Our Daily Bleed...PACOS
Eight people lean over a wall looking down
twenty feet to the shallow Mapocho River
where a man's body lies half-covered by water.
Behind the eight people are trees,, the bronze
bust of an Argentine poet & the law school
of the University of Chile. The man in the river
wears a white shirt, dark pants & sprawls
as if sleeping while water riffles his hair.
This is a photograph from the coup or golpe,
meaning also hit or shock -- just one death
from thirty thousand. Each day, nine years later,
I ride the bus past this place. When did his
family begin to worry? Now in late summer,
the Mapacho is hardly a trickle, a narrow
sewer, where vegetable vendors throw their
spoiled tomatoes, where you sometimes see
a dead dog or broken shopping cart.
When this man was growing up, what plans
did his father have for him? At the corner
is where candy salesmen wait to clamber
aboard the buses to sell peanuts, mints,
chewing gum for ten pesos. What does it mean
to commit an irrevocable act, to kill
someone, to steal a thing you can't give back?
Four blocks away stands the American consulate,
four blocks in another direction is the house
of Pablo Neruda -- both were close enough
to hear the shot that killed this man.
And how did he die? Was he a communist
or right wing spy shot by mistake? What
electric fillip in the cerebral cortex
justified the erasure of this man? Perhaps
he was a law student who thought he could
make it home after curfew, run the two or
three short blocks through the dark. After
a while, it becomes a joke to kill someone,
the ultimate comic act, the extreme slip
on the final banana. After a while, it's
the fun we all take part in. A policeman
saw him running, followed him with the sights
of his rifle & suddenly the young man
was doing somersaults. When did his friends
begin to miss him? Did he have a girl friend?
Did he have sisters & brothers? Some days I
walk back through Forrestal Park by the river --
watching the lovers sitting on park benches.
Every twenty feet there's another statue
of another famous man. Policemen or pacos
patrol the sidewalk two by two -- pacos being
the rude name I break the law by using,
which originally meant a leather bag
of water. How long did he lie in the river?
How long did he stay in the morgue before
his family found him? It would take at least
two policemen to lift him -- one at the feet,
one at the shoulders -- to heave him over the wall.
How they must have laughed at such a crazy splash.
---Stephen Dobyns, poet/novelist
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