Peace Corps Writers A Writer Writes
Three Writers & Three Poems
 Printer friendly version Che Guevera
(A True Story)

by Bill Coolidge (Bolivia 1966–68)

Che Guevera walked into town today.
He flew out the next, mangled body
tied to the bottom of a helicopter.
He came to town tired, winded, looking
for comrades. Speaking Spanish
he appeared briefly in the plaza.
My neighbors speak Quechua or Aymara, and some Spanish.
Did they need him, this Cuban revolutionary?
These urban campesinos working the mines for a dime a day?
Maybe Che needed them. More than he knew. Than they knew.
He, out of breath, out of time, and out of life
lingered too long.
“Hide out Che!” I would have yelled out
across the plaza. “Go to where your brothers are!”
Descend, into that hell.
Silver, gone, shipped to Spain.
Remnants of tin, that’s what left.
But you knew that, didn’t you Che?
The mine only takes, doesn’t give back.
These urban Quechua speaking fathers die,
when their 30th birthday rolls around.
Like you they are gasping, but they
don’t know, unlike you, what is
killing them. They are haunted.
No word for silicosis nor black lung.
No health insurance. Their comrades
and brothers die. The next day I welcome their children.
Into the ‘hogar.’ The home for miners’ kids.
You are hunted. Haunted too?
What is your connection to them?
What’s behind the fire in your eyes?
Tell us!
Both of you die today.
You and the Vision.
This vision of a South American revolution
does not go full circle.
Your death takes away
its first crack at life.
Stand in line. Che.
Your lofty phrases
here in the mountains
at 12,000 feet.
Found no perch, no catchbasin.
Like ashes now, floating
just floating, aspiring fragments.
Like you, too late,
with no homebase.
“Comrades, brothers.”
You said. But you missed them.
Only students and taxi cab drivers in that plaza.
You missed them, standing on that platform,
They were down below,
chewing cocoa leaves. Lunch.
Cool moist cave like mine.
Comrades and brothers, pausing
for breath, for a little euphoria.
Each day they go down,
until breath runs out
or the canary dies. Either way
Che, you missed out.
Broken connection. Until the end.
Until the end of your day. This day.
The day your breath ran out.
Like them you were lifted up.
Taken away. But they didn’t
know you, didn’t miss you.
Broken connection No circle..
I knew you were in town.
The older boys told me.
These orphan boys. They knew the scoop.
They knew you were here.
But they said to me, “demasiado tarde.”
Too late for their fathers
Too late them for them. Oh
yes, they were learning Spanish,
but they want me to teach them
Escape clause, out of the mine.
They don’t want to go with me
tonight to the plaza.
University students said,
“Bring a candle.” But my
boys say, “Do these students
light a candle for our papas?”
Who was that Che anyway?
“Demasiado tarde.” For him, for us.
These orphan boys heads’ have have already turned,
away from the Plaza, from the
Bolivian Altiplano, from Cuba.
They turn toward me:
“Senior Willy, tell us again how to say
Los Estados Unidos” in English?
Bill Coolidge is currently living on a sailboat, working at St. Vincent’s Day Hospitality Center for the homeless, and writing a memoir, as well as publishing essays about the connection between the homeless and endangered species. This poem comes from his time in Oruro, Bolivia, the altiplano [high plain], and Che Guevera's visit followed by his dying the following day.
     Coolidge's Peace Corps training group had been originally assigned to Tanzania, but Peace Corps was kicked out of the country and his group was quickly converted to a Bolivia mines project. Unfortunately the Bolivian union and miners were in brutal conflict and the PCVs never got to the mines. Coolidge landed in Oruro (with his then wife) and worked at co-ops, a
hogar (a home for orphans of miners) and taught English to Bolivian railroad engineers trying to make sense of British manuals.
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