With Walker in Nicaragua – trozo final

I stayed in the country for a while, living in León.
And Bill Deshon, Shipley, Dixie, Bob Gray, Bill Stoker,
and others came to see me
and they told me about the second expedition
and Walker’s death.

How on the Mississippi one night he silently weighed anchor:
They landed on the coast of Honduras late in the afternoon,
August 5,
(and most likely the 5th of August doesn’t go by when they don’t think back
on that march to Trujillo with a waning moon).
Dawn was coming up through the palms
when they arrived
to the sharp cry of the sentries
at the fort with stained ramparts and silvery cannons.
And they took the fort.
The houses were made of stone, with one floor, and red-tiled roofs
held up by cane poles on top of big beams,
and many big iguanas on the roofs.

It was there that Henry,
drunk, smoking a cigar near the gunpowder,
was shot by Dolan, the bullet hitting him
right in the mouth,
and Walker came quick to gather him up,
as Dolan was explaining how it happened.
And so Walker sat down at Henry’s bedside,
and the sun went down, the moon rose
and he was still there
and the whole night went by
and he was still there,
applying wet cloths to Henry’s wounded face,
and in the morning he left, and relieved the guards.
Dolan spoke of reinforcements
but they never did come.
And then came the ultimatum from the British.
Walker entered once more and sat down at Henry’s bedside.
Henry couldn’t speak, so he had a slate on which he wrote.
Walker took the slate and wrote a few words
and handed him the slate.
Henry was thinking hard.
Then he took the slate and wrote a single word.
Walker glanced at the slate.
He sat still a long time thinking,
then left.
Worms had eaten away half of his face.
On a table beside his bed was a bottle marked
and part of a glass of green lemonade.
And when Walker left, he sat up,
put a few spoonfuls from the bottle into the glass,
stirred it up a little and drank it,
lay down again,
pulled the thin blanket carefully over himself,
folded his hands on his chest
and went to sleep.
And he never woke up.
It was midnight when Dolan came in.
He glanced at Henry and went over,
looked at the slate, read the word,
and said:
“that explains it.”
Then they marched out in ranks,
each with a blanket and rifle,
in search of Cabañas’ camp,
because that had been Henry’s word: “Cabañas.”
They went through a grove of orange trees.
They marched swiftly and in silence all night,
without stopping to bury their dead.
They halted in the evening for the moon to rise
and a guard was posted.
They marched more by night.
They halted at sunrise
at a banana plantation.
Bullets were bursting from the leaves.
They fired back at them when they stopped to drink,
behind banana trees.
Walker was wounded slightly on one cheek
(the first bullet to wound him in a battle).
And they finally reached Cabañas’ camp
and found the rifle pits but no Cabañas.
What long, hot days those were
in sticky swamps with heavy rifles
from dawn until the blood-red sundowns hot as hell!

Walker with fever, paler than ever.

And they lost all track of the days.
Until one day they saw the British coming up the river.
General Walker was the last to climb aboard.
— All that are alive, sir!
It was daylight when they woke up, at anchor at Trujillo,
and it looked like a grimace hung above the black fort.
And they put the wounded under sailcloth awnings.

In the fort they were court-martialing Walker.
They saw him pass by the next morning surrounded by guards,
his face pale as always,
and they could see the scar, paler, on his cheek.
He carried a crucifix in his hand.

When they halted
the officer commanding the guard
read a paper in Spanish,
surely his orders.
And then Walker, in a calm and dignified voice,
without trembling,
spoke in Spanish.
And the filibusters didn’t hear what he said.
They could see from where they stood
a newly made grave in the sand,
and Walker, who kept speaking, calm and dignified,
beside the grave.
And the man said:
“The President
the President of Nicaragua, is a Nicaraguan …”
There was a drum roll
and gunfire.
All the bullets hit the mark.
Out of ninety-one men only twelve made it back.
And there, by the sea, with no wreaths or epitaph remained
William Walker of Tennessee.

–Ernesto Cardenal 1952, trans. Jonathan Cohen

So that was the poem, which I have never read in Spanish but which almost seems to have been written in English, in the modernist style of conversational poetry. I would like to read it in Spanish now, and to read Walker himself and the diaries of his men, and to read about Walker.


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