The Ex-Revolutionary: The Story Behind My Poem in Magma Issue 60

P1010273When I told my friend Cesar in Nicaragua that I had published a poem inspired by our old project driver, Don Silvio, Cesar laughed and said

‘Todo su vida es una novella.

(His whole life is a novel).’

When I asked Cesar where he was now, he said he worked in a potato factory and that he would tell him about the poem when he next saw him.

If you have read the poem in the latest edition of Magma on the theme of Freedom, the character of Don Silvio is a little changed from project driver, to President’s driver and I invented his family situation, because he never talked about that. Over my two years working in that project in Nicaragua I rode so many miles with Don Silvio, down to Managua from the mountains of Esteli, up to the mountains of Esteli from Managua, around Managua’s long motorways and urban sprawl, across to Matagalpa, into Jinotega through the hills, up to Sebaco, to Ocotal, up and down and over and over Nicaragua’s one main road and various bumpy and less bumpy side roads.

Stopping sometimes for rosquilla or tortilla, or on one occasion to buy a live iguana on the side of the road, but mostly just driving that one line of paved caraterra, up and down, the hills dropping to rice fields, the road becoming flatter, the smell of the chicken factory about half an hour from Managua, the coloured houses dotted along the way, the blue statutes of the Virgin Mary, the bright pink posters of the President, the valleys and the untamed mountains. Up and down, there and back, again and again and again.

In each new town,

you have a different mujer,

exotic or plain, gorda or guapa.

She offers you her local ways. Yes.

Don Silvio liked ranchero music, which is often played as we drove. He also liked to talk and loved to eat. Mostly he would chew on some gum or some other snack as we drove. As he did, he would tell me about the advantages of having a different woman in each town you visited, so ‘if one woman does not attend to you well, then you just leave and move onto the next one.’ He would also tell me what to do in different situations, which was not much advice, as a command and if it was not followed, he sulked and became grumpy or difficult.

He was a tall man, a big man, with an enormous belly and commanding presence. In the revolution, he formed part of the Sandinista rebel army which freed the country from the Dictator Somoza in 1979. Sometimes he talked about that, holding a fake gun to his arm, firing. Yes, he and many others, eventually brought down a Dictator. He remembered it all with delight and pride. He continued that fight, which has sadly become more about partisan politics, by arguing violently with anyone who wasn’t a Sandinista, often storming heavily out of the room when they disagreed with him. However, when he saw the current President Ortega, (from the Sandinista party who was also part of that historic revolutionary movement) on television, or on a poster, he would salute, puff out his chest and put on a serious expression as he proclaimed ‘My Commandante!’


If you were asked: what way would you have it?
You would laugh, like it is a game

¿Quién sabe, verdad?

you would say.

Somehow, for me, his presence embodied exactly Nicaragua’s past and present; the country’s nostalgia for what was, their revolution and reality of what is: a place which has seen peace since 1990, but where life for most people remains a sustained poverty, hard work and dreams. It was with all that he drove us up and down those roads. It was like that he became a poem.

Quotes are from the poem ‘The Ex-Revolutionary’. You can read the whole poem and other great poetry in Magma, Issue 60.


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