Tuesday, March 3, 2015

True Story (Poem)

True Story

    after Trevor Brown's Che's Breakdown

The truth is, Che didn't die
behind bars. That lie went

halfway 'round the world
before the Iron Curtain came

down, and La Isla never did
get its boots on. Everybody

loved Che—or got sent away
to work camp. Che was cold

-blooded, used to hanging out
in the jungle, a big fat Cuban

cigar burning—the only thing
warm about him. Killed at thirty

-nine, his face is still everywhere:
on t-shirts and those '60s posters

every kid at Berkeley saluted in
La Revolucion. Che was more

hands-on than those Guardsmen
at Kent State or that bad cop

that took down a man selling
loosies. But he never marched

with Martin, never got behind
a Prague or Arab spring, was

quick to learn the NKVD secrets
he taught his own ruthless police.

Look, the man had charisma!
No lie. But even Batista was softer.

That picture you're holding up,
it might have been taken before

Che high-tailed it to Bolivia,
before the army there caught up

with him. I don't doubt
that's blood we see in that sea

of blue, that those stone walls
are sound-proof, that scratching

away a layer of paint only to find
a window opening onto one more

thicker wall could derail the mind
of any man used to self-delivering

the death blow. A guerrilla like Che,
he's no artist, no sensitive type

like that writer Arenas or that poet,
Padilla, locked up and beaten

till he apologized. The picture: it could
be the killing wall at La Cabana east

of Havana harbor. But Che, I have to
say, he's not the guy who caved there.

© 2015 Maureen E. Doallas

Trevor Brown is an artist. His work, including Che's Breakdown, which inspired this poem, can be found at 500px.

The lines ". . . That lie went / halfway 'round the world / . . ." and ". . . La Isla / never did get its boots on. . . ." are adapted from a quote by James Callaghan: "A lie can be halfway round the world before the truth has got its boots on."

For a particularly interesting article on Cuba's ongoing, if mystifying, love affair with Che Guevara (1928-1967), read Michael J. Totten's article "The Truth About Che Guevara" in World Affairs Journal, some facts from which were adapted for this poem.

Cuban poet Heberto Padilla was imprisoned in 1971 for speaking out against Castro; he finally was allowed to leave Cuba in 1980. Reinaldo Arenas also was imprisoned, at the horrid El Morro fortress, where he spent some time in solitary confinement in a one-meter-high cell. In his memoir Before Night Falls (Penguin Books, 1994), he wrote that he would never recover from the brutality he suffered there.

La Cabana Fortress came under Guevara's authority when Fidel Castro assumed power in Cuba; Guevara exercised extra-judicial orders leading to the executions of hundreds of prisoners denied trial. 

1 comment:

Peggy Rosenthal said...

This poem is a masterpiece of restraint and nuance. As a young leftie, I assumed Che was a good guy -- until I later read a biog of him and learned how cold and ruthless he was… as your poem images so well.