Home > Uncategorized > Arturo Arias: There were bodies everywhere. They didn’t move. They were called corpses.

Arturo Arias: There were bodies everywhere. They didn’t move. They were called corpses.


Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts


Arturo Arias
From After the Bombs (1979)
Translated by Asa Zatz


[Guatemala, 1954]

As soon as the bombing ended a new government was in. The distinguished man of arms, Colonel Castle Cannons, was in the Big Chair. The great colonel had been lifted into power by the first explosion right after he completed the long marathon from Fort Leavenworth in the wheatfield state of Kansas, covering the full distance in purple trunks and checkered socks. Upon reaching the palace he found the Big Chair adrift. Not losing a beat he jumped into it, shouting “If you can’t take the heat, you won’t hold your seat.” He settled back, comfortably, holes in the socks and all. After recovering his breath, he immediately ascended to the presidential balcony to explain to the people why bombing was necessary for the country’s progress. The days went by and he continued preaching against the horrors posed by the enemies of democracy. He delivered his sermons from dusk till dawn with a two-hour break between twelve and two.


The bombs. The bombs have stopped.

He already knew that. He knew what bombs were. His mother had shown him. Dropping gently from the sky like feathers and about the size of a thumb. And she was right. They had stopped. He hadn’t seen any for days now. Maybe months. Maybe even years. Did it make any difference? He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen one. But for sure, for sure, not this day. No. If it had been this day he wouldn’t have been able to come out. It had to have been some other day. Yes. The bombs had stopped. His mother had said the very same thing, now he remembered. The bombs had stopped.


His mother had told him about streets. Streets were where the houses didn’t grow. He was walking on one, looking for the fountain. He wanted to tell the little fountain his name. He knew his name. That was something else his mother had told him. His name was Máximo Sánchez. And if anyone said his name he knew they were talking to him. That’s how easy it was. He knew how old he was, too. He knew so much already! He was nearly five. Four and a half, actually, but he felt older when he said nearly five…Everything had its own name. He had to learn the names of a lot of things, especially now that he could go outside. To the street. Street was what they called where he was now. It was narrow and dark and zigzagged between the ruins of the houses. And there were bodies everywhere. They didn’t move. They were called corpses. And his mother had told him not to touch them. You got sick if you touched them. They were full of worms and worms were bad. He had asked his mother if he was full of worms, too, but she said only corpses. Poor little corpses! It was too bad they were dead. He couldn’t play with them…

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