Earlham College Podcast, Episode 97, Week of Sept. 28 – Oct. 4, 2012
Mark Brim asks some intelligent questions of Ana Castillo.
Ana Castillo at Earlham College

This short photo essay captures a Cinco de Mayo reading and fundraiser. Ana Castillo meets with the Tucson community of students, educators, families and leaders opposing censorship.

More Audio and Video

“While I Was Gone a War Began
I Ask the Impossible, Ana Castillo
audio produced by Marcel R. Herrera-Castillo

While I was gone a war began.
Every day I asked friends in Rome
to translate the news.
It seems I saw this story
in a Hollywood movie,
or on a Taco Bell commercial,

maybe in an ad for sunglasses
or summer wear–shown somewhere
for promotional purposes.

Hadn’t I seen it in an underground cartoon,
a sinister sheikh versus John Wayne?

Remembering Revelation I wanted to laugh,
the way a nonbeliever remembers Sunday School
and laughs, which is to say–after flood and rains,
drought and despair,
abrupt invasions,
disease and famine everywhere,

we’re still left dumbfounded
at the persistence of fiction.

While I was gone
continents exploded–the Congo, Ireland,
Mexico, to name a few places.

At this rate, one day soon
they won’t exist at all.
It’s only a speculation, of course.

“What good have all the great writers done?”
an Italian dissident asked, as if

this new war were my personal charge.
“What good your poems,
your good intentions,
your thoughts and words
all for the common good?
What lives have they saved?

What mouths do they feed?
What good is your blue passport
when your American plane blows up?”
the Italian dissident asked in a rage.
Forced out of his country,the poor African selling trinkets in Italy,
does not hesitate to kill other blacksnot of his tribe.

Who is the bad guy? Who is the last racist?
Who colonized in the twenty-first century best:
the Mexican official over the Indian
or the gringo ranchero over the Mexican illegal?
“I hope for your sake your poems become missiles,”
the dissident said. He lit a cigarette, held it to his yellowed teeth.

“I hope for my sake, too. I tried,” he said.
“I did not write books or have sons
but I gave my life
and now, I don’t care.
“Again, I had nothing to give but a few words
which I thought then to keep to myself

for all their apparent uselessness.
We drank some wine, instead,
made from his dead father’s vineyard.
We trapped a rat getting into the vat.
We watched another red sun set over the fields.
At dawn, I left,returned to the silence of the press

when it has no sordid scandal to report.
As if we should not be scandalized
by surprise bombing over any city at night,
bombs scandalizing the sanctity of night.

–1998, Chicago

All poetry © Ana Castillo.
Reprinted with permission.