In a Desert Light - a song for the women of Calama

Atacama light, pure and clear;

so clear you can see the

edge of the universe

as well as the women’s suffering.

 

So clear you can see the doorway

in La Moneda where a president died -

an exit, to the street

where once a black and white film

showed men lying flat,

faces pressed to the hot, smoked pavement

or standing, hands behind heads

as if they were in some strange school.

Their misbehaviour punished; a detention

before being allowed home.

 

But there was no going home.

 

A white wall stretching wide,

tight black letters marking the memory

of those who “disappeared”.

11th September 1973: a memory and a forgetting.

 

Atacama light, pure and clear;

so clear you can see the

edge of the universe

as well as the women’s suffering.

 

Kneeling in their pain

as if making the sign of the cross at the altar.

Digging and sifting desert sand for remains

mummified by the dry air;

bodies in ragged clothes held in time.

A son, a husband, a sister or a brother;

a foot in a boot with a burgundy red sock,

a clawed hand, a skull with a bullet hole

just behind where the left ear used to be.

The women’s hope reduced to a pile of bones

whilst the observatories look the other way,

their lenses pointing skywards

not downwards where they need to look.

 

Atacama light, pure and clear;

so clear you can see the

edge of the universe

as well as the women’s suffering.

 

So clear you can see the lone figure of another woman,

dancing the love dance, the “cueca”,

a white handkerchief in her hand

fluttering

to tease and entice the memory of her husband

from its hiding place as she dances alone.

He; disappeared, dead, gone

except for the light of her remembering.

 

Atacama light, pure and clear;

so clear you can see the

edge of the universe

as well as the women’s suffering.

 

So clear you can see the rock-carvings,

thousands of years old.

Two faces – “masks perhaps?”

A herd of Llamas looked after by stick men.

Preserved and clear in the dry desert air

for professionals and tourists;

a gateway to the past,

just a bullet’s path away from the ruined mine,

Chacabuco -

the largest of the concentration camps.

Preserved in time by the dry desert air

and the memories

of the women who search still,

of those men and women who did return

with their stories, untold until now.

 

Atacama light, pure and clear;

so clear you can see the

edge of the universe

as well as the women’s suffering.

 

So clear you can see the pain of the past.

The wave of terror that broke on the shores of

this land and swept everything away;

leaving behind an absurd forgetting and concealment.