In Vina del Mar
In the swirl of traffic by the sea
Everything feels skew-whiff
Stiff with salt and gasoline
Men mend cars by the side of the road
Like frowning surgeons of snarled metal
There’s a pong of fish that drifts and sticks
In the boiled air, and elegant stucco-fronts
Yahoo with bright graffiti.
It’s sweltering hot, Chilean summer
But the hotel’s old-fashioned, calm
The walls sleekly wood-panelled
The ceilings hung with heavy chandeliers
Dangling from fragile strings of wire
They wear the shatters of their ceiling roses
Carelessly, a grande dame’s broken bracelets.
I share a bed with my little daughter
She lies all long bones and fringed eyes
I stroke her hair,
Dripping sweet things in her dozing ear:
My brown conejo, my wild rabbit
My mountain hare
Above the bed’s end hangs a chandelier
Richly barbed with fancy metal
Sharp fruit on a fraying stem
If it falls in the night, I think
It will just skim our feet and not
Decisively impale our softer parts —
Even if the falling were to happen and then
It did crush us, we would have to be
Unlucky twice, and surely not tonight
Out of so many other nights —
I’m tired, you see, I have to take this line
For who can worry all the time?
I wake in the night, in the black belly of the night,
To a big thump and a rumbling shudder
Earthquake! I think, and then perhaps I hear
A little wave of voices washing up
Towards my window and away
A sparkle of shouts like tiny fireworks
Rising and falling, burned-out, back to earth
But I’m so tired,
And my daughter is steady-breathing,
And anyway, you know what sleep does
How it hooks up fears and dreams
Pushing them to tango through twisting corridors —
That noise, I think, was just a very fat man
Tumbling out of his sheets in the room above
And now he’s heaving his shocked frame,
Sweat-slicked, back to the forgiveness of his bed.
It’s quiet now and still. I’ll close my eyes.
I’ll just lay down my head.
In the morning there is coffee
And scrambled eggs
The owner, chatting, says,
Did you hear the earthquake?
It was just a little one,
We don’t even pay attention to them.
I think I did, I say.
He says, there’s a silence
Just before it starts, a gathering stillness
That tells you one is on its way.
How interesting, I say.
And I know in years to come
I’ll listen to the inside of a silence
For what is gathering when the world is dumb.
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