-- Dust and Diesel --
March 1983. Interamerican Highway, Nicaragua.

Found on:

Stealing Fire (1984)

Rumours of Glory - box set Disc 3 (2014) [compilation album]

Battered buses jammed up to the roof
Dust and diesel the prevailing themes
Farmer sleeping on the truck in front
Feet trailing over like he's trolling for dreams
Smiling girl directing traffic flow
.45 strapped over cotton print dress
Marimba-brown and graceful limbs
Give me a moment of loneliness

Dust and diesel
Rise like incense from the road
Smoke of offering
For the revolution morning

Headlights pick out fallen sack of corn
One lone tarantula standing guard
We pull up and stop and she ambles off
Discretion much the better part of cars
Rodrigo the government driver jumps out
He's got chickens who can use the feed
We sweep the asphalt on our hands and knees
Fill up his trunk with dusty yellow seeds

Dust and diesel
Rise like incense from the road
Smoke of offering
For the revolution morning

Guitars and rifles in blue moonlight
Soldiers stretched out on sparkling grass
Engine broke down -- they took us in
now we make music for the time to pass
Tired men and women raise their voice to the night
Hope the fragile bloom they've grown will last
Pride and passion and love and fear
Burning hearts burning boats of the past

Dust and diesel
Rise like incense from the road
Smoke of offering
For the revolution morning

Known comments by Bruce Cockburn about this song, by date:

  • May 1984 - "The Mark of the Beast: A Notebook on Central America"

    "The day we go up to the Honduran border is the day they commemorate Sandino's death. Racing through Managua streets in Sandino Day dawn. Fireworks at 5 a.m. Hope and hard work. Reconstruction. New houses mushroon slowly out of blasted ground. Fonseca's tomb is guarded by a kid in sneakers with a Cheka machine-gun. Fields of fresh rice. Girl driving donkey cart. Small boy on horseback driving a cow across the highway. Siren river, onion fields, tobacco coops. Flowering leafless fruit tress. We're following the army to the Honduran border. Crowded ancient buses. A car with Salvadoran plates. Tobacco fields are raided, therfore constantly guarded.

    Ironically, Nicaragua reminds me of Israel in a certain sense - being surrounded by enemies. Everything is militarized and everyone is aware of the need for self defense. We pass an army barracks that looks like a farm. A shot down Somoza aircraft is planted on a hilltop flying the FSLN banner on its tail. Banner in a rural village says, 'as Nicaragua has children who love her she will always be free.' Women carry firewood on shoulders up the hill. Palms and pines on denuded hills. Battered buses with fantastic paint jobs, jammed with people. People cling to the roof racks, hang from the doors and the windows hoping they won't have to get off and push. Hot roads, diesel clouds - the whole third world perfumed with diesel.

    A fat man sleeps in the back of a pick-up, feet dangling over the bumper. Rugged budhy hills full of the smell of coffee. Occaisional pause for the crossing of beautiful milky white half-Brahma cattle. Around the bend and there it is - a chain across the road, a custom house and a garrison of half a dozen militia. Thirty metres away a few Hondurans watch with suspicion and strut around like John Wayne. Their look outs hiding on the hill top watch us through field glasses while I watch them with mine.

    The main spokesman for the Nicaraguan garrison at the border is a short plump pleasant guy with a bad leg. I ask him, 'what happens when you have to fight?' For he walked with a severe limp and had trouble getting around. He says, 'Sandinistas don't run anyway.'

    Warm night blanket floats down. Dim silhouette of trees in friendly dark. Headlights pick smashed sack of corn strewn over asphalt. A single tarantula stands guard. Rodrigo, the driver, keeps chickens, so we jump out and spend ten minutes filling the trunk with dusty kernels.

    Later we have car trouble - limp into military truck depot. Barbed wire gates glint in the moonlight. A hundred tired soldiers stretched out on the grass. Tired from a month on the cotton fields. We sing. They sing. Men and women, all young. Guitars and guns. Ballistic music blows open every heart. Passion bursts like rockets. Cotton bales bursting at the seams. Dignity and poems bursting out of parched poverty trance - broken forever.

    Brilliant green birds over the lava hole. Volcanoes stand around like the gods of old, pumping incense of the earth into the tropical sky. Down on the beach, horses canter through the surf as warm as bath water. Emerald birds against flaming hills. Dry thunder and hot sky. Dust hangs in the air behing the feet of a passer by. Scent of lilac in the dense night. Laughter from a passing jeep. I lean back against the cool wall. Too much heat. This northen body can't sleep. Returning to Toronto from Nicaragua is like coming from colour to black and white."

    -- from "The Mark of the Beast: A Notebook on Central America" by Bruce Cockburn, Gaumut Six, May 1984. Submitted by Nigel Parry.

  • 3 April 1992

    "... the songs from Nicaragua were written after the fact, but with notes; they were almost complete in the notebook in Nicaragua. 'Dust and Diesel' is one of those, so is the song 'Nicaragua', although it's got a bit more editorial content. 'Dust and Diesel' is straight reportage, really. All I did was make a list of things that happened and put it to music."

    -- from "Bruce Cockburn - A Burning Light and All the Rest" by William Ruhlmann, Goldmine magazine, 3 April 1992. Submitted by M. Goddard.

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