The disinterred

The past has a way of haunting us. We think we have moved on, but events from long ago keep echoing in our consciousness. Isn’t that what William Faulkner so eloquently showed us?

This year marks the fortieth anniversary of the coup in Chile, and because I spent so much time researching the events of that fateful year for my novel, I keep observing significant dates.

Forty years ago on March 4, general elections, which the conservatives hoped would reverse the course of the country’s move toward Marxism, re-energized Salvador Allende’s agenda even though the economy was in a shambles. On June 29th, it will be forty years since the Tancazo, the failed putsch that signaled what was to come, with far greater violence, on September 11, 1973.

The past refuses to die, and even the dead are not exempt. Last year, after disinterring the remains of Salvador Allende, the Chilean court officially put to rest the rumor that he was murdered. Forensic analysis proved once and for all that he died from a self-inflicted gunshot while resisting the attack on the presidential palace led by his own generals. The junta claimed all along it was a suicide. Even if it was, does that fact wash the hands of the men who stormed the palace?

Español: Salvador Allende y Pablo Neruda.

Salvador Allende and Pablo Neruda. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And now they have disinterred the body of Pablo Neruda, the poet and Communist Party senator who nearly won the nomination of the Popular Unity coalition instead of Salvador Allende. The scientists hope to dispel similar claims that the junta had him murdered with a lethal injection while he lay in the hospital receiving treatment for cancer.

Photo credit: El Pais

At Neruda’s grave on Isla Negra. (Photo credit: El Pais)

I suspect these tests will come to naught. And then perhaps Chileans will be able to bury these rumors from their disturbing past once and for all, and the dead may rest in peace again, even if the past refuses to.

In closing, a fragment from “The Disinterred” by Pablo Neruda, translated by Donald D. Walsh (Residence on Earth, New Directions Publishing, 1972):

When the earth full of wet eyelids 
becomes ashes and harsh sifted air,
and the dry farms and the waters,
the wells, the metals,
at last give forth their worn-out dead,
I want an ear, an eye,
a heart wounded and tumbling,
the hollow of a dagger sunk some time ago
in a body some time ago exterminated and alone,
I want some hands, a science of fingernails,
a mouth of fright and poppies dying,
I want to see rise from the useless dust
a raucous tree of shaken veins,
I want from the bitterest earth,
among brimstone and turquoise and red waves
and whirlwinds of silent coal,
I want to see a flesh waken its bones
howling flames,
and a special smell run in search of something,
and a sight blinded by the earth
run after two dark eyes,
and an ear, suddenly, like a furious oyster,
rabid, boundless,
rise toward the thunder,
and a pure touch, lost among salts
come out suddenly, touching chests and lilies.


Filed under Commentary, Quotes

11 responses to “The disinterred

  1. What a perfect piece of Neruda’s poetry you chose, Tom. I couldn’t believe the news of the autopsy and, like you, I hope that Chileans will be able to find peace and that Neruda’s family will as well.

    • Thanks, Letizia. Of course, it’s only the first stanza, and it is even more moving in Spanish (you can find it online), but it does seem filled with irony, given the news.

  2. todadwithlove

    I share your sentiments, Tom. The dead deserve to be left to rest in peace.
    And, the irony in this stanza of the poem is truly overwhelming.

  3. A beautifully written, informative post. Thank you

  4. Maybe this is important for the Chilenos, but I’m having a hard time caring about how either ONE of these guys died. Neruda was old and tired, and ready to go. I hate to say this, but if it turns out that if the dictatorship did have this guy murdered, they were doing him a favor. By which I mean that it won’t hurt book sales. (We should all be so lucky, hah?)
    As for Allende, here again I have to apologize in advance, but the guy was basically a coward, so it surprises me not at all that he would have offed himself before having to face the music.
    So why do I call Allende a coward when everyone else remembers him as a brave and noble man? Well . . . yes, I’ll grant you that he was a good guy. He was even brave, after a fashion. Unfortunately, he wasn’t the kind of brave that Chile needed at that particular moment. Chile didn’t need a leader who was willing to DIE for the cause; they needed someone who was willing to LIVE for it. And living, as we know, means thinking . . . even when thinking hurts.
    Allende took stupid risks with both the Communists and the Yanquis, and Chile paid for it. (Oy vey, did they pay!) I don’t fault him so much for that. I mean . . . it happens, right? What I fault him for is this: that when his destiny as an utter failure became clear, he couldn’t own up to it, and instead of taking the final risk – the risk of living on in shame as his followers died all around him – he ran away. To perfect the tragic hypocrisy of his position, he used his last few moments on earth to admonish his compatriots, lecturing them to “keep fighting the good fight.”
    And then he bugged out.
    Third and finally apology goes to Tom: Sorry to be such a party pooper, dude. If you kick me off this blog, I’ll fully understand.
    * * * * * * * * * *
    In reply to Tom’s opening line about The Past, I leave you with the words of Wm. Faulkner:
    “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.”

    • Wordy, I love having diverse comments and points of view. To quote another American author, Mark Twain, “It’s the difference of opinion that makes horse races.”

      As for Allende, I would hesitate to call him a coward just because he shot himself. We don’t know what he was thinking. Pinochet is reputed to have offered a plane to send him out of the country and then said to his sidekicks, “as if that plane will ever land,” or words to that effect. Maybe Allende knew that. But he had definitely taken risks and made big, stupid mistakes in his administration.

      Thanks for the comment.

  5. Really interesting post, Tom, and I love Pablo Neruda’s writing: wistful and full of beauty. I also like the smart Twain quote, and there is the truth of a good conflict of opinions.

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