By Jessica Laub Special to Published Sep 13, 2008 at 11:16 AM

I took the trek out to Waukesha in heated Friday evening traffic to lay my eyes and ears on Ernesto Cardenal, respected poet, priest and political activist of Nicaraguan origin.

I was accompanied by my husband, Julio, also Nicaraguan, in whose eyes Cardenal holds rock-star status. Cardenal got a gracious welcome at Caroll University (until recently Carroll College) in the Stackner Ballroom at the Student Center.

Cardenal offered brief commentary and then his poems were read first in English by a translator, and then read by Cardenal himself in his native Spanish. It was the first time I had heard work by a foreign author offered in this order, and I really liked it. It enabled me to get really clear on what was being said, and then to have it reiterated with the beauty and cadence of the native tongue.

In the past it seems it's always been the Spanish first, followed by the English translation. Cardenal himself clearly understood English and probably speaks it just fine, though he chose not to. And I guess when you're 83 and as well respected internationally as he is, you don't have to do anything you would rather not do.

Notably, he made reference to resisting the all-too-world-dominant American culture and government by refusing to learn English in one of his poems -- so his refusal to speak it may been his personal demonstration of resistance. Nonetheless, Cardenal did seem to get a bit frustrated during the question and answer period by the subpar translation offered to the predominantly English-speaking audience.

Listening to his poetry, I discovered that I was more in tune with Ernesto Cardenal than I ever imagined. His poems centered on themes of evolution without violence, what we have in common with extraterrestrials, Gaia the Earth Goddess, revolution to create a better reality, and the power of love. The words were beautiful and brave, and I was honored to be party to their company.

Cardenal spoke highly of the Nicaraguan revolution lead by the Sandinistas in the 1980s and the idealistic times which followed. He faulted the American interference of the Reagan and Bush administrations for leading to the demoralization of the people, the corruption of the Sandinistan government, and its eventual downfall.

Cardenal is currently neither a supporter of the Sandinista party nor of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. He claims the current ruling party is hugely corrupt (and Julio would agree, by the way) and is increasingly restricting the freedom of the press -- not only that of journalists, but also of the literary community.

He, himself, was incarcerated only two weeks ago on unclear charges, but freed on the grounds of his advanced age. His trip to Milwaukee, in fact, came just in time. He will not return to Nicaragua following his stay in Wisconsin to avoid further unjust persecution.

Overall, it was a pleasure to be graced by the presence and words of Ernesto Cardenal. There will be another chance to hear him speak on Monday, Sept. 15 at 5 p.m. at the United Community Center. Following his presentation will be be an Artist's Reception for the photography of Edee Daniel whose exhibition depicts the beauty of life in Nicaragua.

Jessica Laub Special to

Jessica Laub was born in Milwaukee in the spring of 1970, thereafter spending her childhood days enjoying the summers on the shores of Lake Michigan and winters at the toboggan chute in Brown Deer Park.

Alas, she moved away to broaden her horizons, and studied out East for a few years at Syracuse University. After a semester "abroad" at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, she graduated with a B.A. in English and advertising.

After college, she worked at Glacier National Park, a ski hill in Steamboat, Col. and organic farms in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and California.

In 1995, Laub moved to Nicaragua where she worked on community gardens, reforestation and environmental education as a Peace Corps volunteer. While there, she learned to speak Spanish, pay attention to world politics and how to make tortillas.

Laub then returned to Milwaukee to join the ranks of the non-profit sector. Currently, she works at the United Performing Arts Fund (UPAF) and keeps busy by painting, throwing pots, reading, trying to understand her two-year old son, seeing performances and howling at the moon.