I remember how long days were for me to get to any point of understanding the English words which came at me, dark and impenetrable, words I could not even pronounce when I first arrived. I had to take with me everywhere my old dictionary – as though it were a small child fluent in the language of my new land – to engage in any dialogue with everyday life. Sometimes my actual children gave me the meaning of the words I needed, just as the new growth from gardens where I work provide food for those in need. Even now, sometimes my old dictionary I embrace, as if it was my brother Carlos and me reuniting, and we cry together. I remember opening it every day – as if I was practising a piece of street theatre in Spanish and back to playing with language and politics on the streets of Santiago. At night, I still feel tired and confused talking to that old dictionary. I wonder if I’ll ever be able to translate my current life that flows through my pores and blood that I was and I remain as – this diaspora exile. Will I ever be able to translate my experience of the early ’80s?
‘I just want a warm kiss of life without memories of torture and dictators’ … that’s what I mean, as this line from a song by Victor Heredia pleads.
Opening my old dictionary diverts me back onto a painful pathway of memories – putting the book as I once did under my arm as a rebel newspaperman, reading and writing of my experiences in living under a safe house (Casa de Seguridad). It is as if I am an old windmill, fighting to twist in the gusts of laughter and opposition, that joy of the road that leads to true humanity and forces us learn again from our defeated revolution of 1970. But we are still dreaming of turning on the lights anew for that rebellion – in the port of tomorrow’s dawn – to bury Allende in our hearts and struggle against the dictator we got and any we might someday endure.
My old dictionary became a Mate, helping me to understand the Aussie accent I heard on streets, in hospitals, in Centrelink, and overhearing Australian conversations. It provided for me the print words to show what I intended …
The Condor without the Andes Still I can’t write perfectly this language still I have trouble to pronounce and spell more than a hundred words still I am learning to swim in your ocean but I live on shore and in the land of this country
Living in Australia without my wings and the wind of the condor – my words and the native language from which they’re born – I needed to practise the writing and pronunciation of new words I have said hundreds of times before constructing a poem in English. Only then can readers understand how I fly without my mountains here in Australia. But to utter a long, deep love, I come back to the Chile in my mind, saying ‘thank you, there was a time you gave me water, many seeds of love that still flower in my soul and in my house to avoid my death by uprooting’.
I know I am sinking myself into the depths of gum tree roots. I was there to die and restart my life the other morning, having breakfast with all the pain experienced, my pain at its base. Yes, I realise that my wounds are still open today as reminders to leave my beloved grandparents on their own back in Chile. Even today my grandmother sleeps in her chair, waiting for my return. Every day, this is her dream.
I open an old suitcase, my grandfather’s, and backing up, I see photos of the distance …
I cry. I cry like when my grandfather died. I cry like when I was awarded my humanitarian permanent visa and its condition was not to leave Australia within a two-year span for any reason. The official document from the Military Tribunal Court of Chile ‘awarded’ me only three months to stay out of Chile – and if I did not return on that term, I would be declared in default and processed in the court with another penalty.
So I didn’t come back. I was already one year and half in Australia when my abuelo died.
For me, I die now, I die yesterday and I die with my grandfather. I have been sentenced to jail, a graveyard of my own past. Add to this that, before signing any document, I never knew Australia had been invaded by Captain Cook and that he declared this land as a terra nullius forever. I would survive in the most modern and sophisticated desert in the world.
Years after my arrival, I read the verses of Fogarty’s poem ‘Australian Aust’ that includes these lines near its beginning:
Invasion January 26, 2012 still seem terra nullius Why? For identity look out of just things Why court lie the years still
One of the saddest experiences we have had was to visit the refugees in the Baxter Detention Centre and Glenside Psychiatric Hospital. Upon each visit I found roots of the damage done to the soul of these people. Their only crime was to believe that Australia is a humanitarian state for everybody. We shared hours of compassion, laughter and hugs – our bodies were soaked in the solitude of their eyes. Their bodies were lying in cables of cruelty where humanity clings in places forgotten. Tania and Lenin, along with other young people, are moved and ashamed to know that this bad treatment of refugees at our door happens now in this country.
I have overcome my status as a former political prisoner of Chile’s erstwhile dictatorship. I carry with me a poem from the poet Miguel Hernandez called ‘I Have Three Wounds: Life, Love and Death’ as a reminder of my past. But above all, I have overcome the loneliness of exile, its scars of death. I defeated a brutal Pinochet dictatorship – as they wanted to kill the rebel soul and socialist blood in me, as they desired to do within each of the inhabitants of our resistance.
I keep my heart beating with hopes of the red struggle that inspired me to write poetry. I have learned to overcome the loneliness of Australia, its racist silence and genocide histories. This country that welcomed my family and I – welcomed us to pieces – rendered us dumb and in a pain that has since gradually healed.
I recently saw the film Pinochet in Suburbia. It was about an old bastard who made fun of a judicial system, returning to Chile without a scratch on either body or soul with the inhumane political silence of Jack Straw and Tony Blair. We know that there are two justices: one for the rich, which protects the structures of power and domination; a second, more fierce justicita is for the poor, the indigenous, the refugees and the exiles.
I talk about sharing love and justice for the poor and outcast. It was and remains that love that keeps me rebelling against the apathy of any system that deserves it. This is now my land too.