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Mike Schneider: Photograph in TIME, 1985

"War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”
A man in battle camouflage holds a machete
at the throat of a peasant farmer on his knees
genuflecting in a shallow grave he just dug.
Far from the scene of this photo 
our free-world leader speaks.
Into a microphone, he says 
of the men in camouflage
that they are “freedom fighters, 
the moral equivalent of a founding father.” 
The farmer’s terrorized eyes
gaze from the page of the magazine, 
which doesn’t show the blade 
cutting the stem where life flows 
to a living brain, heart’s rhythm 
visible in spouting blood, lungs’ 
rasp and gurgle, last gulp of air. Killing 
face-to-face is grotesque business.
The moral equivalent of a founding father
does it with practiced, awful grace.
Dawn, a quiet highland valley, 
low clouds drift with smoke from cooking fires,
scent of corn tortillas —
freedom fighters 
sift toward sleepy San Gregorio,
a few tin-roof shelters, families
scratching stony bean plots
to survive, resettled 
from the northern war zone
by their government, 
“a cruel clique of Godless men,” 
says our leader, the great communicator
who paints his words on waves of air
that flow to the people as he speaks 
about people he refuses to meet or talk with. 
With assault rifles and grenades
the freedom fighters set their ambush 
by the hut that serves as school. 
The great communicator doesn’t say this.
And our newspapers don’t tell us.
And memory hungers not to forget 
thunder of Hotchkiss guns in South Dakota,
shrapnel tearing infant flesh, a photo —
the old chief hooded in a white rag,
his frozen corpse rising from the snow.
Now there are six children
aged five through eleven,
life evacuated from twelve brown eyes.
And their teacher, a pretty young woman 
from Managua, whose father, a man 
of private enterprise, friendly to our leader, 
says, sadly shaking his head, he doesn’t know 
what she was doing there anyway. 
Sunday in September —
freedom fighters launch their rocket
toward a bus, northbound, the road to Jinotega. 
Flame of gasoline explosion —
black smoke with a red tongue 
licks and whispers into the air
that freedom is not just a word —
19 women, traveling to visit their sons, 
in the Sandinista army 
near Matagalpa, are dead.
The freedom fighters dissolve 
into cloud-forest mountains
of wild green parakeet, squirrel monkey, jaguar 
where they don’t hear our leader talking and talking,
where they know killing face-to-face is grotesque business.
We watch the face of business as it smiles, talks
about God and freedom 
and says “moral equivalent of a founding father”
with practiced, awful grace.

Copyright 1989 Mike Schneider. First published in Heart Quarterly.

Note from the author: I lived in Nicaragua for 6 weeks in 1984, was there for their first post-Somoza election in fall 1984. I went under the auspices of a program organized at Harvard & lived with a Nicaraguan family in Estelí, taking Spanish classes in the morning & working in the community in the afternoons.  

I wrote many letters to the editor after being back here & a few OpEds, also spent a night in the County jail (along with about 50 others) who protested at then-Senator John Heinz’s office.  Heinz has a haloed rep as a moderate Republican, but he was obdurately aligned with Reagan on C. America policy (meaning funding the contras) & refused adamantly to take any kind of meeting (none) with local activists, seemed to have nose-in-the-air, rich & haughty attitude toward Catholic-affiliated activists from the Merton Center, which was the Pittsburgh hub — as it still is — of organizing. Had he been willing, I would’ve been part of a small contingent meeting with him, since I’d been there & knew in a first-hand way how misinformation (and disinformation) filled the mainstream U.S. media about politics there.  As you may know, there were prominent mainstream journalists on CIA payroll covering Nicaragua events at this time . . . 

President Ronald Reagan c. 1984
Nicaraguan woman buries her child murdered by the Contras. Contras, mercenaries trained by the CIA at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia, were responsible for the slaughter of more than 8,000 Nicaraguans civilians, and 910 state officials, as well as other atrocities and crimes against humanity. (photo: AP)

6 comments on “Mike Schneider: Photograph in TIME, 1985

  1. Jim Newsome
    December 11, 2020

    A wrenching political poem that works for our time. I appreciate the photos that follow too. It inspired a poem from me, BTW. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. abby zimet
    December 10, 2020

    whew. wrenching. thank you for all you did (and tried to do)

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Joanne Matone Samraney
    December 10, 2020

    Hi Mike
    Very powerful poem and comments.
    Stay well and safe during this pandemic
    Hope to see you in the future.
    Joanne Matone Samraney

    Liked by 2 people

    • Mike Schneider
      December 11, 2020

      Thanks very much, Joanne. Great to hear from you.

      Liked by 1 person

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