Chris McDonnell: The other 9/11

Mention the 11th of September, or 9/11 as it has come to be known, and your memory is likely to flash back to dust clouds filling the streets of Manhattan after the twin towers had been hit by hijacked aircraft, costing many innocent lives

The reality of terrorist attack had come to NYC and the world gasped.

Now go back to that same date, September 11th in 1973. This time to South America, and that narrow strip of land that runs like a ribbon from north to south of the west coast. The country of Chile and its capital Santiago in the shadow of the Andes.

There the presidential palace, home of Salvadore Allende, is under attack by forces led by General Pinochet. He was to lead a miliary dictatorship for the next thirteen years, cruel years of arrest, torture and killings.

Many fled the country or went into hiding. One  person was Pablo Neruda, Chile’s national poet who under threat of death was forced to leave the country. Two fragments of Neruda’s writing:

“The books that help you most are those which make you think the most. The hardest way of learning is that of easy reading; but a great book that comes from a great thinker is a ship of thought, deep freighted with truth and beauty.”

When soldiers came to search his apartment, his response was swift,

“Look around, there is only one thing of danger to you here, poetry.”

I wrote these few lines in the December of that year.

The Chilean Coup of last September

I see you O my people in the streets

and in the passageways of night.

I see your frightened faces

like posters, peeling from walls

soon forgotten in the no-where time

that follows the insistent knock upon the door.

I no longer hear your voices

for a thousand hurting cries

have filled my ears  and echo still

between my yesterday and your tomorrow.

I remember your September smells

from years gone by.

Cannot forget the acrid smell of tear gas

and exploding shells that cleared our city streets

hiding the sun beyond a blackened sky.

And you ask me why I leave you

when we shared our food together

when you hid me in the daytime

in the darkness of your cellar.

And you ask me where I’m going

as I rise above the mountains

on a one way ticket eastward

from my home.

I go from here to exile

to try to put together

the tired and troubled pieces

of my mind.

December 1973: 

Two identical dates, years apart, two stories of violence in the city, both in need of reconciliation. Remember peace in time of prayer.


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