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.
- 101: NO THEME 10COMING SOON with J Kinsella and J Leanne 100: BROWNFACECOMING SOON! with W S Dunn 99: SINGAPOREwith J Ip and A Pang 97 & 98: PROPAGANDAwith M Breeze and S Groth 96: NO THEME IXwith M Gill and J Thayil 95: EARTHwith M Takolander 94: BAYTwith Z Hashem Beck 93: PEACHwith L Van, G Mouratidis, L Toong 92: NO THEME VIIIwith C Gaskin 91: MONSTERwith N Curnow 90: AFRICAN DIASPORAwith S Umar 89: DOMESTICwith N Harkin 88: TRANSQUEERwith S Barnes and Q Eades 87: DIFFICULTwith O Schwartz & H Isemonger 86: NO THEME VIIwith L Gorton 85: PHILIPPINESwith Mookie L and S Lua 84: SUBURBIAwith L Brown and N O'Reilly 83: MATHEMATICSwith F Hile 82: LANDwith J Stuart and J Gibian 81: NEW CARIBBEANwith V Lucien 80: NO THEME VIwith J Beveridge 57.1: EKPHRASTICwith C Atherton and P Hetherington 57: CONFESSIONwith K Glastonbury 56: EXPLODE with D Disney 55.1: DALIT / INDIGENOUSwith M Chakraborty and K MacCarter 55: FUTURE MACHINES with Bella Li 54: NO THEME V with F Wright and O Sakr 53.0: THE END with P Brown 52.0: TOIL with C Jenkins 51.1: UMAMI with L Davies and Lifted Brow 51.0: TRANSTASMAN with B Cassidy 50.0: NO THEME IV with J Tranter 49.1: A BRITISH / IRISH with M Hall and S Seita 49.0: OBSOLETE with T Ryan 48.1: CANADA with K MacCarter and S Rhodes 48.0: CONSTRAINT with C Wakeling 47.0: COLLABORATION with L Armand and H Lambert 46.1: MELBOURNE with M Farrell 46.0: NO THEME III with F Plunkett 45.0: SILENCE with J Owen 44.0: GONDWANALAND with D Motion 43.1: PUMPKIN with K MacCarter 43.0: MASQUE with A Vickery 42.0: NO THEME II with G Ryan 41.1: RATBAGGERY with D Hose 41.0: TRANSPACIFIC with J Rowe and M Nardone 40.1: INDONESIA with K MacCarter 40.0: INTERLOCUTOR with L Hart 39.1: GIBBERBIRD with S Gory 39.0: JACKPOT! with S Wagan Watson 38.0: SYDNEY with A Lorange 37.1: NEBRASKA with S Whalen 37.0: NO THEME! with A Wearne 36.0: ELECTRONICA with J Jones