Central America has been a region that has been affected by much turmoil; however, it’s easy to just blame wars and political conflict as causes. If we do that, it’s an incredible injustice to the people suffering due to an infinite number of factors they have no say in that include poverty, elitism, and systematic oppression. It is for this reason that the works of Honduran writer Roberto Sosa are so impactful. In the form of poems, he gives the reader an impression that there is something beyond the idea of war that causes problems for people. Given that, Honduras has been a country without much foreign conflict. Sosa shows how the lack of accountability, opportunity, and future is in fact creating Honduras’ biggest enemy, hopelessness. “The Missing Stairs” is a poem written about the Honduran children losing hope without even knowing it. He further explores how the system has let the newer generation down. In this essay, I will explore how the facts that Sosa presents in this poem, written in 1983, still have an impact in modern day, and support his critique with the truths Jesuit priest J. Guadalupe Carney was exposed to in Honduras.
Honduran poet Roberto Sosa wrote in his anthology The Difficult Days, a series of poems that unfold the realities of a common person in Honduras. Amongst these poems, Sosa wrote “The Missing Stairs,” a poem whose direct subject are the Honduran children. Published in 1983, this piece ambiguously remarks on the oppression and socio-political crisis Honduras endures and leaves the reader to digress from the main subject of the poem, the children, to understand his true intentions. Coming from a poor working-class family of Yoro, Honduras, Sosa knows first-hand how children face economic hardships. At a young age until adulthood, he had to seek work in order to help sustain his family. He respite in his writing, often writing about what he saw around him. Sosa uses a direct, simple tone to talk about this issue in particular to create works, like “The Missing Stairs,” to create influence and consciousness about the lasting effects the chronic turmoil Honduras lives in. I’ll be using the Sociological approach to explore the critique Sosa implies in “The Missing Stairs”; moreover, Sosa sets out to delineate the reality of Honduran society and the effects on those most vulnerable, the children. The Poem
“The Missing Stairs” begins by saying that the children are exposed to ruins of cities, how birds fall to their death from telegraph wires, and how they grow up “unamazed’ by these horrible things that no one takes responsibility for. Sosa centers this gruesome explanation around children and he uses the words: “Our children…” (Sosa 8) which creates a sense of belonging to the reader but more so, immediately gives a responsibility to the reader, seeking to make someone accountable for this reality. I reason that Sosa uses terms like “hoarded” (another translation being “accumulated”), “contemplate”, and “dirty mirror” to explain the chronic escalation of the situation in Honduras. The poem is written in prose, sticking to Sosa’s simplistic, conversational manner to increase accessibly to the reader. Sosa’s poems, like those in The Difficult Days, center on snippets of daily life, whether it’s a looking into a dirty mirror, or glancing up at an apartment building, or observing a sunrise, he seeks to connect with the reader in order to get to a point of understanding before delving into his topic.
The Daily Dirty Mirror
Sosa aims to establish the vulnerability of a child growing up in a country overwhelmed by poverty and repression. As stated before, the main subject in Roberto Sosa’s poem is the children. But why does he focus on the children? If he wants to address socio-political instability, shouldn’t he look to name a specific aspect of the government in some way? In a sense, focusing on the children has more of an impact on the reader since the reader can ponder what true inheritance can a child obtain from a country that is so broken by systematic oppression that a child has no future to aspire to than the reality around them. Sosa states that children, “Learn with the dying to count life’s missing stairs. And grow up unamazed” (8). In his signature style, Sosa is using his ambiguous wording to talk about the lack of opportunities for the Honduran people, found in the example of a set of stairs. Much in the way that if there are steps missing in a staircase, a person cannot advance to their destination, a person also can’t advance in life without opportunities available to them. He also mentions “the dying”; is he referring to literal people dying in the streets, beside small children? Probably not quite so blatantly, but he is signaling another particular group in Honduran society that is deprived of opportunity, who are those whom for a lack of those same opportunities are living in misery and destitution and therefore, lose the will to aspire to something different. Amongst “the dying,” there are people with disabilities, medical conditions, over a certain age for employment, increased family size, low-income families, etc. The level of overwhelming political and economic instability in the country is so grave, that people are finding themselves buried in a stalled society and those paying the consequences of so much corruption are the children.
By using the perspective of a Honduran child, Sosa translates the current socio-political crisis an outsider sees in Honduras to how a child perceives it around them. He says, “[Children] contemplate themselves inside the daily dirty mirror no one answers for” (8). Through the dirty mirror, Sosa is referring to the environment surrounding the child as they see themselves in a metaphorical reflection in that a child sees dirtiness and squalor, being deprived of stability and of means for suitable living. It’s as if the child is seeing his reflection in the mirror but doesn’t see the “dirtiness”—his country's corruption—on his person, but sees it around him in his reflection. Sosa has been a commentator on the fact that Honduras lives in corruption, and it is not a lesser known fact that Honduras has been dealing with extreme violence and crime in the recent decades. However, Sosa’s poem was written in 1983, years before the crisis we see today. How is it that he has seen the ramifications of the workings of a corrupt government submitting its people forty years ago still going into effect today? In the introduction to Difficult Days, Sosa says, “For Central American writers there is no road left but to be in favor of the oligarchies or against them” (Alcaraván, Sosa xi). He states this to scale the severity of the corruption crisis in Honduras, that power is held by relatively few people to that of the population. But again, how does this affect children? The fact is that no one is taking responsibility for the corruption in Honduras. In my view, Sosa successfully interprets the effect of his country’s actions on its people. The current child migration crisis is just the type of effect Sosa attempts to warn the reader within the poem. We are seeing young children and youth embarking on a dangerous journey to the US to save their lives because their government has so often turned a blind eye to the lack of safety they offer. Sosa remarks on the missing stairs in 1983, and today, the missing stair can be identified as the lack of security for a child in Honduras.
As mentioned before, Sosa says the phrase, “And grow up unamazed.” My interpretation of this line is that the system is torn and so much in a fixed state that children see this as their only truth. Corruption takes form in many ways, but in reference to the point that Sosa is trying to make, it comes in the institutionalization and systemization of poverty the Honduran people live in. In the 80s, when this poem was made, Central America was a region affected by turmoil and conflict, but Honduras seems to be less affected in this sense. But with this poem, Sosa was stating the exact opposite. At the time, Honduras was a nation sandwiched between the political conflicts of its geographical neighbors as well as the foreign interest of the U.S. in the region. Never having declared an official war, there was much concern amongst the citizens that any situation could cause a war. Just as with its neighboring countries during this time, the campesino population in Honduras was affected by the continued systematic destitution and lack of basic worker rights despite laboring restlessly for generations. Hearing of revolutions in the region, people began to rise up however death squad-like army units began to repress the campesino movement, killing and disappearing anyone who participated, including people like Father Guadalupe Carney (Carney). Foreign relations with the U.S. were also reaching a toll too. Honduras was an occupied nation by foreign military forces and this situation was most evident when Honduran soil was used to carry out military base operations remotely against the Sandinistas in the southern border (Crabtree) as well as training Salvadoran troops in the western border (Taubman). And so, Sosa points out how children grow up unamazed by the systematic oppression and socio-political repression, because these conflicts were quite literally all around them and no one was seeking to protect them from this crisis.
"The level of overwhelming political and economic instability in the country is so grave, that people are finding themselves buried in a stalled society and those paying the consequences of so much corruption are the children."