Last Beer in Buenos Aries

She sings in jazz clubs
and in cobbled lanes
of Palermo —
in dim-lit pulperias
of La Boca
where men drink hard
and talk of fist fights —
when knives
take on a will of their own
before the letting of blood
is leavened by humour
and the promise of a last beer —
and she sings behind the bar
of 12 Canillas
as patrons stand in line
listening to tales
of the barrio —
watching Juan Ignacio Conculini
lift his shirt
to reveal the birth mark
of Boca Juniors
branded on the length on his spine.

She is there in the music
and the words of Mercedes —
voice of the voiceless ones
in the nueva cancion
in the want and squalor
of miseria
in the verbs that bleed
and extinguish lives
that no one cared about.
They may bury their dead
by day —
en la medianoche de la mañana —
with no gravestone
at which to lay
a simple wreath
but it will not matter
for the soil of Argentina
lies in the blood of the peasant
but no one cares
and no one knows
if they are real —
of flesh and blood
or mere fictions
dreamed up by Cortázar
and reflected in mirrors
or phantoms
brought to life on a blank canvas
by Quinquela
as he moved his brush
with quiet purpose
over a slice of life
and put the people to work
in el barrio bajo.

She sings in the eyes
of beautiful women
gliding through boulevards
and bars shaded by lavender blossom
and her song can be heard
in the laughter of girls
sitting beneath the jacaranda
before they stride along La Avenida Callao —
unbridled passions concealed
only by hint
of nonchalance
and cool reserve.
She is visible late evening
in the reflected gaze
of lonely men
who sit in Plaza las Heras —
backs braced against the icy winds
of one more winter
listening to the click of high heels
break the stony silence
of empty streets —
unable to find the courage to wave
or the nerve to smile
into the face of their dreams
and she sings in parks blowing cold
and desolate
where lovers sit entwined
whispering secrets
into the ears of their beloved
moments before dusk
and she’s known in Puerto Madero —
in perpetual song rising in the red breast
of a sparrow
stealing food from careless mouths
and abandoned plates.

She sang in the balcony
of the Casa Rosada —
in the minds of the gathering
masses held in thrall
to the voice
of Evita
bending the whims
of Perón —
persuading him to take
from the Right
and give to the Left
to bring forth the aguinaldo —
shift revenues
and privileges of the rich
into the path
of los descamisados —
to put shirts on their backs
and deliver the great prize.
She stood as witness
to the best of her people —
and to the worst —
as the corpse of Evita
was desecrated
by an officer class
that made sure her body
bore all the marks
of revenge.

She was present in walls
of detention
that absorbed the screams
of the disappeared.
She sang in the hearts of mothers
marching on Plaza de Mayo —
in those solemn hymns
sung in rhythm
and in grief
for the desparecidos.
She was visible in the darkness
of her own Shadow —
in the power that gave birth
to guerra sucia —
in the printed word of each file
marked
to contain our irrepressible desire.
In her hand was the baton
used to orchestrate
each coup d’etat
that stood as byword for good government —
projecting from the throats
of dictators —
animating the voice
of Videla
who stalinised the people
with his secret police —
closing congress
censoring the press
infiltrating the bedrooms
of teachers and students —
labelling dissent
a crime of hate
directed against the will
of the state —
crushing all who dare to speak
purging the ranks
of unions and lawyers
mobilising tanks
and sending out spies to nest
among people and spread
the terror.

Yet her song mourns the fate
of the Mapuche —
and their children cut
down
in the Conquest of the Desert —
the dispossessed
whose flesh was marked by steel
forged in the factories
of Europe —
for wives and babies
carried on carts and sold
as gifts to the god-forsaken;
she laments the killing
of the language
that lived in the mouths
of the Quechuan —
her chant more of a prayer
than a song —
calling to the birds
and the beasts of the forests
calling the Ngen
to inhabit the lakes and trees
to the wood that gives shelter
calling the spirit of the sacred
to inhabit the rushing waters —
owners of the fire
and owners of the falling leaves —
of the winds that sing
in canopies of green —
calling forth the spirits
that live in footprints
of the jaguar —
calling guardians of the wild.

She sings in the eyes of the shaman
and in the peoples of the earth:
the Puelche, the Onas,
gazing into the sun —
the Ranquel and the Guenaken
who survive on light alone.
By turn her song
bemoans the progress
of civilisation.
Parish records read like palimpsests
and papal requiems
will not bring back
the dead —
or those baptised
in articulo mortis.
The wielding of swords and guns —
spread of smallpox —
fades like ancient facts
overlaid on papyrus.
Yet her strong voice still lingers
in volcanoes —
in the poems of Alonzo
and in the lyrics of Queupul —
she sings across the rolling plains
of La Pampa
to the vast plateau of La Puna —
She
the great creator
who guides the visions of Lienlaf
and Chihuailaf —
She
the great healer
giver of food that remains
true to life.

Her song was there in the sounds
of the Murga
and in the notes of dancing bands
as they moved in rhythm on the margins of town —
dressed in top hats
and colonial garb to mock
their masters.
She is always awake at dawn
when a thick mist begins to
break across the vineyards
of Mendoza
and she shines in the hills and valleys
of Cordoba —
and on tip-toe she is known to dance
between notes
of Cuarteto —
yet she just as happy singing in long shadows cast
by cypress trees —
in trickle of water
running from rent and fissure —
in blue glaciers grinding together —
groaning beneath their own weight.

Yet she will also sing in the feathers
of peacocks,
in the fine, striped clothes
and casual step
of the flânneur
as he steps out into the late light —
and she is present when tears are shed
in stalls of the opera house
or on vacant streets
where beggars wait
and will themselves to sleep.
She is there in the visionary’s cane —
tapping its way around
las orillas —
through the streets and alleys
of La Recoletta —
a solitary cane tapping
asphalt and iron rails —
moving between parallel worlds
of past and present
as it weaves its way
past cemeteries
and fragments of stone —
tapping
memories of the unconscious
tapping
against the mind
of the universal poem lost
and found on long streets that neither begin nor end

She is in love with ideas
and in the power of protest
so she roams in bookshops
and libraries, holding court
on every corner —
in the bars and cafes
of Borges
who practised magic
and conjured up daggers —
commanding demons and a host
of headless corpses
to wander streets
that refuse to rest
or sleep.
Her voice is heard in the suburbs
of Palermo,
in the poetry of Carriego
spoken from the margins.
She’s there in the music
of Misas Herejes.
She inhabits the name of Martín Fierro
who willingly signed
his own death warrant
and refused to yield
to the hands of a system
and its clerks —
choosing his love for the land
and the solitary life
of a gaucho.

She sings when the first light breaks
out on the pampa — in the restless spirit
of stallions pacing up
and down
in morning dew —
hot breath
drifting like clouds of mist high above
the hinterland.
And she is visible
in the saddles of old men driving herds of cattle
across the plain
and in the saddles of young boys
calling her
for the first time — her voice
rising in the thunder
of hooves
and the falling
of summer rain.

Her song echoes
in the valleys and vast flat plains
of Quebrada de Humahuaca
and in the flow of rivers in spate —
but she is neither
soprano nor tenor —
her voice will break
with great force from the ice fields —
singing above the roar
of avalanche —
or with small songbirds
in cave cathedrals —
sprawling out from the forests and savannahs of Gran Chaco
to the frozen seas of the Arctic.

Her song resonates
in the prayer of the farmer
who tills his soil
and hopes for late rain
and she is there behind the pampero —
her own hand at work
as she sweeps rivers of silt
and clay
down
towards
the sea —
or she may sing when the seeds
of young saplings
are thrown up into the winds
by rogue tornadoes —
twisting
above salt lakes
and sandy deserts.
She sings among the reeds
and her voice echoes
among rocks and streams —
in the flash floods
of the Rio Grande —
and deep into the midnight
of the morning
she sings in Peumo dreams
of peasants as they travel
by wheel or by foot
on the last roads
of the Inca —
her song rising in the air
and falling
on thermal winds
that drift through canyons —
where the great wings of the condor
extend like sails
on route to La Cumbrecita.

And now the sound of her voice —
just perceptible —
can be heard beneath the hull of a canoe
as it cuts through
the still waters
of El Tigre —
her voice singing by day
and by night in canals
and dark recesses
animating the tides
of the delta
its leaves and branches —
faint vibrations
of a dragonfly’s wings
hovering
above the splash
of river trout —

and her name is Argentina.

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