Peregrine Nation: Poems about Travel and Displacement by Lucian Mattison

To survive the turbulent times, you have to appreciate and savour the small moments. Living in Santiago in 2011, social upheaval and teargas was constantly in the air. It didn’t seem like the ideal place for a timid northern European to be trying to eke out a living. Amid the chaos and violence brought about by student protests and the heavy-handed reaction of the authorities, I sought solace in games of football every Monday night with my mates.

We would play on the roof of a shopping centre in Bellavista de la Florida- foreigners versus Chileans usually (we’d win)- and then get the last metro back to the city centre for some beers at our favourite German Beer Hall. Once the pitchers and mountains of meat, aka chorrillana, had been cleared I’d walk home with my West Ham-supporting, American-Argentinian buddy Lucian, who lived on the street next to mine. The chats, the jokes, the street chicken we sometimes bought as we walked home along the peaceful midnight streets of the city are some of the most precious memories I have from my time in Chile.

I met Lucian in Santiago during orientation for the teaching placement programme we had signed up for and, pretty much straight away, I knew that he was my cup of tea: he was well travelled, funny, into (real) football and he was a creative thinker. I was a bit intimidated by his artistic talent, but in hindsight I think he helped to bring out my own talent for writing and art.

Early this year, I was delighted and not in any way surprised, to hear that he had written an award-winning book of poetry on his time in Santiago and his family’s home in Argentina. Peregrine Nation is a collection of works that focuses on physical place, home, and national identity, and how those elements can be explored within a person by seeing it being enacted by those around us. The following three poems are Lucian’s perceptions of the social tensions during our time in Santiago.

Canvas of Shields
– Santiago, Chile, 2012

Scarfed students throw sawed-
off plastic bottle halves
of turquoise, crack
carabineros on helmets, drip
celestial hues down plexiglas
shield partitions. Every soldier
is up to his knees in acrylic-
splatters of stars, splotch
of Pollux, mantled
cosmos over batons-
rainbow of No
cast across riot gear.
Masks weep onto olive drab,
bleed a city’s changing colors
from clothes to street, soldier
to art student, mouth
defiantly opening- distorted
metropolis, expressionist
uniform the new canvas.

“Canvas of Shields” reprinted from Peregrine Nation, winner of the 2014 Dogfish Head Poetry Prize, published by the Broadkill River Press, 2014.

September 11, 2013: Santiago, Chile
– 40 year anniversary of the Chilean coup d’etat

Two kilometers of students lie head
to toe in a line along the sidewalk
of a busy street. Backs the ground, they keep

an eye on the crowd of spectators.
Today, eleven minutes of silent demonstration
is time enough to make headlines, enough

time to ask that my northern half recognize
our invisible hand guiding the knife-
how we carved a wound in the Andes,

let people disappear before it was terror.
This human scar, out in plain sight, cuts through
the heart of the city, a single motionless line

of people from the Plaza Italia, downtown
to the Moneda palace steps, those same steps
where Allende was sh-

shot himself.
I realize, to those students streaked across
the pavement, even my voice has a double,

an emblematic bird and its dark shadow
that swiftly caresses their bodies from above.
My breath is the wind lifting the New World

vulture – just a whisper below the skin
of a cicatrix. I wish more of us could mourn
with them, but then again,

how are we supposed to remember a headline
that never made it in to our papers? We never
even needed to try to forget.

“September 11, 2013: Santiago, Chile” reprinted from Peregrine Nation, winner of the 2014 Dogfish Head Poetry Prize, published by the Broadkill River Press, 2014.

Neighborhood Protest of Liceo Hannover
Municipalidid de Maipu, Santiago, 2011

In a matter of days, avocados
fell from above, unripe, picked
from a nearby tree, and launched
over the school’s fence.
Fruit collected atop goal nets,
streaked viridescent across windows,
bruised aimlessly. Teachers
and parents gingerly picked them up
like defused grenades,
held them for all to see-
halt classes, demand the tree
be felled – as if the solution
were to extend a chain link
barrier up three meters
on all sides, and reopen the doors.

And for two days the fruit stopped,
and everything continued
as before, until one lunch
amplified into recess and store-bought
Pura Crema Palta rained down
overripe like gobs of green
pulp from a canopy line.
It was mythic- decaying fruit
materialized as if from prayer,
bursting neon on contact,
one hitting a thirteen-year-old
girl squarely in the eye,
her screams aimed at the nobody
that blinded her.

Teachers lifted her limp
body, held their hands over her
hands, pressed them to her face,
all these clenched fingers caked
as if stopping her green spirit
from leaking out of the wound.
Above the tears, insults cursing
the flaite trash that wouldn’t last
a day in private school, hung a veil
of awe – how these kids
still continued to fill their fists
with something like flowers,
and opened them again
to reveal grists of bees-
how they scattered in the air
above everybody’s heads.

“Neighborhood Protest of Liceo Hannover” reprinted from Peregrine Nation, winner of the 2014 Dogfish Head Poetry Prize, published by the Broadkill River Press, 2014.