Translated by Katrina Hassan
Did you know that the Guatemalan poet Isabel de los Ángeles Ruano lives in poverty and needs help? Ha! This has been known for decades! Guatemalans love to add fuel to the fire. We love to appear like we are well off. We live off of that and the “what will people say.’’ Our lives are ruled by “what will people say.” This is why we go with the flow. This is why revolutions form on social media. These are only small bites.
Today, Guatemala’s greatest poet name is all over of social media. She is not on it because people care about her as a poet because she is elderly. She is not on social media thanks to her life circumstances, na! much less!
The great Isabel has been wandering for decades. She has been walking the way wanderers do. Getting on buses, peddling on bicycles, selling supplies no one wants to buy. No one wants to listen to her, because of tiredness, sleeplessness, or the day to day anguish of the worker without dough. She walks like wanderers do, like when they haven’t eaten in days. Similarly to wanderers, street venders do dare to dream. They dream of owning the corner shop, of not hauling water, in sunny or cold weather, to make a few quetzales a day. The women, like wanderers, next to their daughters and sisters selling atole in the plazas, wishing that one day they will own a dining room set. Alas, who cares what an old woman dreams of when she gets on the bus to sell pens and a booklet with her very own poems.
How beautifully can a boy write, with his with ashy knees and wild hair, selling his art on card stock, on dozens of buses a day? What about the clown who tells his jokes and laughs. He can’t cry because at home his children await with hunger. The same clown begs to be let on the bus, only for a moment, so he can make enough food for dinner. Tomorrow is another day, different buses, different humiliations, different ways to get strangled.
Does this hurt today? Isabel de Los Angeles Ruano, only today, for a few hours on fire on social media. Tomorrow there will be something else. There will be another back to climb upon, for those who like to take credit for the work of others, can’t prop themselves up. Comments come and go, saying she is mentally ill, this and that.
That person, Isabel, so human, a villager, a woman who stands on her own, with a sore back and ankles swollen from walking so much. Working class woman, hungry, no money except for a tiny bit for food every now and then. Needs like everyone. Everything boils down to if she is mentally ill, this great poet, the greatest poet that Guatemala ever birthed. There has never been, and there never will be, anyone greater than Isabel. Then, if talking about a poet that walks the streets, one that doesn’t care for fame or applause, doesn’t ask for recognition; she walks around selling pens and poem books. She is a worker, a street vendor. A vendor like the sock seller, the candy seller, the scissor seller, and and the special offers on lipstick and deodorant seller.
She is a street vendor like the men that carry loads of brooms and mops on their backs. They sell them door to door. They knock on doors that no one opens, not even to offer a glass of water, much less to give them a plate of food. Let’s not talk about buying their wares, a simple broom, not because they need them but to help. Help the poor economy of that street vendor, so he can rest his back. The solidarity of many only exists by the mouthful on social media. This is where they show off pictures and applause from others who like them just come and go with the flow of the current. The people’s solidarity, is going downhill.
There is much to say about the life situation of the country’s greatest poet. The state is absent in every form, thanks to the inhumane society we have. Isabel de los Ángeles Ruano reflects the situation of thousands of elderly people in Guatemala. They are forced to be outdoors working, in order to eat. She is a poet, but there are farm workers, labourers, peasants, those that waste their life away in the cane fields, all forgotten, succumbing in the coffee plantations, breaking their back picking vegetables, sowing fruit trees for monied finca owners. Those blistered hands milk cows so that the others can stuff themselves and drink themselves; gluttonously, wastefully.
The poet, with her tired feet, walks to where there are families without running water. She reaches to the east where there are malnourished children and starving grandparents.
Their skinny crops in the corn fields too short to yield even young corn. It hurts like an open wound, oblivion, shamelessness, abuse and the indolence of a society incapable of leaving their comfort bubble. They cannot put their feet on the ground and walk together with those that have always walked barefoot.
Isabel gets on the buses, stands tall, and announces her product. Announces it like the deported migrants are announced, the ones no one cares about. She stands before the public, the living dead, the deported ones that stand before a rotten society. They don’t deserve an Isabel de los Ángeles Ruano, or the millions of farm workers, peasants, labourers and migrants that fight day to day, carrying on their broken back the scoundrel that is society.
Isabel, Isabel, what bad luck it was to be born in Guatemala.
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Ilka Oliva Corado @ilkaolivacorado