All Peruvians are liars – Mario Vargas Llosa
Peru is not a novel – Shining Path graffiti
In grey wind where snow turns to ice, leaving no shelter,
you are murdering the woman who made you feel guilty,
who called you a fascisti. Your fingers at her throat
you examine her pores and her pock-marks,
her teeth broken by a rifle butt
because her parents worshipped an icon of Stalin.
A high fog is breaking in the acquiescent village.
Faces carved from the hard material of nature
reveal no motives. Your hands close on nothing:
wood, weeds or water. Impossible to tell
if these people are servants to force alone
or to your foreign currency of words
translated from another language – the promise
of conquest, the repossession of forgotten land.
Your eyes fix on the face of the woman,
her ideas reduced to manageable flesh and bone.
What else could subdue them but your own
nervous retraction, making a virtue of fear.
Your tongue removing itself into black cavities,
your eyes concealed among Indians, watching
the woman’s body slowly digested by insects.
The strings of your nerves drawn shrill
by the need to maintain a single extreme moment,
but that was an error, a point of mathematics:
better to proceed by denial, eating your own words
compacted and swallowed in gutters.
The fabricated voice of the journals dissolves behind you,
Your carefully bound diaries left on a train
now somewhere in a distant country – maybe Russia,
the terminus, the last exit. The veins in your cheeks
crackle red, and you are outside time, awaiting
the moment of ignition. But these are autumn colours,
half-formed mountains at the edge of the world.
The Amazon running to rock. Vast crowds
milling together, resisting the pressure to meld or mesh.
At first there was anger, in the fluttering walls of the throat,
at the sight of those faces barely released from stone,
brown feet roasted over open fires.
Torturers winding back their watches
at the sign of the scar, at the hour of the sentry.
Americans with flaccid hands. The light like shroud-cloth
burning your skin. You made yourself dark,
withdrawing into the shadows of the century, accepting nothing.
You are speaking to yourself thanks to the magic
of an alien technology, which is your own,
or at least helps you belong to your time.
But how it really happens, how the same words recur
in this haphazard way outside of any system
remains a mystery. A voice speaking over the radio
mirrors your own, and you cannot break the habit
of these reflections, cannot even retrace your steps.
An insidious machine is reading your thoughts.
The woman raises her head grotesquely,
and even though you are immersed in shiny blood
there is nothing left to be offered or consumed.
The magic of cheap rhetoric is retained
like a forgotten taste, brushing your tongue.
All the things that you can touch refer to secrecy
or symbols, but is that magic any more than a good card-hand
or a huge library reverberating messages between lines of shelves?
You fear asking the simplest question
because the answer is always the same,
and the voice that returns it is the familiar dominating one –
your teacher, your master, robbing you of all will,
keeping you as a servant.
The desire to subvert yourself, to speak
in the voice of another, to knock a chaos
into this order of illusions. And when they pass over you,
these shadows distinct as faces piercing the surface of water,
what do they drag in their wake? The presidential candidate’s
dream-speech delivered in bubbles of his own blood.
The desire to destroy. A selection of words
to mask your jealousy, every tentative emotion concealed.
Your arrogance the revolver in its holster.
Because there is no longer any guilty internal world,
your private thoughts lead you to a plain
where huge figures stand frozen, towers and monuments
shuttling messages into the air, light patterns
and gaudy over-obvious symbols.
There are no more images for you to touch,
only these hard prints on the eye
mistaking jungle-foliage for military uniforms.
Extinction breathes its gentle colours,
pastels of tensions released. Falling softly into a chair
you believe you are outside everything,
a light tune disappearing. At last
you become leader, compelled to speak.
But there is danger, for what have you left to confess
except constructions? The high chair, the fabricated podium,
disgust you like some story spilled at gunpoint.
You take the woman into your arms, but dark smoke
has entered your bones, and there is no remedy
but the need to continue travelling among these tortured bodies,
these trees, these flayed mountains.
You wanted to capture precision,
the insides of things, but each new word
dazzles you, is a prism of caught light,
and you are frozen in captivation.
Each second snaps like a forced door.
You have been absent from the city too long,
concealed in an ambush of riddles,
and now you are scarcely recognisable.
The clear strategies inhaled at high altitudes,
formed from clear air, are swept clean away
by your embarrassing forgetfulness.
What was the use of all the lost time
learning that you could no longer lie?
Perhaps you were only parroting
the words of a saviour, practical solutions
that carry across the seaboard
like the sound of distant gunfire.
The demagogue’s beard cultivated in a garbage dump.
The priest’s sash sweeping across polished boards
as prickly infection wipes a baby’s mouth.
You are too malleable. A servant’s hysteria
scours you with painful laughter. Lawless
your shining objects shake from the walls.
Make neat piles of them. Scrub your empty face
until it burns. Make up a story.
The Conscience of Avimael Guzman
28 February 2013