UNDERGROUND VOICES: POETRY
For Victor Jara, a Chilean folk singer
Forty-four bullets, Victor, have nothing to do with a broken guitar string,
a crack in the handle,
the snap of bone in hands no longer capable of lifting a pick.
We did not pull the triggers,
but we were there,
five thousand, ten thousand, miles away,
each piece of apathy.
The first bullet the too bright sun when you step outside the theater,
cauliflower trees and an Antigua sky.
How do you silence a man? Three bullets? Four?
The fifth bullet tore away the chords,
the sixth, harmony,
the seventh and the eighth.
Can you break a wrist with butter?
Cross your arms over your chest to keep blemishes inside?
Seek the embryo inside the acorn?
The voice no longer carries fire,
the acoustic guitar, a ninth bullet, crushed to the side
and the light it used to help you carry in the palm of your hands,
a tenth bullet, too dim to engage the shadows.
An eleventh bullet, a twelfth and a thirteenth.
Then there is a wonderful silence
and a great richness in smoke.
The mind fills itself with apple slices, a fourteenth bullet,
cinnamon and curry, fifteen,
ripe pears and huckleberry juice, sixteen,
and the color of leaves,
the color of wool,
the color of snow, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, dripping down to the valley.
The soldiers cannot stop themselves
glazed with blood and flesh, their hearts and eyes wide open.
On and on like rain.
At the Inquisition men said they saw rainbows.
The songs that once were,
the way they sang to the skin,
melodies of good health and good times,
knowledge, self esteem,
a twenty-sixth bullet.
This is not our life.
This is not our time.
The songs no longer know lovemaking.
Passion is in blood
and blood is everywhere.
We were complicit.
I do not know if they could bury you, Victor.
I do not know if they did.
The soldiers were ordered to do a job and they did it.
Gunpowder and fog, thick and grand, the noise, thirty-five bullets,
cracks in the bones, thirty-six, tears in flesh, thirty-seven,
concrete and cell blocks, thirty-eight,
the bars vibrating, thirty-nine, with the singing of gunfire.
Your heart is one, perhaps two, bullets strong.
One times two bullets can kill a man.
Inspiration is five by nine bullets strong.
The military did its job and did it well.
We left it alone in our bedrooms watching late night television.
Someone else cleaned the oil cloth covering the concrete.
Someone else repaired the walls.
Someone else hummed the tune
and gave it to another who passed it on.
Forty-four bullets cannot kill a spirit.
a broken guitar,
the first steps of spring,
the smell of cooked chicken.
Five times nine bullets are needed to kill all of a man.
They were one bullet short.
Poet’s note: In the 1970’s General Augusto Pinochet became the major power in the Chilean government after the assassination of the popular leader, Salvador Allende: “(Victor Jara, a left wing Chilean folk singer and supporter of Allende) was seized and taken to Chile’s notorious National Stadium to be reeducated. Soldiers broke his hands so he couldn’t play the guitar. Then they shot him 44 times ‘to make sure he could not inspire…from the grave.’” —from a review by Stephen Lendman of Naomi Klein’s book, The Shock Doctrine, in the November, 2007 edition of Substance.
Michael H. Brownstein has been widely published throughout the small and literary presses. His work has appeared in The Café Review, American Letters and Commentary, Skidrow Penthouse, Xavier Review, Hotel Amerika, After Hours, Free Lunch, Meridian Anthology of Contemporary Poetry, The Pacific Review and others. In addition, he has eight poetry chapbooks including The Shooting Gallery (Samidat Press, 1987), Poems from the Body Bag (Ommation Press, 1988), A Period of Trees (Snark Press, 2004) and What Stone Is (Fractal Edge Press, 2005).
Brownstein taught elementary school in Chicago’s inner city (he is now retired), but he continues to study authentic African instruments with his students, conducts grant-writing workshops for educators and the State of Illinois Title 1 Convention, and records performance and music pieces with grants from the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs, the Oppenheimer Foundation, BP Leadership Grants, and others.
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