Translator's Note: Roberto Sosa
Anglican missionaries first arrived in Honduras in 1768. Sponsored by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, which, in turn, was backed by a royal charter from England, these missionaries introduced themselves with the explicit aim of enlightening the Hondurans, whom they referred to in their tracts as “infidels” and “heathens.” In the nineteenth century, American banana companies established plantations, and by 1913 these companies controlled most of the production.
Today, Honduras is the poorest Spanish-speaking country in the Western Hemisphere. In the cities, legless beggars plead around the rotaries. The hills in the country are denuded and look like poorly-shaved chins. Thousands of Hondurans leave the country every year to find work.
In the summer of 2009 I went to San Pedro Sula as an Episcopal priest in training. One night after dinner, I was introduced by my bishop to his favorite poem, Roberto Sosa’s “Los Pobres.” He felt “Los Pobres” captured the tone of long-silenced Hondurans. I had come to work in an orphanage for abused and abandoned girls. There were seventy girls I lived and worked with that summer. The stories of their pasts were terrible. Some had been so malnourished that their intellects were damaged. But after receiving food and permanent shelter, these girls came to life the way Lazarus must have.
Most evenings I spent alone in my room with dictionaries, flashcards, and lizards. I first memorized Sosa’s poem, then, bit by bit, tried to put it into English. I spoke the poem in Spanish to myself before I completely knew what I was saying. Spanish generally felt lush in my mouth, but the music of “Los Pobres” was sharp and blunt. As I began to comprehend more Spanish, I found the poem’s tune magnifying its harsh intent. The poem became my anthem. I began to want to bring the words into English for others to hear without it becoming one more pillaged thing. I wanted it to be about Sosa and Honduras and the girls and not me. First published in 1969, “Los Pobres,“ in its sparse language, captures the pain of that overlooked country. Stripped of baroque excess, the poem hangs on the page like a crucifix. —spencer reece
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This poem originally appeared in the March 2012 issue of Poetry magazine