Ernesto Cardenal's
Squier in Nicaragua
 Translated from the Spanish 
by Jonathan Cohen

Ephraim George Squier (1821–1888). Click on portrait to see his 1851 map of Nicaragua.

Green afternoons in the jungle; sad
afternoons. A green river
flowing through green pastures;
green marshes.
Afternoons that smell of mud, rain-soaked leaves, of
wet ferns and mushrooms.
The green, moss-covered sloth
little by little climbing from branch to
branch, with its eyes closed as if
asleep but eating
a leaf, stretching out one front claw
followed by the other,
not bothered at all by the ants biting it,
slowly turning its round funny-looking
face, first to one side
and then the other,
finally wrapping its tail around a branch
and hanging down heavily like
a ball of lead;
the shad leaping in the river;
the din of monkeys eating
ill-manneredly, quick as they can,
throwing soursop peels at each other
and fighting, chattering, mimicking one another
and laughing in the trees;
screeching female monkeys carrying pickaback
bald babies with lips flared;
the elastic long-whiskered agouti
that stretches and shrinks up
looking all around with its round eyes
while it eats, trembling;
spiny iguanas
like jade dragons
shooting over the water
(jade arrows!);
the black man with his striped shirt, paddling
in his ceiba canoe.

A girl swinging back and forth in a hammock,
with long black hair, and a bare leg
hanging out of the hammock,
greets us:
        Adios, California!

California Gold Rush handbill promoting shortcut through Nicaragua.

The black river, like ink, at dusk.
Some flower with a sickening stench
               like a corpse;
and a horrible flower, all hairy.
hanging over stagnant water.
Sad whistles in the jungle,
and moans.
Sad leaves that fall spinning around.
And screeches …
               A cry among the guanabanas!
An ax chopping a log
               and the echo of the ax.
The same screeching!
Packs of wild pigs grunting.
Outbursts of laughter!
        The song of a toucan.
Rattling of rattlesnakes.
Cries of howler monkeys.
The melancholy song of the gongolona
               among coquito palms,
and the song of the dove “go-go-lay,
                      go-go-lay, go-lay, go-lay.”
Songful golden orioles
swaying in their nests suspended from palm trees,
and the song of the lion bird in the cohune palms
and the song of the moon-and-sun bird
and the bugler bird, the clock
bird singing out the hour
and the potoo that sings at night (oh poor me)
               “Poor-me-one” “Poor-me-one”
pairs of macaws that pass by squawking,
and the güis, chichitote and “feeling-joy”
which they sing in among the gloomy bogs.
Silvery marshes all aglow,
and the frogs singing
And a bird that all night repeats calling its name!

The sun setting behind Orosi: Orosi
rose-colored, the sky crimson, and the fiery Archipelago
of the Solentinames, floating in liquid gold,
and the lake then rose-colored, and then opal, and the green
palm trees on the islands against the sky,
and the sky then grey, and the water grey;
and a sad star shines in the evening sky.
The oarsmen sing:
        Ave Maria purisima
and then a silence;
the waves of the lake in the peaceful night.
               The moon above the lake
and the silhouette of dark palms in the moonlight.

Just the water beating against our bungo.

The island of Ometepe: the water green below the island.
In the water a launch leaning with its sails rolled.
On the island, clothes of every color spread out on the beach.
A cart with its oxen drinking water.
A naked boy bathing his horse.
And Indians (quite short) carrying firewood.
Behind grey huts.
Gold-colored coconuts.
And up above the green volcano
blowing out a lazy puff of smoke
               into the blue air.

Twin volcanoes of Ometepe in Lake Nicaragua.

The blue lake.
The white heron.
        And a white sail in the distance.

Green islets, with black rocks and
icacos, plantain groves, palms, and papayas,
and cane huts among the plantain groves.
the yellow bellflowers of the “gloria de Nicaragua”
hanging from trees
and trailing over rocks
        sway above the water.
And in that mirror of water
upside down, the green islets
with their black rocks and their icacos
plantain groves, palms, and papayas.
A black boat lashed to the shore;
in the water a woman with bare breasts
and a purple skirt,
washing clothes on a white rock,
the water up to her knees;
and her long straight hair falling freely to the water;
and her purple skirt,
bare breasts,
black hair,
black boat,
        reflected in the water.
And far off
the silhouette of a boat with two people
               rounding an island.

The first night in Granada: Granada
under siege; and throughout the night
every 2 minutes they shouted Alerta!
(And that night I dreamt of storms on the lake.
Iguanas walking over Rio Frio
and the sailors were singing the Salve
and Bernabe Somoza was attacking Granada …)
On the tiled roofs of Granada
that dazzling verdure:
— like a fire burning green.
And the first streetlamps
               pale, in the twilight.
A polka on a distant piano.
And amid the smell of narcissus
a song rises from a courtyard:
               Delgadina, get up and
               put on your white dress.

And a peal of bells
        clear and harsh
        and clear and clear
(cling-clang, cling-clang)
a harsh iron sound alternating with clear iron sounds:
                      — it’s the tolling of the Angelus!

How shall I describe you,
beautiful Nindiri!
Beneath green vaults:
avenues; the smooth
avenues of Nindiri.
Simple huts made out of cane
under the green branches,
like nests.
the musical name which they gave you
when Rome was still young.
(Neenda, water; and Diria, mountain)
tells us in an ancient, forgotten tongue
of the lake and the volcano.
Nindiri, beautiful Nindiri:
oranges, golden bananas, icaco plums,
gold among the leaves.
Girls the color of chocolate,
their breasts bare,
spinning white cotton among the trees.
Quiet primitive Nindiri,
seat of the ancient caciques and their courts,
— vision of the night, some dreamy Arcadia,
How shall I forget you!
That small lake in the crater, as if in a goblet,
and the women washing clothes in the lake.
The lava: like a sea of molten iron,
a sea of red rock, treeless,
a storm turned to stone, swirls, waves
upon waves, knife-sharp.

White and light purple hyacinths on the farms;
and the flower of the malinche, the sacuanjoche
in their curls and braids black as jet.
Smiles on lips rouged with annatto.
And the girls of Masaya,
with their large red earthen jars and pots
and their white sleeveless blouses.

— Straight as grenadiers
                    under the water jars …

And with no more covering
than the foam and rose-colored water,
splashing water on themselves with gourds,
and their hair floating in the water …

Mandolins and moonlight on balconies.
Marimbas. Marimbas of Monimbo.
A lagoon silver-looking in the moonlight!

And those dark-skinned women of Nindiri
smiling in the doorways of their huts would greet
the passing traveler:
        Adios, Americano!

Map of planned Nicaragua Canal following Accessory Transit Route that used steamers and stagecoaches for coast-to-coast transport.

Cloudy grey dawns
smelling of milk and fresh manure and dried hay
with the lowing of cows and young calves,
and a native grackle — the zanate — singing on a cow.
Dry huts, smoking, in the dry countryside.
Or wet huts, green rain-soaked grass,
and white houses with red-tiled roofs drenched
under the light blue sky.
Pale fireflies around evening time
and the sad cicada,
and the cart
and the song of the cart driver.
And the zanate singing on a fence.

Good-bye, Gentlemen
               Have a good trip, Sir

On the roads there was always a cross
with dried flowers …

And the tiny light in the brush, and the barking far off.
And fires far off in the hills.

A bell heard from behind the ceiba trees
with a piercing sound:
It’s the hour for Vespers
               and we are near Managua.

The girls of Managua
toward evening would go singing down to the lake shore
to fill their water jars.
       Silvery sardines were leaping up in the water.

Noon by Lake Managua:
The smoke from Momotombo hanging in the sky.
A buzzard stopped in the middle of its flight.
And the sun shining down without casting a shadow.

The two girls of Buena Vista:
        “The white one” and “the black one.”
               Buena Vees-ta, Gentlemen!
This here farm is called Santa Maria de Buena Vista!
These are my little boys
and those my big girls!

One was white with light hair and blue eyes
       and the other dark-skinned.
               The black one is my husband’s daughter
               and the other one a Frenchman’s!

And green parrots in the trees.
A cane hut
surrounded by palm and plantain trees.
               Gentlemen, I was young once …
And two little heads together sticking out of the doorway;
the kids naked, frightened.
Good-bye, sweethearts!
               God preserve you, Gentlemen!

Lola Montez (1821-1861), Irish-born dancer and actress who became famous as a Spanish dancer, and an international celebrity.

Even rows of palm trees
and at the end of the cane fields
a red roof.
The blue steam from the mill,
the smell of sugar-cane juice,
        and a hammock swinging back and forth.
A monotonous mill
        about to stop at each turn.
In the sun, a cart loaded with firewood,
being pulled by two sleepy oxen.
               Giddyap, giddyap you bastard.
On the wall, a rifle,
a portrait of Lola Montez,
and a tiger skin.
And in the air, the flight of a fly like a thread.
Buzzards circling in the sky.
And the hammock swinging back and forth.
        And that drowsy milling of sugar cane.
Giddyap Canelo.

A green cross by a spring-fed pool,
decorated with dried wreaths,
and a little boy sitting at the foot of the cross.
And so I asked him why that cross was there:
It’s to recall a horrible crime, he told me.
And I learned nothing else about the cross,
except that the victim was a woman.

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