Poetic Tribute to the Silver People – Part 1


This post is the first in a series of three posts sharing the poetic talents of one of our contributing poets, Mr. Louis Emanuel, who was born in Panama City and now resides in New York. He tells us that he graduated from the Artes y Oficios Secondary Schoool in 1961 and that he was immediately accepted into the Panama Canal Apprenticeship Program and assigned to the Industrial Division in Mount Hope.  After two years he migrated to New York. Then spent four years in the U.S. Army and later received an Associate Degree in Arts at a N.Y. University. He finally retired from the N.Y. City Transit Authority with the title of Supervisor, after 21 years service. His talent as a poet, is what we wish to highlight here on our Heritage pages during this times of paying tribute to our Silver People of Panama. PleaseeEnjoy reading these first two poems.

1. Remember

Two men of age once, sat down to reminisce
About their bygone days, the hard work and bliss
Of hardships and woes, building the great ditch
Dividing two continents, which made Panama rich.

Embarked in Barbados, on the steamship Ancon
Packed as sardines, the voyage seemed long
Arrived to Colon, lovely women, very good rum
Whisked off to trains, for the jobs here we come.

Barbadians, Jamaicans, men from islands we know
English, patois speaking, muscles with ebonic glow
With picks and shovels, a loaded wheelbarrow in tow
To divert the river Chagres, of it’s endless raging flow.

Everlasting torrential, drenching punishing rains
Deep mud, landslides, forever aches and pains
Recall loading dynamite daily, on unstable trains
Deathly perils befalls us, a constant vigil of cranes.

We came here with high hopes, to labor and return
To our loved ones on the islands, with money to burn
Our pay was plain silver, others got glittering gold
Even now our fingers, are almost worn to the bone.

Such is our history, to be remembered and learned
The ordeals we endured, proudly carrying that flame
We survived that era, to be forgotten just the same
As our legacy and culture, flushed down memory lane.

2. A Digger’s Saga

A vision, borne in France, many years ago
To shorten the distance, for ships on the go
Be it in the Americas, a man named Bunau
With his sidekick Lesseps, a engineer of old.

To Panama they came, many got ill and died
Malaria the culprit, so many ailments besides
Cash flow, bankruptcy, advancement denied
They packed went home, no one to decide.

Then came the US, with his big stick in hand
Walk softly he said, words from Uncle Sam
Creating a new country, was part of the plan
I need the manpower, to slice thru this land.

Courting the West Indies, a plan in which
To contract good men, well able and fit
Leaving Barbados, were two steam ships
SS Cristobal & Ancon, to Colon, that’s it.

Men arrived to the isthmus, went off to work
Moving tons of rocks, mud, debris and dirt
Digging, dynamiting, all obstacles in the way
Heavy work in progress, soon it will be payday.

Top hats, suits, Saturday night, a social affair
Damsels dressed nicely, quadrille is in the air
The music delightful, our islands seems so near
Up early each Sunday, to our Lord we must pray.

The canal completed, a few diggers went home
Many did adopt, this new country, as their own
Some resided at enclaves, as in the Canal Zone
Red Tank, Paraiso, Silver City, Coiner and more.

To live in the terminal cities, education was lax
Public schools were opened, just a mere crack
To the descendants of the diggers, this is a fact
So to English schools Royal Readers, we did that.

There are so many stories, which I have been told
My grandfather the hero, a great digger of yore
Related many sagas, he laughed sometimes cried
Friends, blown apart by dynamite, others who died.

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