On Public Lives/Private Lives
Pausing Outside a House
Santiago, Chile 2005
Here, where a ruin longs
to be a house, and a house
to be left to ruin.
Where men blindfolded students
and pushed them down
the basement stairs.
The house almost tips
with its history, with a wish
to be simply walls
and pillars and patio—
so we could walk by, arms
loose but linked, and speak
of window trim. Here,
where a house longs
to be left a ruin,
and somebody’s come to live,
to plant a trickle
of bougainvillea in the yard.
and over an hour late
to meet your sister, we continue.
In other houses, inhabitants
peer out at us
with the eyes of owls.
The Need for Roots
A man lifts a blue leather volume of Simone Weil from ‘53, brushes off a film of dirt. “Buried,” the vendor says, “in a yard with those other leather ones. Two kids brought them in a wheelbarrow.” The man nods—it is a common story eleven years after Pinochet: the unearthing of a book buried in fear and found in a yard or basement and sold swiftly like the furniture of the dead.
He presses the cover back, remembering his own edition of La Necesidad de Raices, the night his daughter burned the book in a firepit an hour before soldiers searched the house. “I’ll give you 500 pesos for it,” he offers the vendor, the cost of an ice cream, a small box of mints.
The vendor slips his hands into his pockets. And then the bartering begins.
A Maça No Oscuro
The story is like this: a man arrives
at the sorry farm of two sisters.
They hire him on the condition
that he sleep in the barn. A few chickens
bicker in the grass and before long
both women are in love. In my sleep,
I am the sister who slips
into that unsteady dark, finds her way
through the stink of animals,
past the bales of hay to the stranger.
Or it happens I am the one who stays
in bed, must listen to the other
crossing the yard. And I am left
with my swept room, my body
fixed in its place like a cabinet.
Either way, the intricacies of choice
are devouring. Either way, I wake
and do not recognize my life.
To Byzantium, By Train
Assume a window seat and wait
for the woman with the long-tailed birds
who will wake you. As you travel,
she will gradually become your age,
after which someone else
will enter your car, an optimist
who will make you more agnostic
than you ever suspected—the smell
of pheasants suddenly impossible.
Slip off your sandals. You may need
to unbutton your sleeves, or admit
the weakness that is your art.
Take refuge in the window:
the inarguable grace of a farm
just past, or passing, or to come.
Then a shift in landscape—
something hung on a stick,
the scalped skin of a goat,
or a coat too tattered
for any weather. Whatever it is,
know that you have come to love
the thrum of this train,
the woman who woke you
and her crate of birds.
To love even the optimist
and beyond him
that strange, draped pelt.