The Swimming Pool at Villa Grimaldi

Martín Espada

The Swimming Pool at Villa Grimaldi
          Santiago, Chile

Beyond the gate where the convoys spilled their cargo
of blindfolded prisoners, and the cells too narrow to lie down,
and the rooms where electricity convulsed the body
strapped across the grill until the bones would break,
and the parking lot where interrogators rolled pickup trucks
over the legs of subversives who would not talk,
and the tower where the condemned listened through the wall
for the song of another inmate on the morning of execution,
there is a swimming pool at Villa Grimaldi.

Here the guards and officers would gather families
for barbeques.  The interrogator coached his son:
Kick your feet.  Turn your head to breathe.
The torturer’s hands braced the belly of his daughter,
learning to float, flailing at her lesson.

Here the splash of children, eyes red
from too much chlorine, would rise to reach
the inmates in the tower.  The secret police
paraded women from the cells at poolside,
saying to them: Dance for me.  Here the host
served chocolate cookies and Coke on ice
to the prisoner who let the names of comrades
bleed down his chin, and the lungs of the prisoner
who refused to speak a word ballooned
with water, face down at the end of a rope.

When a dissident pulled by the hair from a vat
of urine and feces cried out for God, and the cry
pelted the leaves, the swimmers plunged below the surface,
touching the bottom of a soundless blue world.
From the ladder at the edge of the pool they could watch
the prisoners marching blindfolded across the landscape,
one hand on the shoulder of the next, on their way
to the afternoon meal and back again.  The neighbors
hung bedsheets on the windows to keep the ghosts away.

There is a swimming pool at the heart of Villa Grimaldi,
white steps, white tiles, where human beings
would dive and paddle till what was human in them
had dissolved forever, vanished like the prisoners
thrown from helicopters into the ocean by the secret police,
their bellies slit so the bodies could not float.