I See Chile in My Rearview Mirror
By dark the world is once again intact, Or so the mirrors, wiped clean, try to reason. . . —James Merrill
This dream of water—what does it harbor? I see Argentina and Paraguay under a curfew of glass, their colors breaking, like oil. The night in Uruguay is black salt. I'm driving toward Utah, keeping the entire hemisphere in view— Colombia vermilion, Brazil blue tar, some countries wiped clean of color: Peru is titanium white. And always oceans that hide in mirrors: when beveled edges arrest tides or this world's destinations forsake ships. There's Sedona, Nogales far behind. Once I went through a mirror— from there too the world, so intact, resembled only itself. When I returned I tore the skin off the glass. The sea was unsealed by dark, and I saw ships sink off the coast of a wounded republic. Now from a blur of tanks in Santiago, a white horse gallops, riderless, chased by drunk soldiers in a jeep; they're firing into the moon. And as I keep driving in the desert, someone is running to catch the last bus, men hanging on to its sides. And he's missed it. He is running again; crescents of steel fall from the sky. And here the rocks are under fog, the cedars a temple, Sedona carved by the wind into gods— each shadow their worshiper. The siren empties Santiago; he watches —from a hush of windows—blindfolded men blurred in gleaming vans. The horse vanishes into a dream. I'm passing skeletal figures carved in 700 B.C. Whoever deciphers these canyon walls remains forsaken, alone with history, no harbor for his dream. And what else will this mirror now reason, filled with water? I see Peru without rain, Brazil without forests—and here in Utah a dagger of sunlight: it's splitting—it's the summer solstice—the quartz center of a spiral. Did the Anasazi know the darker answer also—given now in crystal by the mirrored continent? The solstice, but of winter? A beam stabs the window, diamonds him, a funeral in his eyes. In the lit stadium of Santiago, this is the shortest day. He's taken there. Those about to die are looking at him, his eyes the ledger of the disappeared. What will the mirror try now? I'm driving, still north, always followed by that country, its floors ice, its citizens so lovesick that the ground—sheer glass—of every city is torn up. They demand the republic give back, jeweled, their every reflection. They dig till dawn but find only corpses. He has returned to this dream for his bones. The waters darken. The continent vanishes.
From A Nostalgist's Map of America by Agha Shahid Ali, published by W. W. Norton and Company. Copyright © 1991 by Agha Shahid Ali. Reprinted by permission of W. W. Norton and Company. All rights reserved.