for Frank Stanford and for Nicaragua

Dawn came and there was something like a great ear

behind the sun.

Ashes drifted down though nothing had burned.

I wanted to shine like a fish.

Supposedly there are people who

will not burn in a fire.

Biblical people.

I carried my bucket.

Dead men pumped water from

the center of the earth.

We all drank it.

More ashes arrived.

We caught them on our tongues,

angels of next time receiving the body.

The earth tumbled then,

the pump handle creaked.

When soldiers came, we ran.

Like always.

I did a snake dance into the culvert.

Soldiers were afraid of ghosts.

A tongue is like a fish worn dull,

shine gone.

Day after day pieces of wood

floated down the river.

What were they building down there, at the end?

They were building a cross.

They were building a bird to fly us out.

They were building a new city

for the dead to lead from

and the soldiers were blind to it.

By noon the ghosts were gone.

The pump handle creaked, but no water.

When the soldiers came back I changed.

I became an angel of next time.

I said the words and

scales fell from my fish tongue

but the giant ear was stone.

Soldiers drifted like ashes.

I told them:

Downriver, they are building

wings that will not burn in a fire

and you are right to hide.

Put down your guns.

Soldiers put us in trucks

and took us downriver to become ashes.

The shine stopped.

The giant ear heard everything but

there was no mouth to speak.

In the cage, we counted.




Flies rose from the ash piles.

We counted screams.

A body floated downriver.

Dawn came and men

with no eyes talked

to the giant ear.

Roadside men who

lay dead in a snake dance.

The fireproof bird might rise

tomorrow or never.

All believed in it.

It rained or it would

never rain.

We counted Americans.

Flies performed their math on the dead.

We counted silences.

The sun had one voice

and the river had one voice.

Burnt people dropped from trees.

We slept to the rustling

of boots through weeds

and I remembered the water

of a dead nun’s voice.

We were all floating downriver.

Dawn came.

We knew nothing and they shot

half of us, with American guns.

At the sound of it we forgot.

We listened to the river.

Each gunshot carried by water

to dazzle the great ear.

That night I became a snake.

I slipped between the beams.

Crawled among the dead.

I followed the sound of bells.


The soldiers could not count

or didn’t care to.

The river counted to one


in its long voice.

Some snakes do not end.

Mythical snakes.

I passed a village.

Downriver there was nothing

except ashes.

The village boiled in silence.

A snake does not scream.

The choices were:



Become a snake.

Forest creatures swam in blood.

My voice was in the past,

covered by the long scar of forgetting.

I know the great ear turned.

That ghosts rose and began their work.

That voices fell from the trees.

I remain in snake form.

I whisper instructions to the great ear

following each little death.

Because now we are ready.

We have so many ashes

for our bird to rise from.

We have a sound to carry us

home, the river’s one voice

singing all day to a giant ear.