[Editor's Note: On 11 September 1973, a military coup in Chile overthrew the government of Salvador Allende, ending nearly 150 years of democratic rule. Tens of thousands of Chileans were killed in the coup itself, including Victor Jara, a popular musician publicly executed by the junta. In the years immediately following the coup, more than 100,000 Chileans were tortured, disappeared, arrested, or forced into exile. Each year, to commemorate the coup and the democratic aspirations it sought to crush, Jamaican poet Andrew Salkey would write a poem for Chile. When civilian government was finally restored, Salkey wrote one last poem for Chile and Victor Jara. The Boston Review presents this poem to mark the twentieth anniversary of the 1973 coup.]

After the War on the Land
In Memory of Victor Jara
By Andrew Salkey

Should you ask me where I come from, I must talk
with broken things,
with fairly painful utensils,with great beasts turned to dust as often
as notand my afflicted heart

~ Pablo Neruda

The skin of sand and gravel in the cities and countryside
shivered, because it had been, for far too long, pierced
by the quick chainsaw slashes of juddering Sherman tanks,
by the vulturous generals in mufti and a secret police
in snugly-fitting disguises, with a northern licence to act;
and so they all did, as the republic retched in disgust.

The hunched workers and spavined peasants duly endured
their grapnel shoulder-yokes and staggering fatigue,
until their lives were caught on snags of dread and despair.
Where were the blossoms of expected rosy times and
Where, the halcyon nest of hush that soothes spiky
Where, the salvation signs across the prophetic Andean

Now that the years of trampling and butchery have
their highly polished jackboots and accurate meat-hooks,
and the new vote has cut the abundant waste of citizens,
the cannas and marigolds will blaze, street by street,
and branch and brandish freedom, fiercely, Victor,
all the way down the ribbon of your southern landscape.

Source: Originally published in the September/ October 1993 issue of  Boston Review 1993-2003.

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