Cesar Chelala
A physician and writer

Poetry to the Rescue of America’s Soul

As President Donald Trump’s wrecking machine continues its steady work of destroying everything that is dear to Americans, and endangering world peace, Roque Dalton (1935-1975), a Salvadoran poet, Langston Hughes (1902-1967), a Black American poet of the dispossessed, and Leonard Cohen, the Canadian singer and song-writer, 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, anyway 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 and increased racism 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.

 

Dr. César Chelala is a New York writer.

About the Author
César Chelala is a physician and writer born in Argentina and living in the U.S. He wrote for leading newspapers all over the world and for the main medical journals, among them The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Japan Times, The China Daily, The Moscow Times, The International Herald Tribune, Le Monde Diplomatique, Harvard International Review, The Journal of the American Medical Association, The Lancet, Annals of Internal Medicine, and The British Medical Journal. He is a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award and two national journalism awards from Argentina.
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