Friday, January 30, 2015


The BBC’s profile page states that: “Chile is one of South America's most stable and prosperous nations. It has been relatively free of the coups and arbitrary governments that have blighted the continent.”

This might lead to some coughing and guffawing in the back stalls, but fortunately the writer redeems himself immediately afterwards.

"The exception was the 17-year rule of General Augusto Pinochet, whose 1973 coup was one of the bloodiest in 20th-century Latin America and whose dictatorship left more than 3,000 people dead and missing."

A dictatorship fully supported by Margaret Thatcher in Britain, and which was installed by the CIA, on President Nixon's personal order, via Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, after they supported his coup against the democratically elected Salvador Allende.

Allende probably committed suicide during the coup, rather than waiting to be murdered; Pablo Neruda, his close friend, until recently his ambassador in France, and the man most likely to become the leader of the opposition after the coup, died in a Santiago hospital twelve days later, of prostate cancer, according to the medical report, of poison more likely (click here for more background). Neruda also happened to be the second greatest Spanish-language poet of the 20th century (the first was Federico Garcia Lorca), winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971 - strange coincidence that Lorca too was murdered by his Fascist opponents, in his case during the brutal civil war that brought Franco to power in Spain.

Nothing But Death

There are cemeteries that are lonely,
graves full of bones that do not make a sound,
the heart moving through a tunnel,
in it darkness, darkness, darkness,
like a shipwreck we die going into ourselves,
as though we were drowning inside our hearts,
as though we lived falling out of the skin into the soul.

And there are corpses,
feet made of cold and sticky clay,
death is inside the bones,
like a barking where there are no dogs,
coming out from bells somewhere, from graves somewhere,
growing in the damp air like tears of rain. 

Sometimes I see alone
coffins under sail, 
embarking with the pale dead, with women that have dead hair,
with bakers who are as white as angels,
and pensive young girls married to notary publics,
caskets sailing up the vertical river of the dead,
the river of dark purple,
moving upstream with sails filled out by the sound of death,
filled by the sound of death which is silence.

Death arrives among all that sound
like a shoe with no foot in it, like a suit with no man in it,
comes and knocks, using a ring with no stone in it, with no  finger in it,
comes and shouts with no mouth, with no tongue, with no throat.
Nevertheless its steps can be heard
and its clothing makes a hushed sound, like a tree.

I’m not sure, I understand only a little, I can hardly see,
but it seems to me that its singing has the colour of damp violets,
of violets that are at home in the earth,
because the face of death is green,
and the look death gives is green,
with the penetrating dampness of a violet leaf
and the sombre colour of embittered winter.

But death also goes through the world dressed as a broom,
lapping the floor, looking for dead bodies,
death is inside the broom,
the broom is the tongue of death looking for corpses,
it is the needle of death looking for thread.

Death is inside the folding cots:
it spends its life sleeping on the slow mattresses,
in the black blankets, and suddenly breathes out:
it blows out a mournful sound that swells the sheets,
and the beds go sailing toward a port
where death is waiting, dressed like an admiral. 

Pablo Neruda, 1904 - 1973
(translation by Robert Bly)

Today's Chile is economically dependent upon its production of copper. It suffers from a huge imbalance of wealth and poverty, but gains marks for being multi-ethnic, relatively stable and for the way it has dealt with the Pinochetian past, not least by insisting, in 2013, that Neruda's body be exhumed, to allow forensic examination that would determine if the prostate cancer or the poison was the truth. Alas, by then decay had rendered proofs unobtainable.

Marks For:4

Marks Against: 4

Copyright © 2015 David Prashker
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The Argaman Press

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