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Guest Post: Hafidha Acuay on “Like You” by Roque Dalton

Thirteen summers ago I stood on a dais during a talent night in Central Iowa and read a poem. The poem was Roque Dalton’s “Like You,” and having neither planned for the occasion or having any real, demonstrable talents, the best I could muster was reading the poem in both Spanish and English – my accent for both is pretty good.


Dalton’s “Like You” – or in Spanish, Como tú – was in a collection called Poetry Like Bread: Poets of the Political Imagination, published by Curbstone Press in the mid 1990s and edited by Martín Espada. I’d picked the book up used the year before, at Powell’s Books in Portland, where I lived at the time. “Like You” was the first poem I flipped to while standing in the aisle; it was instantly familiar, not because I’d read it before (I hadn’t), but because I knew it was true.


It’s a simple poem, and though perhaps not wholly characteristic of Dalton’s poems in general, it’s a good entry point. One needn’t be a poet to like it or to understand it. At the time I encountered “Like You,” I was a budding existentialist, having made a thorough break from orthodox religion and narrowly averting nihilism, I was striving to focus my gaze on what was beautiful in the world, fully aware of all that was twisted and painful in it, too.  Some poems arrive at the right time in one’s life, but this poem for me, is one that seems to have always been there. Here is the poem in English:


Like You

Like you I
love love, life, the sweet smell
of things, the sky-blue
landscape of January days.
And my blood boils up
and I laugh through eyes
that have known the buds of tears.
I believe the world is beautiful
and that poetry, like bread, is for everyone.
And that my veins don’t end in me
but in the unanimous blood
of those who struggle for life,
little things,
landscape and bread,
the poetry of everyone.
(translated by Jack Hirschman)


The original version:


Como tú


Yo, como tú,
amo el amor, la vida, el dulce encanto
de las cosas, el paisaje
celeste de los días de enero.
También mi sangre bulle
y río por los ojos
que hanconocido elbrote de las lágrimas.
Creo que el mundo es bello,
que la poesía es como el pan, de todos.
Y que mis venas no terminan en mí
sino en la sangre unánime
de los que luchan por la vida,
el amor,
las cosas,
el paisaje y el pan,
la poesía de todos.


Even without the context of Martin Espada’s edited collection, there are some markers here to suggest Roque Dalton‘s politics. His father was an American outlaw with a land-owning wife; his mother was a nurse who tended to Emmett Dalton’s wounds. Roque was born and raised in El Salvador and as much as anyone, his life and work earned him the title of “poet, revolutionary.” He wrote furiously all the while traveling, befriending other artists, being arrested, imprisoned, and tortured.  He escaped a death sentence when an earthquake brought the wall of the prison down and he crawled through the rubble and joined a passing religious procession. Eventually, he was shot to death by a member of his own guerrilla group shortly before his 40th birthday. Not much older than me.


In his poems you’ll find his humor, his socialism, his tragic sense of life, but also his determination that there is something better to be made from all of this. The Guatemalan Otto René Castillo, another poet revolutionary who was burned alive at the age of 33 by the government he resisted, wrote in “Before the Scales, Tomorrow”:


But it’s beautiful to love the world
with eyes
that have not yet
been born.And splendid
to know yourself victorious
when all around you
it’s all still so cold,
                           so dark.
(translated by Margaret Randall)


From “Frente al balance, mañana”


Pero es bello amar al mundo
con los ojos
de los que no han nacido
Y espléndido,
saberse ya un victorioso,
cuando todo en torno a uno
es aún tan frío tan oscuro.


When I envision Roque Dalton, I can see him in my mind’s eye, looking all around himself; his writings describe his 360-degree cinematic view of all this: the love he has for a world that is still so cold and dark.


I would like for more people to read Roque Dalton’s writings and learn about his life. “Like You” is a good beginning. And maybe because I read it first, for me it sums up everything of his I’ve read after. Let this long-gone young man talk to you, tell you his hard-won secrets, joys, and aggravations.  Reading his work I feel pressed, in my little life, burdened by these times and history, and yet … life slows down and all the minor irritations slip away. If my life were an apple, it would be slowly rolling off the table. That’s what it feels like to read Roque Dalton.
Hafidha Acuay is a Seattle-based poet and non-fiction writer. She blogs at Never Say Never to Your Traveling Self (, and can be found on Twitter at @hsofia. 
Hafidha Acuay

8 thoughts on “Guest Post: Hafidha Acuay on “Like You” by Roque Dalton

  1. Pingback: National Poetry Month: Roque Dalton, Spiritual Practice, Songwriting | Never Say Never to Your Traveling Self

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