Articles

Kevin Gallagher

GOD HELD MY HAND: A Radio Play in Talking Sonnets

GOD HELD MY HAND

From 1976 to 1983, the nation of Argentina was ruled by a dictatorship. Under that regime, approximately 30,000 people “disappeared.” In July of 2012, when the poet was living in Buenos Aires, two former presidents were convicted for overseeing the abduction of five hundred infants, taken at birth and given to supporters of the dictatorship after their rightful mothers were killed. One of these presidents, Jorge Rafael Videla, said that “God held my hand” during the country’s so-called Dirty War. Now, the children of los desaparecidos, ‘the disappeared’, are learning their true identities. The Argentinian government—now democratic—has authorized itself to obtain DNA samples from individuals suspected to have been abducted. It has particularly targeted the heirs to Clarin, a newspaper that supported the dictatorship and continues to publish to this day. 

General

I.

At least thirty in this school will be due,
for them there is another set of rules.

We use the kitchen table for the births,
these bitches need to be worth something first.

Then we send them to the skies to pay
for what they’ve done. But their children stay.

The bastard kids are there for the taking.
There is a long line of soldiers waiting.

The mothers dive into the River Plate,
the children are born to accept their fate.

The two of us are just doing our job.
Just remember they were going to rob

what we took from them first for good reason.
Save the kids. Kill the women for treason.


II.

I don’t know how to deliver a child
so keep some women around for a while

and make sure they don’t make a bloody mess.
If they cross you say do what a soldier says

and there is a chance we will keep you alive—
at least to deliver another child.

But you may have to hold the mother’s hand
then scream she should push as hard as she can.

She may bleed too much. Don’t look in her eyes.
No matter to us if she lives or dies.

We have strict orders to keep the children.
We don’t care about communist women.

Do let me know if you yourself want one.
I can find you an heir, a long lost son.


III.

This isn’t going as well as we planned.
They are obeying all of our commands:

deliver your babies as fast as you can.
We fill them with drugs, we load them in vans,

we pile them alive in helicopters,
we throw them out when we get our orders.

The bodies spin to the river like fans,
falling from our aircraft ‘like little ants.’

But instead of sinking to the bottom
of the River Plata where we dropped them

they are washing up on the river bank.
I am afraid that we have been outflanked.

Just slit open their stomachs beforehand.
They’ll fill with water, and sink with god’s hand.


Chorus

They got to play god with all of our lives
but that god didn’t get the final say.
It’s hard to find out your life is a lie.

Thrown from helicopters in the sky
then washed on the banks of the River Plate.
They got to play god with all our lives.

Decided who lived, decided who died.
So we cried and marched every Thursday.
It’s hard to find out your life is a lie.

That is what motivated us to try.
That is what motivated us to pray.
They tried to play god with all our lives

but we knew our god would answer our cries.
We knew we’d hold our grandchildren one day.
It’s hard to find out your life is a lie.

We’re here for you now, your hands are untied.
Let us go forward and be on our way.
They tried to play god with all of our lives.
It’s hard to find out your life is a lie.


Abuela

I.

I finally found my daughter on my
television set, diving black and white

like a little bomb breaking the river
high from a hovering helicopter.

My little angel disappeared six months ago.
She had just told me the news on the phone.

She was going to bring us all a new child.
She said it was time to extend our line,

to love against the dying of the light.
Love and a child are the best way to fight.

She saw how sacred it could be for love
to be the source of making another

little soul to help save us from this place.
I close my eyes but I still see her face.


II.

Father you have to help us find the child!
How am I supposed to live my life while

I know my daughter was dropped from the skies?
I know my granddaughter is still alive.

My husband said not to tell anyone.
Every time the doorbell rings he thinks they’ve come.

My husband doesn’t want to die that way
but we just can’t sit around here and pray.

It is they who are trying to play god.
You have to assure me that the good lord

will save their souls and give him back to me.
He is in prison and he must go free.

This is a photo of whom I must find.
I won’t stop looking for him until I die.


III.

I don’t want to see a green Ford Falcon
coming down my street. I cannot fathom

what those men with no minds will do to me.
We fear we can’t be what we want to be.

We stay in the house, we pull back the blinds,
thinking of other things to do with our time.

Sometimes the blood makes us spill on the street
but there is nothing we can do to compete

with the tear gas, tanks, and brutal force.
For every death there is less remorse.

Rape is no different than a cigarette.
The only thing this junta regrets

is that sometimes we make them get home late.
When they kiss their wives do they see my face?


IV.

They underestimated our march that goes
every Thursday to the Plaza de Mayo.

We plant placard trees with each child’s face.
We have built a file on every case.

We parade each week, we continue praying.
They continue rounding up and slaying,

though now we know where each soldier lives.
We won’t give up until each of them gives

each of us all of our grandchildren back.
We have disguised ourselves as maids to crack

into your homes, identify our babies
and start calling them out by their real names!

When it is time to come back from the playground
empty strollers are all that will be found.


Chorus

They got to play god with all of our lives
but that god didn’t get the final say.
It’s hard to find out your life is a lie.

Thrown from helicopters in the sky
then washed on the banks of the River Plate.
They got to play god with all our lives.

Decided who lived, decided who died.
So we cried and marched every Thursday.
It’s hard to find out your life is a lie.

That is what motivated us to try.
That is what motivated us to pray.
They tried to play god with all our lives

but we knew our god would answer our cries.
We knew we’d hold our grandchildren one day.
It’s hard to find out your life is a lie.

We’re here for you now, your hands are untied.
Let us go forward and be on our way.
They tried to play god with all of our lives.
It’s hard to find out your life is a lie.


Disappeared

I.

I saw their faces every morning.
The final page of Pagina 12

made me wonder if I resembled them.
I felt like I didn’t have any friends

because I didn’t dare say anything
to anyone who might suggest I ring

the place where they sample your DNA.
How could I go home and what would I say?

You loved me, raised me, you put me through school
but now I know you’ve played me for a fool.

I’m leaving you now, I’ll never come back!
I just couldn’t think about doing that.

Yet I couldn’t go a day without that page.
Now I go for the eyes in every face.


II.

I had just dropped my daughter off at school.
A woman came to me and said you will

find this very hard to take, I’m afraid
I may be your grand mother. Go away!

I screamed at her, she cowered to the ground.
She said that is how her son-in-law would sound

when he was raging against the regime.
I said what you are saying is obscene.

I lived with my family all of my life.
Its been ten years since my grandmother died.

She said I knew this would be hard to take.
Believe me this is nothing I can fake.

I’ve been searching for you for thirty years.
I looked in her eyes and saw mine in hers.


III.

Now my kids call me by a different name.
I say nothing will ever be the same.

Your grandparents have been living a lie
and I don’t know what to make of my life.

For thirty years I ate at their table.
Those two people are those that enabled

me to be the person I have become.
Now my constitution has become undone.

Now am I supposed to send them to jail?
If I don’t what I am supposed to tell

my grandmother who has found the real me?
The answer is pretty easy to see.

I will send them to jail to do what’s right.
Today is the first day of of my new life.


Madre?

I never had any hate towards him.
I loved him as if he was my own kin.

I stayed home every time he was sick.
I would stay up all night beside his crib.

I taught him to see what was right and wrong.
I taught him how to read, write, and sing songs.

I drove him to go on all of his dates.
I begged for him not to make no mistakes.

I fed him I bathed him I clothed him too.
I don’t know what this world is coming to.

I pick out a child. I give him a life.
I serve my country. I am a good wife.

I wouldn’t have done this if I had known.
I raised this child, only to be disowned.


Chorus

They got to play god with all of our lives
but that god didn’t get the final say.
It’s hard to find out your life is a lie.

Thrown from helicopters in the sky
then washed on the banks of the River Plate.
They got to play god with all our lives.

Decided who lived, decided who died.
So we cried and marched every Thursday.
It’s hard to find out your life is a lie.

That is what motivated us to try.
That is what motivated us to pray.
They tried to play god with all our lives

but we knew our god would answer our cries.
We knew we’d hold our grandchildren one day.
It’s hard to find out your life is a lie.

We’re here for you now, your hands are untied.
Let us go forward and be on our way.
They tried to play god with all of our lives.
It’s hard to find out your life is a lie.


Police

We need a sample from every one.
Anyone out there could be a lost son,

a lost daughter, grandson, or granddaughter.
We must be guided by the grandmothers

who kept this alive every Thursday.
Everyone must obey or have to pay.

Collective memory is on the line.
The country must move on to better times.

The family is usually gone
sometime around ten. When breakfast is done

they go clean then pile in cars for Clarin.
If we want to be sure we aren’t a scene

we should raid the house precisely at noon.
Let’s make sure our watches are in tune.


Disappeared?

I came home from work to a disaster.
Everything we owned has been passed over

and turned upside down without any care,
until they found my drawer of underwear.

That’s all they needed to get their sample.
A sample is all they need for ample

evidence to frame me and my brother.
How will either of us ever recover?

I know I was adopted fair and square.
Yes in the past my parents were unfair

but they wouldn’t go on trial for that.
You want to pin them with the entire past!

Protection of privacy is vital.
I haven’t disappeared and that is final!


Chorus

They got to play god with all of our lives
but that god didn’t get the final say.
It’s hard to find out your life is a lie.

Thrown from helicopters in the sky
then washed on the banks of the River Plate.
They got to play god with all our lives.

Decided who lived, decided who died.
So we cried and marched every Thursday.
It’s hard to find out your life is a lie.

That is what motivated us to try.
That is what motivated us to pray.
They tried to play god with all our lives

but we knew our god would answer our cries.
We knew we’d hold our grandchildren one day.
It’s hard to find out your life is a lie.

We’re here for you now, your hands are untied.
Let us go forward and be on our way.
They tried to play god with all of our lives.
It’s hard to find out your life is a lie.

KEVIN GALLAGHER is the author of three collections of poetry: Isolate Flecks, Looking for Lake Texcoco, and Gringo Guadalupe. His poems have appeared in the Harvard Review, Partisan Review, Green Mountains Review, Christian Science Monitor, Jacket, and beyond. He has been a guest editor for Jacket and Jacket2, and was co-editor of compost in the 1990s. He now edits spoKe, a journal of poetry and poetics. In 2015, Pen and Anvil Press will publish his Mass and Beacon: New and Selected Poems 1989 – 2014.