I am the most gigantic of the dead who will never close his eyes until I see you saved.
Julia de Burgos
The Bishop speaks into a blind wind
that stabs its knife bone deep.
Here in the altiplano he hears Mayan children,
ghosts singing in the rocks.
What is a shepherd? he asks the dead.
He knows one thing: seminary answers
are parrots repeating a parrot’s gospel.
The Bishop pulls back, the way a blown flower
rises up from the hands of wind.
What is a shepherd here in El Quiche,
he asks no one, measuring the month’s
murders on a scale that can’t add straight
because the padrones fixed the weights
to cheat peasants of the $2.00
a day wages, which is what this war
is all about. Campesinos, catechists
butchered like lambs, exactly like lambs.
As if it were a condemned building, Juan Gerardi
closes the diocese of El Quiche because the church
he believed would protect them is marked, quemada.
A shepherd whose hands are ruby stained,
Juan Gerardi cannot tell the nuncio or bishops
who sip sherry that it is all blood to him.
Alone, he seeks the people,
wants to match their beauty,
wants green pastures without
cavities of corpses.
After the dead covered the highlands
with a tattoo of Mayan bones,
long after Bishop Gerardi can do
anything more than cry, repeating
let me stay with you, my suffering friend,
long after that, the Guatemalan earth with
its braid of jade stalks, answers back, opening
like a body to tell of the Maya in the 1980s:
the moist sack of earth with its trove of bones.
Dig here, the Bishop says, dig here.
The terrible witness of ribs, bashed skulls,
tiny femurs and the frail wings of shoulder blades
speak of the Kabiles.
In the nineties, like a rain seen across a field,
survivors come down from the mountains to testify
because a Bishop who thought he was useless asked,
a Bishop who gives back to them their words,
a terrible witness of fire in a book that opened
the last door of the blackened house.
It is a book written by peasants whose
words tear open windows in the sealed walls.
This path, the Bishop says, is full of risks.
A Bishop is silenced but a door, made of words,
is flung wide. The banner above the cathedral door
is a flag the peasants wave over and over:
No Muriera La Verdad