Raúl Zurita's INRI

After hearing the President of his country acknowledge in 2001 on TV that the bodies of many — hundreds, & probably thousands — of the people who had been disappeared during the Pinochet dictatorship would never be found because they had been thrown out of planes into the sea or onto the mountains, the Chilean poet Raúl Zurita wrote a booklength work out of the feeling of shame this ackowledgement and all it entailed generated in him — who had staid on in Chile during those dark years and had often dealt with the horrors of that time in previous books. The book, called INRI, has been excellently translated by Will Rowe, and prefaced with a note from Zurita written for this edition (which has yet to find a publisher in this country — though I hope that that will happen soon for this is a major work). Here is an extract from Zurita’s prefatory note, followed by the opening poems of the first sequence, The Sea, followed in turn by the opening poems of the sequence Bruno, Susana from two thirds of the way through INRI.

The book was called INRI, and it came out of the image of a man who was uttering strange words on the TV. I don’t know if what I am saying about the screech makes sense: it was called innrrrrrrriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii. There was also a detail, another fact about that crucifixion: one of the reports tells how before killing their victims the military personnel gouged out their eyes with hooks, that’s why in the book no-one sees, they only hear. It’s that. I finished this book a year after the image I had remembered at the beginning, and I think I understood that the only final respect and acknowledgement for thousands and thousands of human beings has been the acknowledgement and respect of the land.

from: THE SEA

Strange baits rain from the sky. Surprising bait
falls upon the sea. Down below the ocean, up
above unusual clouds on a clear day. Surprising
baits rain on the sea. There was a love raining,
there was a clear day that’s raining now on the
sea.

They are shadows, bait for fishes. A clear day
is raining, a love that was never said. Love, ah
yes, love, amazing baits are raining from the
sky on the shadow of fishes in the sea.

Clear days fall. Some strange baits with clear
days stuck to them, with loves that were never
said.

The sea, it says the sea. It says baits that rain and
clear days stuck to them, it says unfinished loves,
clear and unfinished days that rain for the fish in
the sea.

* * *

You can hear whole days sinking, strange
sunny mornings, unfinished loves, goodbyes
cut short that sink into the sea. You can hear
surprising baits that rain with sunny days
stuck to them, loves cut short, goodbyes that
not any more. Baits are told of, that rain for
the fish in the sea.

The blue brilliant sea. You can hear shoals of
fish devouring baits stuck with words that
not, days and news that not, loves that not any
more.

It is told of shoals of fish that leap, of whole
whirlwinds of fish that leap.

You can hear the sky. It is told that amazing baits
rain down with pieces of sky stuck to them upon
the sea.

* * *

I heard a sea and a sky hallucinated, I heard suns
exploding with love fall like fruits, I heard
whirlwinds of fish devouring the pink flesh of
surprising baits.

I heard millions of fish which are tombs with
pieces of sky inside, with hundreds of words that
were never said, with hundreds of flowers of red
flesh and pieces of sky in the eyes. I heard
hundreds of loves that were stopped on a sunny
day. Baits rained from the sky.

Viviana cries. Viviana heard whirlwinds of fishes
rise up in the air fighting for mouthfuls of a
goodbye cut short, of a prayer not heard, of a
love not said. Viviana is on the beach. Viviana
today is Chile.

The long fish that is Chile rises up through the
air devouring the sun baits of its dead.

* * * * * *

BRUNO, SUSANA

The small white cities wait for Bruno,
the small cities lit up in the night wait for Susana.
It is remembered that it is day now, the sea is
remembered.

* * *

Of the light then and of the roar of the sea in the
light that hits us inside the eyes because the
empty sockets of our eyes are the sea’s. Of all the
light then and of the snowfields which are our
blind faces imprinted, blown, falling upwards
with all the living cheeks of our dead cheeks,
with the living arms of our dead arms, with all
the waves exploding with the sound for ever of
our names and of the living ocean that speaks for
ever to us above the cordilleras.

When we heard the sea without end and even
the stones shouted out our names.

When they touched us with love and the
breakers and the snow of the breakers sounded
our names and we got up out of our sleep to the
sound of our dead names, raising our new arms
to them in a living dream.

To the love which rose through us making the
hairs on our arms stand on end and the hairs
were the wheat fields for ever that grew waving
out of all the tombs of earth where we fell. Like
love and everything that is dead which lives and
returns like the dream of the sky that returns and
is the light for ever of the sea.

Bruno remembers a sea and Susana also
remembers. There is the light from the
mountains and the eyes for ever of all the white
towns, of all the white cheeks stretched like
bandages over the bloodied cheekbones of the
cordilleras. The little towns are white in the wind
and now their faces hear a white town down
below and sing. There is the light like the white
gauze of the cordilleras in the sky. There is the
sea and the white line of the breakers that sing,
the tombs of their eyes and of the sea that sing.

They hear a white town down below and sing.
Bruno’s gouged eyes sing. Susana’s emptied eyes
sing.

They are thousands of white towns and they
sing. Thousands of Susanas, thousands of Brunos
in the gauze of the snow peaks. Their cheeks
cover the cheekbones of the mountains and
dream in the white wind, in the white bandages.
The bloodied bandages of the cordilleras fall
open in the sky and are white.

Oh yes, Bruno, oh yes, Susana. The bloodied
bandages fall open in the sky and are white.

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