On Exiles and Defeats
Poème de Maria Eugenia Bravo Calderara (Chili)
No. It was not the bad time in Chena,
nor the sudden grim prosecutions
in improvised war councils,
No. The blind gun that hits me on the shoulder
didn’t defeat me,
nor investigation’s black hood of horror
nor the grey hell of the stadiums
with their roars of terror.
No. Neither was it the iron bars at the window
cutting us in pieces from life,
nor the watch kept on our house
nor the stealthy tread,
nor the slide into the deep maw of hunger.
No. What defeated me was the street that was not mine,
the borrowed language learned in hastily set-up courses.
What defeated me was the lonely, uncertain figure
in longitudes that did not belong to us.
It was Greenwich
close to nothing.
What defeated me was the alien rain,
the groping memory,
friends far away
and the atrocious ocean between us,
wetting the letters I waited for
which did not come.
What defeated me was yearning day after day
at Jerningham Road
agonising under the fog
at Elephant and Castle
sobbing on London Bridge.
And I was defeated step by step
by the harsh calendar,
and between Lunes-Monday and Martes-Tuesday
I had shrivelled into a stranger.
What defeated me was the absence of your tenderness, my country.