The last protest Luis Montenegro attended in Nicaragua was on Mother’s Day in 2018. Pro-government groups fired on demonstrators that Wednesday, killing 15 and injuring more than 200. Luis stood next to a few. Not as part of any student group—a symbolic backbone of the protests—but rather as a citizen of the country and as a practicing doctor. He decided then that he couldn’t continue risking his life; he would contribute to the still-beating movement in other ways.
I received Luis’s poems from a friend in March. She had heard them at an awareness ceremony for the protests and was immediately struck by what they communicated about the happenings in Nicaragua. I began speaking with Luis via email shortly thereafter. The documentary details of the poems are apparent at first read. What stood out were the moments when reality sheared from language like a slab of glacial ice. When it did, it illuminated life in a repressive regime, where death and disappearance is common and the only currency of value is a person’s convictions.
There Are Days I Don’t Remember My Name
To Byron and all the young people unjustly detained by the regime
If anything, tonight I listen to the executioner
sharpen his weighted blade between the solitude
of this opaque cell, where oblivion no longer even lives.
If despair tries to bite my soul, again I leave
fragile scattered crystal letters
that once concerned the name
I was given the day of my birth.
I would like to abandon my soul in a concrete nest
and be born again with the name of an ethereal bird,
one that grows only in April,
and in its wings carries a whole country.
Oh, how pretty the little plastic soldiers are:
gangly in roundabouts where they stand between
trees of tin with small toy pistols and
well-polished booties and long suffering faces.
Their hands have been stained red.
I dreamt yesterday that I tattooed
my full name and number
on my right arm,
should an officer grab me,
should the dogs start barking,
should you find my body
on a sidewalk or
on the banks
of a volcano.
Photo Credit: “el hormiguero / anthill” by Nicolas Abaunza