From the Ashes

by James Scully

from Jump Cut, no. 27, July 1982, p. 40
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1982, 2005

socialist-realism propaganda"
the National Endowment for the Humanities
Chairman called it

funny, I'd thought it
"a film about Nicaragua,
about ordinary shanty town Nicaraguans
battered by waves of U.S. marines
yet sprouting up, through
the rubble of Somoza's terror,
growing in patches over the wounds
of this 20th century

still the Humanities Chairman
drew the line, "it is political
propaganda, not the humanities"

and to think I'd thought it
a TV film about a shoemaker
his wife 3 daughters
1 son

there was a newspaper owner
who'd opposed Somoza, and
opposed, now, the Sandinista government
from a lawn chair by his swimming pool:
easygoing, liberal, personable.

yet useless, rattled, his words lost on
the large delicate earthen
shoemaker's wife, learning
revolution from her teen-age daughter

because of them and many like them
it's true, Somoza had fled
looting the treasury
leaving Managua in ruins

And it's true
the farmers still had it tough,
there they were
right in front of us
complaining to a Sandinista official
things are no bettor now
than before, and the official
with a pained look saying
"we're a poor country
we can't turn around overnight it will take years
maybe 10, 20, 30 …"
and neither official nor farmer
was content,
never mind happy,
not to have cheaper seeds

maybe that's what
the Chairman of the National Endowment
meant, saying it was
"not the humanities…?"

because the shoemaker's wife
was relieved, yet
crying because
under the revolutionary government
all 3 daughters were sent
up into the hills
among volcanos and lakes
to teach the forgotten the peasants
to read and write

she and her husband even went
by bus, looking for them
beyond even the telephone,
to make sure they were not
as rumor had it
turning against their parents

in fact the girls were homesick
and wept a little
and were proud, older, also
heavier than before

maybe that's why
the Chairman of the Humanities
attacked this for being

because meanwhile Somoza's guardsmen
were in prison,
there, on film
complaining to the warden
(himself a former prisoner in this
prison Somoza built)
of overcrowding in the cells
because under the Sandinista government
no one was executed
nor tortured,
though early on, out of
rage, grief
and rough justice
there must have been beatings,
and guardsmen in the neighborhoods
who should have been, and were, shot

so the Chairman of the National
Endowment for the Humanities
must have felt
because his own agency had
without knowing it
funded this film

in it
Nicaraguan ex-guardsmen
had joined Cubans in Florida training
to invade Nicaragua
in berets stetsons mirror sunglasses

and an elderly lady
by a palm tree in Managua
was saying let them come, we're ready
they may get in but once here
they'll piss their pants

this in the film
that has undermined the
Endowment for the Humanities

was it that old lady
who did the humanities in?

I don't know, but later
the shoemaker's wife
the mother of 3 daughters
and 1 son, said
quietly half to herself
(or was it her daughter
speaking for her mother?)
before the women just had
washing cooking kids
now she said smiling
there were 'other things'
but did not elaborate
a pity she didn't, she
clearly had news for us

because now life was complex
the whole family talked together
politics ran its probing unbroken
thread through everything…
and when the oldest daughter who
was clearly the vanguard
and listened to patriotic folksongs
criticized her youngest sister
who tuned in to American rock
the youngest said, wait
you were my age once
you had your time
let me have mine

and the brother mediating
said, look
Nicaraguan music is for listening
American music is for dancing

smiling, pleased

they all smiled,
for that was that

and all this had started
one day before the revolution, when
the oldest daughter had come home from school
hiding, for the night, a Sandinista flag
and her father had said, why?
we'll all be killed
but the next day walked her back to school
he carrying the flag
because "if they catch us
it's me they'll kill, not you"

now, on top of that

the same shoemaker and his family
who still live in a shack
these sweet ingenuous people
their plump cheerful daughters
and shy son
have hit
the enemy where he hurts

that they did this, and were
so nice about it,
I mean, that it was
their decency did it,
is wonderful beyond words

because as good as the film
itself makes us feel,
this last
repercussion, which bonds
those people with us
who struck our
common enemy,
and made him pay for it

this was, is, if anything
even more
heartwarming than the film itself