They also came for you in the middle of the night,
But found that you had gone to Buenos Aires.
The Guardia Civil questioned your wife in her home,
Surrounded by your four young children, in loud but respectful tones.
They waved their machine guns about for a while,
But left no visible scars on your children,
Or on your young wife, whom you
Left behind to raise them alone.
You had been a big fish in a little pond,
A successful entrepreneur who made a very good living,
By buying cattle to be raised by those too poor
To buy their own who would raise them for you.
They would graze them, use them to pull their plows
And sell their milk, or use it to feed their too numerous children.
When they were ready for sale, you would take them to market,
Obtain a fair price for them, and equally split the gains with those who raised them.
All in all, it was a good system that gave you relative wealth,
And gave the poor the means to feed their families and themselves.
You reputation for unwavering honesty and fair dealing made many
Want to raise cattle for you, and many more sought you out to settle disputes.
On matters of contracts and disputed land boundaries your word was law.
The powerless and the powerful trusted your judgment equally and sought you out
To settle their disputes. Your judgment was always accepted as final because
Your fairness and integrity were beyond question. “If Manuel says it, it is so.”
You would honor a bad deal based on a handshake and would rather lose a
Fortune than break your word, even when dealing with those far less honorable
Than yourself. For you a man was only as good as his word, and you knew that the
Greatest legacy you could leave your children was an unsullied name.
You were frugal beyond need or reason, perhaps because you did not
Want to flaunt your relative wealth when so many had nothing.
It would have offended your social conscience and belied your politics.
Your one extravagance was a great steed, on which no expense was spared.
Though thoughtful, eloquent and soft-spoken, you were not shy about
Sharing your views and took quiet pride in the fact that others listened
When you spoke. You were an ardent believer in the young republic and
Left of center in your views. When the war came, you were an easy target.
There was no time to take your entire family out of the country, and
You simply had too much to lose—a significant capital ******* in land and
Livestock. So you decided to go to Argentina, having been in the U.S. while
You were single and preferring self exile in a country with a familiar language.
Your wife and children would be fine, sheltered by your capital and by
The good will you had earned. And you were largely right.
Despite your wife’s inexperience, she continued with your business, with the
Help of your son who had both your eye for buying livestock and your good name.
Long years after you had gone, your teenaged son could buy all the cattle he
Wanted at any regional fair on credit, with just a handshake, simply because
He was your son. And for many years, complete strangers would step up offering a
Stern warning to those they believed were trying to cheat your son at the fairs.
“E o fillo do Café.” (He is the son of the Café, a nickname earned by a
Distant relative for to his habit of offering coffee to anyone who visited his
Office at a time when coffee was a luxury). That was enough to stop anyone
Seeking to gain an unfair advantage from dad’s youth and inexperience.
Once in Buenos Aires, though, you were a small fish in a very big pond,
Or, more accurately, a fish on dry land; nobody was impressed by your name,
Your pedigree, your reputation or your way of doing business. You were probably
Mocked for your Galician accent and few listened or cared when you spoke.
You lived in a small room that shared a patio with a little schoolhouse.
You worked nights as a watchman, and tried to sleep during the day while
Children played noisily next door. You made little money since your trade was
Useless in a modern city where trust was a highly devalued currency.
You were an anachronistic curiosity. And you could not return home.
When your son followed you there, he must have broken your heart;
You had expected that he would run your business until your return; but he
Quit school, tired of being called roxo (red) by his military instructors.
It must have been excruciatingly difficult for you. Dad never got your pain.
Ironically, I think I do, but much too late. Eventually you returned to Spain to
A wife who had faithfully raised your children alone for more than ten years and was
No longer predisposed to unquestioningly view your will as her duty.
Doubtless, you could no more understand that than dad could understand
You. Too much Pain. Too many dreams deferred, mourned, buried and forgotten.
You returned to your beloved Galicia when it was clear you would not be
Persecuted after Generalisimo Franco had mellowed into a relatively benign tyrant.
People were no longer found shot or beaten to death in ditches by the
Side of the road. So you returned home to live out the remainder of your
Days out of place, a caricature of your former self, resting on the brittle,
Crumbling laurels of your pre Civil War self, not broken, but forever bent.
You found a world very different from the one you had built through your
Decency, cunning, and entrepreneurship. And you learned to look around
Before speaking your mind, and spent your remaining days reined in far more
Closely than your old steed, and with no polished silver bit to bite upon.
from Of Pain and Ecstasy: Collected Poems (C) 2011, 2018