MAY DAY 1998 – San Salvador
– a poem for many voices
by Lorraine Caputo
Death dances the cumbia with a campesino. She holds a
black & yellow umbrella aloft – fraud, corruption,
unemployment, misery written on each panel. She waves a
tarantula in the faces of the gathered crowd.
A man stops to interview her
(♀) Oh, yes
Death says in an airy voice
(♀) All is good for the growing Salvadoran economy.
It is time to celebrate our nation’s growth.
From all of the country the marchers have come –
Santa Ana Cabañas Chalatenango
La Paz La Libertad San Vicente
&, of course, from here, San Salvador
They are laborers of universities, the maquiladora
sweatshops & of the hospitals
The campesinos are here
& the unemployed
Thirty & more unions of teachers & healthcare workers,
of revolutionary artists & students – Community
organizations & those for social justice, of the FMLN –
They are all
¡Viva el 1º de mayo!
¡Viva the Salvadoran workers!
¡Viva the Salvadoran campesinos!
Red banners & the Salvadoran flag, blue & white – & here
& there, a Cuban flag.
¡Viva the women workers & peasants!
¡Viva the martyrs of Haymarket Square!
The FMLN song blares from a pickup truck loudspeaker.
If the government doesn’t follow the law
T-shirts with Che there & Romero here. Together they
march & testify, from France, the US, from Spain &
Germany, Canada, Holland, Switzerland & Denmark,
from Honduras, Nicaragua.
Because the struggle for the rights of workers & farmers
knows no international boundaries –
just as the “global world economy” knows none.
No to the robbery of pension funds
No to the robbery of public goods
the phone company ANTEL
& the electric company
No to the privatization of healthcare
We have the right to medicine
It is the responsibility of the government
to give it to us
Tens & tens of thousands – Wherever we are on this day,
we march & today we are here, San Salvador
For a 1º May with
Work, Education, Health, Housing
Vendors line the ranks with ice cream, pupusas & carton
hats. They stroll through the demonstrators bottlenecked
to a stop again.
I look behind. The crowd has grown, filling the street
downhill as far as the eye can see.
Every wall along the way speaks with graffiti:
The Government & Big Business
are the same mierda
Monseñor Romero Juan Gerardi
Hasta la Victoria Siempre
Police stand on the sidelines. Some clench the butts of
Two men shake their cans, adding to the cries upon the
Arena = Hunger
¡Viva el 1º de mayo!
Further down the parade route, two officers detain a pair
of men. A crowd grows around them.
Every electric pole along the way speaks with wheat-
No to child labor
A couple with their daughter stands in the doorway of
their store. The husband takes leaflets from passers-by.
One catches his eye & with unheard words, passes it to his
A man dips his hand in the bucket & smears a pole with
paste. His compañero sticks their message up. & they
move on to the next.
The day is thick with humid heat after last night’s rain.
The sky is still overcast.
A green pick-up drives slowly down the line. A woman in
back hands bags of water to the workers. Her young son
sits at her feet, licking a chocolate wrapper. His chest has
been deep-browned by the sun.
Into the narrow streets of downtown, packed with market
stalls. Past the McDonald’s, the Pizza Hut & the national
A woman’s voice cries out:
Are you tired yet?
We have to show them we are not tired of fighting
for our rights & dignity!
A series of cracks fills the blocks ahead. A few marchers
look around, nervousness painting their faces. But surely
in this time of a six-year-old peace …
Our compañeros & compañeras, the Martyrs
will not have died in vain.
For we continue on with the people’s struggle.
& we shall be victorious!
We continue zig-zagging through the center, past a fruit
stand & its pineapple scent, and we turn behind the
National Palace. A young man carries his niece atop his
shoulders. Around that building & past the Cathedral, we
enter the Plaza.
¡El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!
Up on the stage, a man begins to sing. The amassing
people clap & join their voices.
Banners, one by one, mount around the perimeter and
flutter in the threatening sky.
Pushcart bells ring – hot dogs & shaved ice. A woman
wanders among us, selling silk flowers. She balances a
basket atop her head, a bouquet in one hand. An explosion
of fireworks in front of the Cathedral. Pieces of paper fly
through the air.
& song after revolutionary song from every corner of the
Americas: Solo le pido a dios fills the afternoon – I only
ask god that I don’t become indifferent because of pain,
injustice, war …
More banners string from trees & the wrought iron fence
surrounding the Palace.
These people listen to the speeches while licking ice
cream cones, munching on sandwiches. They sit on fence
curbs, atop a garbage truck. Men, women talk amongst
themselves, hands waving through the heavy air.
Many others are boarding buses for their hometowns. A
pair of human rights monitors stop to converse with some
On the far side of the park, tables are set up. Players put
their colón coins upon the lotería-bingo pictures. One
tosses the dice.
(♀) El Negro – at triple
No-one. The carney sweeps the silver pieces away. Again
the money is placed … the dice – clunk – are rolled.
At the statue of Captain-General Barrios, pigeons group.
With the sprinkle-finally-come, they alight into the trees.
It turns into a downpour. The crowd runs for cover. Tarps
are thrown over sound equipment. Those atop the garbage
truck climb or jump down. Some run for homeward-bound
But still the discussions continue. One woman, with a red
shirt, FMLN ballcap, emphasizes a point with her
expression, a wave of hand in air swooping down with a
slap upon her papers.
* * * * *
"MAY DAY 1998 – San Salvador" is part of Lorraine Caputo's work in progress, an (unpublished) five-part suite of poems about 1 May – International Workers’ Day – and its commemoration in distinct parts of the Americas (Mexico City, the US’ history, San Salvador, Quito and Havana).
Lorraine Caputo writes: I am a documentary poet, translator and travel writer. My poetry and narratives have been published in over 100 journals in Canada, the US, Latin America, Europe, Asia, Australia and Africa, such as Prairie Schooner, Canadian Dimension, The Mérida Review (Mexico), A New Ulster (Northern Ireland), Open Road Review (India), Cordite Poetry Review (Australia) and Bakwa (Cameroon). As well, my works appear in 11 chapbooks of poetry – including Caribbean Nights (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2014) and Notes from the Patagonia (dancing girl press, 2017), five audio recordings and 18 anthologies. I have also authored several travel guidebooks. In March 2011, the Parliamentary Poet Laureate of Canada chose my verse as poem of the month. I have done over 200 literary readings, from Alaska to the Patagonia. For the past decade, I have been traveling through Latin America, listening to the voices of the pueblos and Earth. You may follow my travels at Latin America Wanderer: www.facebook.com/lorrainecaputo.wanderer.