Potosí­

Look, the night doesn’t fall like a curtain
or rise from any ground. In fact,
it doesn’t move at all.
It’s still there, even in the heat of noon.

Ay, Carnival.
Fields of dog grass.

We pass through that black purse
like stones through a gizzard,
grinding against each other, a currency
no sooner earned than spent.
Our features fade, rubbed smooth.
Veins appear just under the skin.
Strands of silver.

Ay Carnival,
bald as a nickname.

Now more than ever, I am nothing you’d
care to save. But night still rattles
with the dreams of poor Indians,
in their hats & shawls like broody hens
unwilling to abandon the egg
that will never hatch.

Big overblown Carnival.

__________

Lines in italics are taken from Quechua folksongs collected by Jesíºs Lara and translated by Maria A. Proser and James Scully (Quechua Peoples Poetry, Curbstone Press, 1976).
For background on Potosí­, see here.

3 Replies to “Potosí­”

  1. Thanks for the Potosí link, it helped me to understand the poem. What a terrible history for the natives. Amazing that the mine was productive for so many years. But the European colonization was often built on the backs of the natives of the countries they conquered?

  2. Bolivian silver, shining in the perpetual night like… spit? cobwebs? spilled mercury? leached souls?

    You’ve been spitting out some dark stuff recently, Dave.

  3. Amazing that the mine was productive for so many years.

    And they’ve only taken half of the silver! I liked the UNESCO article not just for the pictures and the evocative prose, but for the information that the general sentiment there in Potosi today is to forego the additional wealth if it means taking off the top of the mountain. Even with the untold millions of lives sacrificed to it – or perhaps in part because of that – the mountain reverence is still there. Would that the folks in West Virginia and Kentucky, where mountaintop removal is the norm, were similarly insistent.

    But the European colonization was often built on the backs of the natives of the countries they conquered?

    “Often” might be underselling it.

    Bolivian silver, shining in the perpetual night like… spit? cobwebs? spilled mercury? leached souls?

    Those are good images. Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano (Memory of Fire: Genesis) describes the veins as green and silver serpents. I don’t know enough about Quechua and Aymara worldviews to know if that is in fact the way the Indians think about them. (Though I suppose it was even more presumptuous of me to try to speak in the voice of the mountain!)

    You’ve been spitting out some dark stuff recently, Dave.

    Since the night of reason is seemingly ineradicable, I think it’s imperative to learn how to see in the dark.

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