Triumph of the Defeated

And now that the sun has mistakenly appeared
flooding these gloomy corridors with cautious optimism
and calling a merciful time out on this perimeter of torture
how about taking a little break
to wring out our suffering and hang it up to dry
like one more garment on our fainthearted clothesline

the truth is that pressing needs
even our passions
always end up twisting us out of shape
that’s how our smugness and pride are hobbled
-which we mistake for strength-
or conversely swell like tumors
it’s how our hate and love crystallize
-which we mistake for weakness-
into this stony manichean topography of the heart
it’s how the flimsy flakes of our pretenses fall away
leaving our abject anger raw and exposed
it’s how the eyelids of our self-pity open permanently
and our gaze becomes an unwavering merciless sword

there are dead at twilight and dead in the heat of noon
some who set and some who rise like the sun
adolescents whose last smile held all their faith in
       life and more life
young girls who bore a sacrifice they named and
       suckled
and when the machine guns fired shielded with their lovely bodies
so it would survive
and it did survive
just barely
but
it survived
for that reason
because in this gray misguided place
where no one could spare ten minutes or ten pesos
those immortal unassuming
men and women
dared give their lives

for that reason their defeat is bound up with the earth
and takes root and is reborn
in dreams and banners fluttering in the wind
in promises joyfully kept
in trees and rages and embraces and guitars
and above all in children who now wear the triumphant gaze
of their gentle fearless mothers
those mafiosos who no longer seeing
looked back at us
from their photos
in this morning’s paper.

~Mario Benedetti, Uruguyan poet & novelist (translated from the Spanish, 1971)

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