A Writer Writes — Three Writers & Three Poems

        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
      English.
      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.


        Ephemera
        by Kinney Thiele (Sierra Leone 1985–87)

      These equatorial evenings
      I end in a hammock
      listening to drums accompany neighbors
      through wakes.
      Owls and bats fan the darkness —
      ancestors, it’s said, visiting the living.
      Anonymous stars and the familiar moon rise
      while sweat meanders
      down temple, cheek, neck, and breast,
      soaking into cotton
      as formless as this easy boredom.
      No other light.
      No lover.
      Only a frog splashing in the dishpan.

      Kinney Thiele has done over 200 talks, exhibits, media interviews and stories about her experiences as a health and rural development Volunteer in Sierra Leone. By day she works for SRI International (formerly the Stanford Research Institute) in California in corporate communications and marketing. After hours she writes, gardens, and attends public lectures and book talks several times a week


        The Air Is . . .
        by Meagan Pfeltz (Dominica 2000–01)

      Stifling
      Sultry too hot and lazy breeze
      Making my own skin moist
      Clothes sticky
      The sun and the salt
      And the sand
      Stinging my eyes like fine grains of sugar
      Sweet and cloying
      On my tongue like mangoes
      Plump and juicy
      A rooster practices (smoldering)
      Trash (crows) in the dust-choked weeds
      Church choirs (bleat)
      Goats (sing)
      Mama-children cry-Mama
      Mama
      Mountains lush primordial amazons
      Leafy ferns graceful
      Razor grass stained with blood from my
      palm (trees swaying)
      Ocean gleaming azure womb
      Brilliant coral stunning
      Angel fish flying, darting, their fins are
      humming (birds longing for nectar)
      Their songs are more quiet than
      Rainbows
      Hello, good night, you okay
      Psst!, I like to see you, and Hey Baby
      Hey
      Not quite comfortable
      Perched on the edge here of
      Not quite home
      But more real
      Than the Technicolor land of the free
      And the brave and Purple Mountains
      Majesty
      Before and friends and family and we and us
      Now and he and she and they
      (and me)
      No one has frozen like caterpillars
      Cocooned waiting for butterfly birth
      CarsHousesBabiesWeddings
      Coveted moments-shared in limbo long distance
      Letters now and wishes on stars
      The same stars here as there
      And the moon
      Time here passes slow and fast and slow
      Happylonelyscaredsadshoutingsmilingcryinglaughing
      Dancing
      Dizzy living these days
      The air is . . .

      After unexpectedly finding herself "medically separated" due to a knee injury that required reconstructive surgery, Meagan Pfeltz has spent the past five months alternately wistfully reflecting upon her Peace Corps service and attempting to properly demonstrate her increased appreciation for non-starchy foods, air-conditioning and hot running water. Following a long and arduous job search, she will begin employment as an Administrative Assistant to the Director with the Population Leadership Program, an international project of the Public Health Institute.