Guerzom M —
approached as I photographed
Gladys Marín Millie’s tomb,
three rusted sheets of metal
with her portrait cut into one,
the face as resonant
as the hammer and sickle
projected on to the second sheet by shadow.
Guerzom asked if I knew who she was:
secretary of the party.
‘And during the junta?’ I asked.
The only reply: exile.
Past the mausoleum with the Persian arches
to the stone tombs
with widening columns and no capitals,
we reached Allende’s site.
I was drawn to the last speech,
in a block above the stairwell,
too difficult to read as the sculpted letters
were the same colour as the stone.
Guerzom, exiled in Argentina for eighteen years,
he’d returned, and we’d met in this cemetery by accident.
He recalled Victor Jara,
in blue jeans and with a wanderer’s pose,
the vagabond/troubadour description
of a figure deeply loved, but in view too briefly.
Guerzom, a slight figure with not a single white hair,
aged by tobacco, gesticulated as he spoke
of a hijacked democracy and press in too few hands.
His first-hand knowledge
punctuated the concrete surfaces of the tombs,
the mythical centuries of a transplanted classicism,
a view of the sky and green, the surreal smell of lawns,
and regular funeral procession.
I implored Guerzom to value his health,
the smoke that circled us dismissed.
He stood over Allende’s speech,
words to be read to a small crowd
that would gather in some future
to render this death less solitary.
Exile in many epitaphs,
we could air our ideals,
these tombs, the strict lines
and stone walls,
miniatures of public buildings,
each quarter a city to be brought
to life in the imagination.
Unable to bring back a single life,
we were present in this search
for symbols denied by some,
endlessly affronted by others,
in the families of those
thrown to the sea
who will never know of this conversation.
For a few hours of personal liberty
a civic conscience can be revived
before dissolving in another part of town,
by a murky view of the snow-capped Andes.
Guerzom, man figure, closer to the party than me,
our embrace before the tomb
the question mark of any future encounter
at this site.