Unsung Heroes

Unsung Heroes

Although I stand on the shoulders of giants,

I fail to see much farther than the bridge of my nose.

The fault in mine. The shame is mine.

For I am unworthy of you, my beloved dead.

 

Emilio (Maternal Grandfather)

Your crime was literacy,

And the possession of a social conscience,

That made you yearn to see your beloved Spain remain free,

And prevented you from suffering fascists lightly.

You did not bear arms,

For you abhorred all violence,

You did not incite rebellion, though you

Rebelled against the foreign and domestic enemies of freedom.

As best I can tell you were an idealist who,

In a time of darkness,

Clung passionately to the belief,

In the perfectibility of the human spirit.

You would not abide the lies the regional papers carried,

And translated news from American and British newspapers,

About the gathering storm,

Sharing the truth freely with all who would listen.

You gave speeches, and wrote speeches delivered by others, in support of a doomed

Republic collapsing under the weight of its own incompetence and corruption.

You were warned by friends of your imminent arrest and offered passage back to the

U.S. or to Buenos Aires where so many of your friends had already found refuge.

But they would not get your wife and nine children out,

And you refused to leave them to their fate.

They came for you, as always, in the middle of the night,

These cowards with stern faces hiding behind machine guns.

They took you prisoner, not for the first time, to the Castillo de San Anton,

A fortress by a most beautiful, tranquil bay,

Where they tore out your nails, one by one, and that their

Gentlest caress while they asked you for names.

You endured, God knows what there, for months,

And were sentenced to be shot as a traitor at La Plaza de María Pita.

But the Republic had friends, even among the officers of the fascist forces,

And one of them opened your cell door on the eve of your execution.

You had contracted tuberculosis by then, yet, according to grandmother, you

Managed to swim miles across the bay in a moonless night, to safety in the home of

Another patriot who risked his life and the lives of his family to hide you in

His cellar and made a trip of many miles on foot to find your wife.

He found your home and told your wife of your unexpected reprieve,

And asked her to send some clothing and some shoes to replace your dirty rags.

You eldest daughter, Maria, insisted in accompanying the stranger back on foot, taking

Clothing and what provisions she could quickly gather and carry to you.

From time to time you accepted the hospitality of an overnight stay

In the attic or hay loft of a Republican sympathizer as these were not hard to

Find in the fiercely independent Galicia under the yoke of one of its own.

But mostly you lived in the woods, with active guerrillas for years.

You lived with all the comforts of a hunted animal with others who would not yield,

Whose greatest crime consisted of being on the wrong side of a lost cause.

I hope it brought you some comfort to know you were on the right side of history.

It brought none to your wife and none to your youngest children.

As you paid your long penance for your conscience, once a month or so, after some

Time passed, you visited your wife and children. You were introduced to the little ones

As an uncle from afar. They did not know the bearded wild man who paid these visits

In the middle of the night and left wearing dad’s old, clean clothes.

The older ones, Maria, Josefa, Juan and Toñita, all in their teens, told the little ones

That their “uncle” brought news of their dad. The younger children, still wearing the

Frayed cloaks of their innocence, accepted this, not questioning why he stayed in

Mom’s room all night and was gone before they awoke the next morning.

Your grief at playing the part of a stranger in your own home, of not embracing your

Children on whom you doted, one and all, for their protection and yours, as there were

No shortage of fascists who tried to ply them with pastries and candy,

Seeking to use their innocence as a weapon against you.

Your parents were relatively wealthy business owners who farmed the sea but

Disowned you—perhaps for your politics, perhaps for choosing to emigrate and

Refusing to join the family business, or perhaps for marrying for love in New York City

A hard working girl beneath your social station in their eyes.

You lived just long enough to see Spain delivered from war,

Though not freed of its chains.

You were spared the war’s aftermath.

Your wife and children were not.

No books record your name. Most of those who knew you are dead.

Yet flowers have long perpetually appeared on your simple above-ground burial site in

Sada that holds your ashes, and those of your eldest son, Juan, and second-

Eldest daughter, Toñita, who died much younger than even you.

Your wife has joined you there, in a place where

Honor, goodness, decency, principle and a pure,

Broken heart,

Now rest in peace.

From Of Pain and Ecstasy: Collected Poems (C) 2011 Victor D. López

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1 Comment

Filed under Poetry, Politics

One response to “Unsung Heroes

  1. Pingback: Third Sunday Blog Carnival: Volume 1, No. 5 « Third Sunday Blog Carnival

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