
            "What service, Hoisil?"
            "His bread and wine; his flesh and blood."
            "What blood, my friend, what bread are you talking about?"
            "Ours, the blood and bread of our race.  The sap of the fir tree is our blood; the flesh of the deer is the bread of our body.  I was their leader, the secret leader, the magician.  They went against me, they came to me for permission to rise up and seek vengeance because they had become impatient, the harsh treatment had made them unwilling to endure any more.  I refused because I know the law of the race of Cuscatlán, it was entrusted to me and it is written: "The race of Cuscatlán will have the forbearance of the defenseless deer and they will give their blood as the fir tree of the mountains gives its sap."  But they were possessed and they betrayed me.  They were lying in wait for me here when I came to drink at the spring.  I knew it would happen and I accepted my fate.  I came to drink in the body of the nahual, the animal spirit, to teach a lesson.  They shot me and then they cut up my body with their machetes like they cut the trunk of the fir tree.  Let it be a lesson to the race that I was sacrificed for them.
            Then the soul of Higinio Naba moved to one side and disappeared in the first shadows of the night.
            Nana Genaya stood there motionless for a long time, then picked up the bundle of firewood with her shaking hands and walked slowly down the path.  The new moon shone on the trunks and branches of the fir trees, turning them to silver, sad, ragged, mysterious fir trees, bunched together, covered with fragrant scars, the only trees in the world that dress like men.
            The forest of fir trees went on until it was lost in the distant hollow.


When Salarrué left El Salvador in 1946 to assume the post of Cultural Attaché to the Salvadoran Embassy, he exchanged the piney woods, the fragrant flowers and the familiar birds of his beloved Cuscatlán for the crowded, fast-paced, brick-and-concrete world of New York City. It was an exhilarating as well as a conflictual time for him.  He worked on his painting, he fell in love with a beautiful socialite, he wrote a novel in English and a novel, short stories and poems in Spanish. Pedro Juan, the protagonist of the novel in Spanish, Catleya luna (Moon Orchid), is an artist who is working on a novel while falling in love with a woman who embodies his ideal of the perfect soul mate. The challenge he has set himself in his novel is to explain the root cause of the racial and political conflicts of his country.  As he ponders the unjust treatment of the indigenous population, he reconstructs their history.  His contemporaries call this their myths, but he insists it is their reality, their true history.  This history unfolds not in El Salvador but in Cuzcatlán.  The following is my translation of a selection from pages 138-140 of chapter 7 of the second edition of Catleya luna,(first edition 1970) published in 1980 by the Ministry of Culture.
. . . This exceptional land, this unique region, his Cuscatlán, . . . was like a magic island.  An island is so much more than the schoolchild's definition of "a body of land surrounded on all sides by water."  An island could be in the middle of a continent; it could be a high plateau, a barren upland [. . .] Cuscatlán was undeniably an island because first of all, his heart surrounded it with love, a love that was not patriotic, although it encompassed the beautiful civic spirit of that virile country known as El Salvador.  Secondly, it was like an adventitious root in the isthmus, different from the other countries, even geographically.  It was a tight cluster of fiery volcanoes on a narrow swath of land, crowded with valleys and lakes, pleated with mountains teeming with life, with hard work, with agriculture, wasting nothing; dotted with enchanting villages where the indigenous and the colonial Spanish produced a felicitous mix, creating the environment for a peaceful race, prone to dream yet hard-working, energetic and as courageous as any people anywhere.  If one were to fly over Cuscatlán one could easily see what an island this small piece of America is.  To the north of the island, the mountains of Honduras appear in monotonous repetition like the enormous waves of a sea frozen in place by a magic spell.  And then the gulf and its diminutive archipelago of small islands to the southeast and the vast Pacific that blows its salty breath like acrid foam from the boiling and crashing waves.  From on high, between swatches of clouds in a cobalt blue sky and swells from the living foamy depths, this happy land seemed to be dozing, wrapped in its white and blue flag.
*  *  *
            Cuscatlán came from a great distance.  Pedro Juan imagined its beginnings: its birth foretold, it was among the chosen, protected by powerful supernatural forces.  Illumination from the sacred dwelling places of the indigenous gods nourished the Destiny of these lands with its heat and light.  There is the uppermost heaven, Teoteocán, the dwelling place of Ometeuctli, the Lord of all duality; Ilhuicatl, the lower heaven; Tlalocán or Paradise, home of the true godparents of Cuscatlán, Tlaloc and Chalchuitlicueye (she of the green sash), the male and female water deities.  Then Mictlán, the kindom of shadow, extends beneath the volcanoes and plains.  There the 400 meridians, the Cenzón-Huitznahuas, the true "spirits of nature," so familiar to the clairvoyant native of this mysterious land, cultivate the vegetable and mineral life.  On the surface of this land of mountains, on the very soil, which is as sacred a dwelling place as the higher and lower realms, the gods walk and dance and fly.  There live Centeol, the god of corn; Ehecatl the god of the wind; Suchipili and Suchiquetzali, the male and female gods of song and dance and flowers, the Lords of Tropical Springtime.  Now and again the awesome Camaxtli makes an appearance.  Cuetcalzín and Cabracán, forgers of fearsome earthquakes, take shelter in the caves of blood and struggle (in the company of the tepescuintle, the raccoon, the tamagás snake, the tamazul and the ayutuste); there also dwell Cipit, who slyly tempts one to carnal love, and Siguanahuate who resides in the Zompantli or place of skulls and bones, and the goddess Suicoate, the serpent of fire who slides unseen along the spine of her victims or her chosen ones, driving them mad or enlightening them as the case may be.
            In the sky Tonatiuh the Sun and Metzi the Moon and Tezcatlipoca of the smoking mirror scattering plagues and the many Chapulate who trail hunger in their wake.
            In the legendary and mysterious region of Tlapallán (Land of the Rainbow), when the Aztec dynasties fell, in the eleventh century, the great Topilzín Axil created and ruled over the domain of Cuzcatlán.  Topilzín Axil, a high priest and powerful king, returned from the third Tulán (which he and his faithful followers had abandoned after the death of King Huémac in the cave of Cincalco) to the primitive and semi-legendary Tulán del Güija.  The true Tulán of legend, improbable but not impossible birthplace of the Toltecas-Nahoas, existed in an early Orient that historians, unaware of the esoteric sources of knowledge, consider mythical, when in truth it was the original Toltec center of the ancient Atlantis.  The original Toltecs, later scattered throughout the world, were but the third sub-race of the fourth human race, the Atlantean race, from which the copper and bronze-skinned Native Americans descended as well as the Mongolian and other Oriental branches, people of high cheekbones, slanted eyes and straight hair. 
            When he left on his civilizing journey, Topalzín lived first among the Maya of Yucatán, not as a conquerer but as a Master or Avatar.  He is known by the name Kukulkán.  Among them he is the highest religious authority.  He founded the city of Mayapán in approximately 1000 AD, restored Chichén-Ttzá and then continued west, organizing and civilizing until he reached Cuscatlán.
            Later, in the thirteenth century, there was another exceptional king of Cuscatlán, Tutecotzimit, who had defeated the terrible Caumichín or flying fish, chief of the allied armies who was tortured and killed for trying to reinstate the sacrificial rites abolished by Kukulkán.

            Other famous kings of Cuscatlán were Tonaltut, Silguanzímit and Mactenasun.  The exact history of Cuscatlán remains hidden in a mist.  Far from being undesirable, this retains the mystery of that which one day, whether deciphered from a stellae of Cuscatlán or discerned on the back of a vase from Tazumal or flowing from the lips of a stone figure from Santa Lucía Cozumalhuapa, will be revealed to the astonishment and pleasure of our people.

Friday, April 17, 2015

My Reply to the Patriots

B.  Mi respuesta a los patriotas/My Reply to the Patriots
Salarrué continued throughout his life to feel a deep attachment to the land now known as the Republic of El Salvador but once called Cuscatlán by its nahuatl-speaking inhabitants. Indeed, he believed that the pre-Colombian history and mythology of his country were more real than the presidents and politicians of the Republic. As an artist of independent inclinations and also a humane and compassionate individual, he was torn between the desire to support progressive social movements and the need to remain outside of the rules and restrictions of political parties. So, when called upon to take a side against the government of Maximiliano Hernández Martínez following the massacre of an estimated 30,000 citizens by government troops in 1932, he publicly declared his allegiance to the land rather than to any government in a courageous and controversial open letter, “Mi respuesta a los patriots”/My Reply to the Patriots, first published in the Repertorio Americano in 1932.

My Reply to the Patriots
            My friends have said to me, "You are so calm, you look at the world with half-closed eyes.  You live in a land of enchantment, in an unreal world whose shores never feel the pounding of waves from here below.  For that very reason you should speak out now, when our fatherland is going through uncertain times.  Focus your microscope and tell us what you see and how it looks to you, it will surely help us, do it for the sake of patriotism, for the love of our nation, plant your feet on the ground, even if just for this once."  And then they laugh.  I understand that they say this partly in jest, as friends, with the affection we crazy pacifists inspire, and partly in utter seriousness and that is why I have felt perplexed and then I have felt misunderstood, seen as lazy and worthless, living in an implausible world.  And I am indignant, for my honor as a man has been questioned and so, like the voice crying out in the desert, I write this reply to the nameless patriots.

            I have no patria or nation.  I do not know the meaning of the word.  You who think of yourselves as practical, how do you define patria?  I know that to you it means a collection of laws, an administrative machine, a patch on a gaudy-colored map.  You practical ones call that the patria.  I, the dreamer, have no patria, I have no nation, but I do have a homeland, made of earth, that I can touch.  I do not have El Salvador, fourteen segments on a piece of glossy paper; I have Cuscatlán, a region of the world and not a vague entity such as a nation.  I love Cuscatlán.  While you speak of the Constitution, I sing of the earth and of our race: the earth, that swells and bears fruit; the race of creative dreamers who without discussion or argument, work the soil, shape clay into vessels, weave blankets and build roads.  I am of this race; I am a builder, a creator, a shaper of forms and also one who understands.  Most of you play at patriotism, fighting about who is wrong or right, about whether or not something is constitutional, whether Pedro or Pablo will be president, whether this or that "ism" will make the nation prosper.  Prosperity for you means having everything except our mother earth. 
            Dull-witted, lazy, cruel and thieving capitalists confront no less cruel, petty and rapacious communists.  While these two sides snarl at each other over every issue, we the dreamers ask for nothing because we have everything.  They fight over the peels and leave us the fruit.  "The bread is mine, all mine," some cry, "let me sell the bread."  While others say, "No, we are hungry and the bread is ours, because the land is ours."  Meanwhile, we the dreamers grow the wheat that beautifies the countryside; we delight in the music of the cornfield that smiles with the breeze; singing, we gather the corncobs for the pigs to chew.  The owner of the coffee plantation is a pedant who talks about the market, about the rise and fall of prices.  He counts his money leaning over a table, he sniffs at the sacks of coffee, but he has never lain in the fields and felt the mystery of moonlit nights; he does not notice the beauty of the blood-red beans as they slip through the fingers of the women who sing as they pick; he does not appreciate the fragrance of the coffee blossom or know its legend.  The owner of the sugar plantation has never heard the comforting whisper of the cane fields or walked between the rows of graceful plants.  They all shout about one thing: money.  Some want to earn 500% and others want higher wages.  The communist wears a red badge and would guillotine the wrongdoers, insists that justice is the sharing of good bread and good wine, but has never known how to share with those who have everything, who in fact have nothing.  The Indian of the plow and the sickle, who creates our agrarian landscape under a blazing sun, is content that he can, with his rough and soiled hands, hands of God, feed an entire nation, a nation that devotes itself to a madness called politics, a madness that is not only fruitless but harmful.  This Indian lives the earth and is the earth and never talks about patriotism.  Nor does he fear the foreigner who, short of taking his life, can take nothing from him that is truly his.
            I who, according to you, live in some other world, am closer than you to the heart of the earth, my roots go deep and my desire to flower reaches up to the sky.  If one day the land of Cuscatlán were to rise up and call to her children, I would be one of the first she would embrace, not the politicians and ideologues of this thing called the patria: El Salvador, with its symbols, its shields, its flags and imaginary boundaries.  No, I am not a patriot nor do I wish to be one.  I hold a patriotic banana in higher esteem than I do a patriotic man, so don't talk to me about being honorable.  And I do not work for the paper Patria, I work for Life: for living, for the land, for my home, as Espino would say.  In my home, complete with dreams, I live a real life, a life that is savored, like sacred wine.  I neither plow nor plant nor harvest; I officiate before the altar and give thanks in the name of the dreamers gathering invisible fruit plucked from the tree of life and the vine of tradition. 
            What is this thing called patria that I do not see?  You ask me to come down to your level and I do not know where to plant my feet; everywhere I look I find quicksand.  If I were to invite you to my homeland, you would find ample room to run and sweat, you could plunge your hands in fresh clay and fill your lungs with clean air.  In that patria of yours I breathe only hate, cowardice, misunderstanding.
            What I wouldn't give to bring you to this land of mine!  Those few who were here with me have gone; I find myself practically alone.  Alone with the pensive Indian and the dreaming woman.  Miranda Ruano, who wrote Voces del Terruño (Voices from the Homeland), a book no one reads any more, is gone; Ambrogi speaks of nothing but Quiñónez; the Andinos write about "Politics;" Bustamante works for the court; Castellanos Rivas is now a private secretary; Guerra Trigueros no longer hears the stars falling in the eternal fountain; Julio Ávila has gone into business; Llerena doesn't speak out; Gómez Campos owns a store; Paco Bamboa is getting a Ph.D.; Salvador Cañas is busy "preparing" his students; Masferrer no longer sings; Gavidia has a radio talk show; Chacón sells insurance; Rochac talks about finances; Villacorta complains about the treasury; Vicente Rosales associates only with a select few; Miguel Angel Espino's fountain has dried up.  In short, I find myself alone in the land of reality, except for Mejía Vides, who wants to go off and paint by the water (like Gauguin in Tahiti) and Cáceres, who dreams and complains in the offices of Atlacatl.
            Yes, what I wouldn't do to bring you to this country of mine, that is not illusory, like yours, but hill after hill and rolling meadows where roosters crow at daybreak; where there is no statute pertaining to this or that, but rather the pleasant shade of a tree; where there is no clause or sub-paragraph number four, but rather a spring to quench your thirst; where the rain, the moon and the wind are the rule of law.
            Poetic, yes, it's true; but poetic regarding the dust of the earth and not prosaic and insipid regarding outdated concepts and antiquated doctrines.  Poetic under the blue sky and not petty buried beneath an "ism."
            As you requested, I have come down to earth and planted my feet on solid ground, but on my earth, not yours, which is neither solid nor earth, but dark smoke.  I have done it because you insisted, because you finally managed to distract me from my "impractical blue rapture" and you even managed to insult me for a moment.  Hear this once and for all: I have no nation and recognize no one's nation.  My land is greater than this slice of absurdity you offer.  Much greater.  Not even the planet;
 not even the cosmos . . .