The Other Hemisphere
It shut us up, the new, dumbed us
into silence. And when we finally
spoke from the back seat
of the cab, our eyes glazed
with jetlag, we said, Those arid hills,
don’t they remind you
of New Mexico?
And the bougainvillea – it’s just like
L.A. Later, strolling the streets
of Santiago, one of us remarked,
This neighborhood could be
in Tel Aviv. It drove them crazy,
our kids, this instinct of ours
to reach for the familiar – as if
there were only one door in
to our middle aged brains. As if
our need to yolk what was new
to what we already knew
would rob this new place
of its singular
allure. After all, Chile
had been Chile to our daughter
for six months now,
and to the Chileans, forever.
We tried to temper
our comments, held our tongues
except to marvel
at the tin-roofed houses
that tumbled toward the bay
in Valparaiso. We walked
our daughter’s daily route to town,
watched her select a fish
in the market, take it
from Josephina’s salt-withered
hands, and ask in Spanish
the best way to cook it.
Five days later, when we drove
to the Lake District, we began
to settle in. We breathed
the clean air of Pucon. Hiked
mossy forests and parched,
volcanic hillsides. I couldn’t get over
how capacious this skinny
country was! Out the window
to the west, a view
of what could have been
Switzerland – green meadows, cows –
To the east,
a single snow-capped peak
posing as Mt. Fuji.
I didn’t dare say it aloud.
I know they want everything
to be the first, the only—
and it is. Everything is the only
of its kind. But also,
after decades of living and seeing,
you discover there are only
so many faces or types
of faces on earth. I have seen
my own mother (long dead)
in the feria –
the Argentine version of her,
what she’d look like
if she had lived her life there.
And this, too, is a singular experience.
Have patience with us, Chile.
If you’ll just be California
or Switzerland for another
few days, I promise
we’ll let you be Chile.
Then we’ll carry you with us
everywhere we go.
I’m sitting in the guest room in Connecticut, the place I feel most at home.
I’m in the big chair with the ottoman, my back to the windows
which are open and letting in bird sounds. Today’s my mother’s birthday.
She would have been 80, but I can’t imagine her older than 53.
I like the neatness of this room – the made bed, scant furnishings.
Its emptiness is what makes me feel at home. As if the outer order calls to
some inner order and allows my true self to roam around with ease,
flowing back and forth, inside and out. Like California, where you move
from the garden to the house and back again, no big deal. Or like my mother
moving back into my consciousness today because the door’s open
and because it’s her birthday and I’m alone so she can visit.