Roberto Bolano’s By Night in Chile

By Night in Chile. Roberto Bolano. Translated by Chris Andrews. New Directions. 2003. 130 pages. A challenging book to read when you are busy and can only read ten to twenty pages a night. But worth it. One long paragraph in the mind of a dying priest who is looking back on his life, not confessing, instead justifying his way of living. Very long spiraling sentences. He’s agitated by a “wizened youth” who I keep expecting to turn up in the text, but he never does, just a fly buzzing around the priest. A dying priest who writes poetry and criticism and enjoys the benefits of Chilean literary society under Pinochet. He makes the sign of the cross and at the same time ignores what is going on around him. He secretly teaches Pinochet and his military leaders about Marxism, knowing they are going to use this knowledge to oppress leftists. His compassion for the poor is just a ritual. Mostly he is disgusted by them. But he sometimes says he admires Neruda (but not for his politics for a poetic phrase or stance) and a critic he calls Farewell, another compromised human being who advocates high culture writing and socializing. In the tunnels in the basement of all this high thinking and elitism, there is a secret. We come to realize that the wizened youth knows this secret and he’s been tormenting the priest with his knowledge and writings. As the priest tunnels down through his memories, never really looking deeply into the rooms around him (but the reader gets the idea that something isn’t right in all of his rooms) and finally under the house where the literati meet there is a room with a naked man, tied up and suffering from torture. Religion, high culture and the military join hands to oppress, murder and destroy.

Another Fantastic Bill Kushner Poem

IT’S SOMETIMES A LANGUAGE

It’s sometimes a language that when you hear it
you think oh I’ve heard that. You may even think
you too could speak it, just repeat after me. You
may even think you understand it, well of course
I understand it. It’s when you’re on the sidelines
I mean on the wrong side no not even that you’re
just like a tiny listener standing sideways listening.
So don’t get too wet and upset about it, but that’s
just me talking in that language, or pretending to be
talking in that language and don’t I just sound smart?

“People don’t do things like that,” he would say,
chewing fast. Inhaling his wisdom, I sat at his feet
and listened, him wet paint splattered pure red, “I
got these great lists, kid, I got all these lists, alls of
do’s and don’ts and alls mostly don’ts, great don’ts,
and so don’t get all screwy, not to do.” Him jumping
like high up to heaven and then down and all the while
talking, are you one of them talkers, huh, too? “Like
think of Madonna, mother and child, and how trembling
they came to the window looking out over vast Wicked
City, and then turned back, and I mean they turned back.”

Me, I still sat as a thief at his feet and I listened, chewing
on air, dreamy as one. “People don’t walk, kid, like that,”
into Motel 8 round midnight, as if who gives a flying
you know, “my way or the highway,” and so there I was,
and such as I was, poor little Mr. Scarecrow, thumbs out,
and no ride for miles, “mmm,” licking it up. So he wrote
on my feet, “Careful, dreamboy.” We who walk around
moaning, bumping against all these earth things, the hush,
the mush. “I don’t require much,” I told the nice therapist,
who then told his wife, who then told her puppy, Lucky.
“Lucky,” she’d whisper, holding him to her and stroking
his trembling fur. He said there was no future for such a
one as me, and then he bit me hard, hard enough to draw
blood, it came out like red words red, and him licking it up.

Bill Kushner 10/2/07