“Rebuild the Light”: Poems Against the Military Dictatorship in Chile

11/09/2023 |


On the 50th anniversary of the military coup that changed the history of the Chilean people, we publish seven poems written by women under the dictatorship

Jorge Ianiszewki

On a September 11th just like today, 50 years ago, military troops led by General Augusto Pinochet stormed La Moneda, Chile’s presidential palace, overthrew Salvador Allende, of Popular Unity (Unidad Popular), elected in 1970, and ultimately led to his death. The military dictatorship that ensued, from 1973 to 1990, was destructive: dozens of thousands of people were killed, disappeared, were persecuted, arrested, and tortured; public and community spaces were shut down and restricted by military violence; art and culture were censored; Indigenous peoples and peasants were forced out of their lands; in rural and urban areas, people’s lives became more precarious, and work, housing, and health conditions became increasingly worse.

The military dictatorship in Chile was part of a wave of authoritarianism, military intervention, and US imperialism over the Latin American region in the second half of the 20th century. Its trails remain across all these territories, in the lack of policies dedicated to memory, truth, and justice for the crimes committed under the dictatorship, and in the maintenance of an economic model based on profit, inequality, and subordination to transnational capital, militarism, the lack of rights, and the precariousness of life.

This is why the people of Chile and so many other parts of the Americas say today “never again!” and fight to change these marks from the past in the present and to build a radical people’s democracy. These are struggles that emerge in the present, including the 2019 social estallido, which demanded the resignation of the then president Sebastián Piñera, the end of neoliberal policies, rights for Indigenous peoples and women, and a new Constitution that was completely different from the one in force, which was drafted by the military regime. These are also struggles that are continuously built through resistance in the territories, with community organizing and proposed alternatives to reorganize life and society.

Today, September 11th, 2023, we publish at Capire seven poems written under the dictatorship by three Chilean women writers: Elvira Hernández, Teresa Calderón, and Eugenia Brito, authors of La Bandera de Chile (1991), Causas perdidas (1984), and Vía pública (1984), respectively. These books expose death, enforced disappearance, censorship, and forced disruption of the social fabric in Chile’s everyday life. These are also books that exercise new ways of saying, not saying, and articulating words and images in times of fragmentation. Through art that is not always linear, yet open to the unknown and the displacement of language, these artists go against silencing and express their rebelliousness and a collective desire for change and freedom.

The Chilean Flag is a foreigner in her own country
she doesn’t have ID
she isn’t majority
she is no longer recognized
the prolonged fasting has put death’s thumb upon her
the churches administer her last rites
the Legations’ party horn and sound of the trumpets

The Chilean Flag forces herself to be more than a flag


The Chilean Flag is ‘used as a gag

and that’s why surely that’s why

no one says anything’


The Chilean Flag declares two points
her silence

Elvira Hernández, translated by Alec Schumacher (La Bandera de Chile, 1991; The Chilean Flag, 2019)

Feats of Memory

There is a house,
a house
that shut
its doors.
It gradually
in the name
and grace
of the very same
This house
has abandoned
the hall
and didn’t leave
or ghosts
on the stairs;
not even
a splendor
of voices
in the servants’
offended in the shadow,
their right
to memory

This house
where there are no
climbing up
tangling up
the earth
where they
a d d u p.


They started to gather
deliberate words

they went in

through the door slot
where letters appear

now and then
when the house

Teresa Calderón (Causas perdidas, 1984)


Yesterday I called you
and my own shadow
answered the phone

Goodbye I said gently
and the street grew bigger and bigger
like the night

Your body struggles at the wall.
My room
cannot let you go
without hurting me

Haggard ghost from the dawn
Singing its own tango
standing and weeping
by the balcony of a woman
who is also a ghost.

Script of the disappeared

Rebuilding the light for those who will never see it again
the light that is born from them
sheltered light remaining in the
attic of the
crossed-out gaze
it is the reconstituted script of this death
not completed lived
as it comes back unfinished
to watch life from afar.

Script of upside-down thought in this subliminal facet
on the edge of any subverted chimera

Script of this attic and its dim
when the city, turned around its own offertory,
turns into sanctuary

From where glimmering dead emerge

Through the threatening glow of cactuses
their eyes gaze at the living with lust.
But there is more: they put big matt glass
to resist the crossing of defenseless
Challenging the color of the sun
with their piercing underground green
they flood the city.
Their ancient spring then grows
where the living submerge like an unrelenting

Eugenia Brito (Vía pública, 1984)

Introduction by Helena Zelic
Translated from Portuguese by Aline Scátola

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