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Mirko Lauer

To the Dead in the Bay of Lima

Translated by Michael L. Smith

The laborers of Chillon killed in the two great battles of '81,1
the Chorrillanos killed in the fishing catastrophe of 1927,
hang down from the cliff like vine shoots of the bay
under a screeching maelstorm of marine birds.

The kind neighbors know they're imperceptible,
although their windows might open on the island2 & bring back to them,
like the sniffings of a wolf, all the thoughts
of political prisoners & the guards armed for a snack.

But they reach as far as the islands
with all their television against that wall
& against that love with all their charities
& against those plates of langoy3 with their orange fields

& the past is honor: the explosive joy of the students,
& the regiment raised by the Ugartes,4 "with their own money,"
still snort like English horns
among the imprisoning currents of the reef.

Fish in hermetic cans & brown sacks punctured
by the anxious gaffs of the loading cranes: at 18n km. from the Frontón
(in crystalline nautical leagues) the fleet cruises north
for joint maneuvers off Chicama & Puerto Salaverry.5

At the foot of the cliff the morning column of cars
(also under the howling wreath of marine birds)
searches for the impossible route to the central labrynth of the city:
San Lorenzo,6 "as if for taking a picture this morning," seems in effect an unshakable monument.

Eleven black breakwaters like fingers
rummage the Pax Pacifica in the swells.
In front of the white indentations of the breakers
the choral steps in the amphitheater.

Les morts de la Republique: (The dead:)
the past's powder, a white dust (they have all shared this present)
lost in the complacent bay (a theme sufficiently lapsed in a slightly dead style).
Like the current flames for the ideas of 1789.

The aroma of these spoils of night reconnaissance
& dawn attacks
somehow rises up with great current importance
-- like a tree in the middle of the afternoon -- growing scandalously willful.

& it would seem that these bodies surrounded by impoverished bathers
don't share a History with the past (a souvenir of Pescadores1 on a postcard by Van Dongen),8
but a solidarity of time & untouched fruits,
like a southern necropolis at mealtime.

The Guardian Flesh has a close alliance with metal & marble,
but another flesh maintains the cohesive textures of the earth
& the smooth restraint of the water:
these boys in underpants could walk as far as the island.

They would see that the dead & the prisoners & the fish on the barge
are all there. Not like a shipwreck, but like a song
of voices that rises above the bay
& barely eludes the swaying real estate of tide.

1 "The laborers ... of '81": refers to the civilian casualties when the Chilean forces attacked Lima in the War of the Pacific

2 The island: El Frontón a rugged island off Callao, Lima's seaport, where there is an infamous prison

3 langoy: the leftovers of Peruvian Chinese restaurants that are sold at reduced prisons at closing time

4"the students... the Ugartes": refers to the forces mustered to defend Lima. The Ugartes were the family of a Peruvian hero.

5 Chicama and Puerto Salaverry: Peruvian seaports on the northern coast

6 San Lorenzo: another island off Callao, much larger than the Frontón

7 Pescadores: a beach to the south of Lima used by fishermen and summer bathers

8Van Dongen, Kees: a Dutch painter who belonged to the Fauve school in France

Continuous Bass, 1974