Extract from Act III of Topia or Che Guevara
The canvas set is meant to represent
Bolivia: green stretch of meadowland
in poster paint and glue, a river gent
ly winds across the stage’s coloured band.
There is a sky as tall and splendid as
a sapphire or as ermine. Distant in
the backdrop a white farmstead. Arganaz
the farmer housed under its roof of tin.
Let’s assume for now we’re looking at well
any old theatre anywhere on
the earth that now and then puts on this show
for the benefit of the rights of hon
est bourgeois and the well-to-do, also
the pseudo-revolutionary cell.
The curtain by the way has meanwhile gone
up. A small group of men all dressed in kha
ki are now crossing the river there on
the blue pseudo-waves of the stage which are
with the aid of projectors all agleam
like sapphires and orange blossoms that peep
in early spring. The members of the team
say nothing for they push a cardboard jeep
that’s in the process of getting stuck in
the white sand (or glue that hasn’t quite
dried yet). It’s Che Guevara and his part
isans arriving in November in
Ñancahuazú, where they then all start
pitching camp in scrub with a cave in sight.
In spite of edema and asthma the
ambush works. Coco and his men open
fire from the ravine’s steep slopes. And seven
soldiers fall to the ground in their own nose
bleeds. What we are witnessing is of course
just blanks and lots of ketchup. Although this
small skirmish here in terms of theatre is
a huge success. A wave with all the force
of wild approval causes the mighty
chandelier to jingle. The Liberté’s
reviewer jumps to his feet and applauds.
When two home-made grenades explode towards
the front of the orchestra pit, the blaze
of the ovations swells to a tutti.
A tiny dummy plane dives from the flies
on what looks like a reconnoitring sor
tie. Reminiscent of a swift that tries
to enter its own space. Down on the floor
the lighting man swears: ‘Bloody hell, don’t say
the bulb’s gone in the red projector!’ There
is hardly any action in the play,
with actors lying dead just everywhere.
Soldiers and mortar fire, but not neat plot
no line that can aspire to hit the spot –
ä cardboard cut-out of reality.
The reviewer, dictator, or would-be,
of his banana republic of writ
ers, will be successful and be proved right.
I know it sounds banal, at least it could,
but some people are evil and some good
independently of any blood-red
meridians of social structures. Dead
ly cruelty divides them like a slash
from a machete. The one in a splash
of boiling piss drowns his foe, the other
spurs on his love’s Rocinante ever
and again to fight for truth’s perfection,
rides through the arch of high tragedy in
to the magic circle of this small stage.
My two assumptions: even in this age
such men exist and: that Che Gue was in
deed a man familiar with affection.
Only the slash from the machete can
be seen from time to time in sun or star
gleam as tiger-striped lightning. And what far
goal are these stage characters, every man,
in search of in their green labyrinth on
what is the far side of legality,
what distant and imagined enemy
beneath the mountain’s dark arch. Oh, I shun
to give an answer. Let each man answer
for himself and those of like ilk. The in
tellectual priest with his Judas silver.
The Marxist lodge member with villa on
the Côte d’Azur and Jag. Let such folk dare
to fashion an answer into thin air.
Che, there are many ways of dying, and
the easiest was not the one for you
when you became a guerrilla you knew
full well that you would fall into the hands,
calloused and dirty, of some hangman but
your life under the orange-blossom snow
was so pure that much more than they could know
it upweighed their blood and dirt and profit.
Now your real life is about to begin,
one you live inside us for here, within,
our motives and dreams will be your new home,
your ideas will be our Jerusalem…
Let then that photograph of him where he
is lying on his lit de parade
a corpse with clips and surgical scissors
inserted in his skin round his collar
bone (the little hollow’s psalter) let it
become imprinted on your retina’s
most sensitive surface, let it serve as
an eternal recollection, let it
not get lost in the book’s closely glossed
pages (which mainly deal with the prepar
ations in La Paz) in the great blue loss
of memory – forgetting Che Guevar
a and his death is like forgetting free
dom and suppression of all liberty.
It turns out that the poems have been taken from various points in the book. I have indicated which page each poem (or partial poem!) comes from.