Peace Corps Writers
Readings from the 40 + 1 (page 2)
Readings from the 40 + 1

page 1
The Communist

page 2
Living Right in Antofagasta

page 3
La Vida Antofagastina 1968
How I became a poet

page 4
Meeting Neruda

      Living Right in Antofagasta

    say my colleagues at the college in New York
    but I go anyway.
    I bus 27 hrs through desert
    (diarrhea, no toilet paper)
    to Antofagasta
    with its perverted dogs
    battleground of indestructible fleas
    termites secretly hollowing every wall
    drilling holes through books
    like secret eyes
    (someday the whole city will collapse
    in a heap of powder).
    Behind the city
    mountains of brown dust
    announce the desert:
    “Life is temporary,” they say,
    “It must be given oxygen.”

    The houses of the poor shuffle from the dust
    like random cartons piled on one another.
    “These people,” says Karen,
    “they don’t live right.
    They had money for bread
    for the week
    they spent it on wine instead.
    Can you imagine?”

    Someone else doesn’t live right
    and he pays for it.
    for defecating in the street,”
    the paper says,
    gives his name
    (Can you imagine!)

    Valiant taxis
    rattle like pots and pans
    doors wired on
    brewery steams away
    defying the dust with
    liquor fumes
    lit up all night
    like an army of drunks’ noses.
    at the Cafe Baquedano
    drunks in rumpled pants —
    every one a lawyer —
    borrow money
    and tell us what’s what.

    We’re always invited to
    12 kids in 3 rooms
    chairs and beds circle the new tv
    in the living room
    — packed house on Saturday afternoons
    to watch westerns.
    At 35 heart trouble
    and he has to quit the police department
    now he’s a fisherman
    always fish stewing a bottle of wine
    “No matter what,” he says,
    “in my house everyone eats.”
    When his pension check arrives
    he takes the 12 kids
    ancient family maid from Bolivia
    everybody’s friends
    even a few down-and-outs
    all to a nightclub
    and blows it all
    like a fireworks exhibit on Sept. 18th.
    No message but the bang.
    He doesn’t live right, I guess.

    In the afternoon at the docks
    over the glaze of guano
    the smell of fish
    pelicans swoop and dive;
    we all skip work
    buy a bottle of pisco
    (it burns going down)
    lie on the dock
    and watch —
    trying to be like Mario
    but never getting it right.

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