They had cut off Route 68, the artery between Valparaíso and Santiago, and the poet arrived an hour and a half late to his poetry reading, the post-reading discussion already in full swing. Incendio, solidaridad, our hearts go out to the people, on the lips of the gathered. They let him read anyways, because how could he have known that a potentially deadly forest fire in the hills would keep him so long from the patiently listening gathering on a patio as the sun set and a breeze picked up?
The breeze now a gusty wind, neighbors converged in the 7th-floor hallway, clumped around a window facing the flames menacing their way towards Viña del Mar. Pyromaniacs they are, smokophiles, lighting up a cigarette as they watch the muddy orange light of the forest fire consume in the distance. Spectacle.
The next dawn is born pale and ruddy, a strange mixture of dampened and vivid, as the new sun bumbles and creaks itself through the settled haze. It is spectacular, and in the same breath, very very frightening. Calls, texts and emails come in from friends flung wide. Are you ok? they ask.
The north is a desert, they say, and the south a great green swath. But Valparaíso is going to run out of water, and Valle del Elqui has had its tierra firma stripped right out from under it. And 2 people are killed, and 11 times that disappeared. And even though they are drowning drowning drowning in brown agua, there is none to drink.
The ozone has a new hole, they say. Even the flowers wither under the radiation, beamed to a shrivel. Aborted, they say. We’re not even limiting ourselves to skin cancer anymore. We’ll pay not just in aloe vera, but expensive fruit, too.
The ground wobbles, jiggles and opens up. And while the temblores may shake me here, they don’t scare me, not like the fire that kills, the water that suffocates, the air that steals precious life.
As the tremor rocks me gently in my bed at night, I shake not for an earth performing its habitual calisthenics, but for us, a people not taking care of their home nor themselves. And when I awaken to a red sun rising, seagulls cavorting carelessly, I am reminded of the balance we hold, that we aren’t the only ones with something to lose. And sometimes, I get sad and hopeless feeling, and then, on good days, I remember all of the people who are really trying to confront this climate thing. The injustice thing. And they are the ones who give me back a piece of hope that, even as the forests rise in smoke, the hills keen in muddy inundations and the ozone dissolves in a ragged patwork, we don’t have to, should not, grow accustomed to this new abnormal. That we’ve got [to] fight.