THE HOUR OF THE FURNACES by Renny Golden

THE HOUR OF THE FURNACES

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Golden, a founder of the US Sanctuary Movement, wrote these elegies to put a face and a name to suffering in Central America, and to honor those “who defend the powerless, who risk their lives for others,” and who often are “first to be forgotten.” Brief essays about the dead preface each poem. In the first of two sections (“The Martyr Poems”) Golden dramatizes headline-making events, such as the 1989 slaughter at Jesuit University of Central America of six Jesuits, their housekeeper, and her daughter by San Salvadoran soldiers. This poem, typical of Golden’s approach, combines prosaic facts in short lines (“Colonel Benavides orders thirty-five men / through the university gate”) with swift and staggering images (“Oh, how demanding the light / has been, knifing its cold shaft / into the heart’s dumb secrets, / touching the dark floor”). It ends with a roll call of the dead, answered with a litany of “Ad Sum” (“I am here”), reminding us that they died for others. Other poems include “The Tenderness That Held” (about Laura Lopez, a pastoral worker), “The Gringo’s Heart” (about priest Stanley Rohter’s execution), and “Letter to Maryknoll” (about Maura Clark, one of two Maryknoll sisters raped and murdered in El Salvador). The second section (“The Peasant Poems”) celebrates the Salvadoran tradition of comunidad. “Morazan Lifted” describes the congregation of mothers who confronted Colonel Vargas and brought needed medicines and seed past the Army checkpoint: “Spools of sunlight / unraveled over the muscled foothills, / . . . / Behind the trucks, / a trail of mothers advanced / into that sepia light” until they stepped into their “village / filling with applause.”

Overall, poetic images and perspectives shine stronger than the need to teach in this effective “poetry of witness.”

Pub Date: April 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-922811-43-1
Page count: 96pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 2000