Southern Stars

Sam Hamill

Southern Stars

It is solstice, the beginning
of summer, and almost New Year.
I’m watching Esteban measure out
each small shovelful of coals on his parrilla
where a rump roast slowly simmers.
From this third floor terrace,
we watch Venus, the first
and brightest evening star, emerge
above the Belgrano skyline.

We have been discussing
Galeano and “historical amnesia” —
that of Esteban’s Argentina
and that of my homeland.

A quarter century after the Dirty War,
many of the dictator’s hatchet-men
are still awaiting trial.

What became of Julio Simón —
the infamous Julián the Turk —
torturer and killer who threw
his screaming victims
out of airplanes high above
the Atlantic, bragging,
“I did it for mi patria, for
my faith, and for my religion.
Of course I would do it all again.”

Whatever became of Adolfo
Francisco Scilingo and his boss,
Vice Admiral Mendía, who told him
their victims “would fly,” and
assured him, “ecclesiastical authorities
proclaimed it a Christian,
nonviolent death” for those
accused of crimes against the State.
Scilingo confessed,
“Two thousand political prisoners learned to fly”
into the arms of God’s embrace.

No one knows the names of all the lost,
children stripped from mothers’ arms
in prison camps and sent away.
Today marks sixteen hundred
consecutive weeks the Mothers
of the Plaza have met and marched
from the Plaza de Mayo
to the Obelisk.  Where are their children
today?  Their sons, husbands, grandchildren,
the children of their friends . . .
Who knows?  No one will say.

In El Norte, our victims are always
the other, the ones we know
the very least — Vietnamese farmers or
Cambodian peasants sprayed
with Agent Orange; the innocent
booksellers lining Mutanabbi Street
in Baghdad for a thousand years or more,
bombed into oblivion; the nameless,
numberless and faceless dead of war
lying in Latin American fields and streets
from a hundred American invasions
in a century of unmitigated greed.

No one reveals the whereabouts
of the Black Sites, Bush’s secret prisons.
And official smirking faces — Bush, Cheney,
Rumsfeldt, Ashcroft and the rest
likewise have no apologies to make.
They are the policy experts who enjoy
great fame and fabulous prosperity.
Criminals are the authors of our history.
The worst of evils lies in their impunity.

Esteban jokes about the time
he was stopped on the street by police
and told to cut his hair and shave
or face stiff penalties.  We fill our glasses
with a dry Chablis from the vineyards
of Mendoza and prepare to eat
as our wives come laughing
from the kitchen down below,
relieved to find a cooling breeze.

We put aside all talk of war.
Nations, borders, eternal crimes
against poor, suffering humanity
all evaporate in summer heat
as our communal laughter
rises like a shining star,
shared by those who are still surprised
to be laughing at all, grateful,
overjoyed to be alive.