“Pinochet’s military dictatorship served as the staging ground for a neo-liberal reordering of the Chilean economy just at the time Reagan and Thatcher were evangelising the doctrine as an antidote to “failed” Communism.”

barrel of rifle pushed into pregnant belly
waves of norepinephrine and cortisol
cascade through mother and child.

topographies of fear
tiny and transcontinental
the young family crosses the Andes to Argentina
flies to Canada for “safer” lives

thirty-eight years later
fingerprints etch into brown terra cotta and white porcelain clay
kneading and rolling hundreds of ceramic cross-like, bone-like forms

painstakingly wrapped and shipped to Chile
for the installation of Return Atacama
i accompany Monica and twelve others along

Pinochet’s La caravana de la muerte
retracing Chile’s Andean spine
Ruta Cinco De Panamericana from Santiago to Calama

i am curiously moist, vulnerable
the vastness of the Atacama desert horizon
lifts the bone dry sky
draws me towards unseen stars

our group divides
performers walk toward the purple hills
shrink into
a cluster of black dots outlined by an ocean of white sand

like the smattering of black poster paint drops next to the “No”
“No CIA intervention in the Americas”
crudely brushed onto signboard

was it my mother helping me?
did I understand what was written?
do I understand now?

this most arid patch of land on earth
where relatives of the disappeared
still search for bone fragments

where astronomers search for un-seeable galaxies
where parched sands hold Chinchorro bodies
some preserved for over 7000 years

no longer a child with a poster-painted protest sign
no closer to comprehending
though aware of the ancestors crowding behind my shoulders

President Richard Nixon had ordered the CIA to “make the economy scream.”

squinting into binoculars
cross-hairs focused on the spray of black clad performers
evoking images of CIA trained military advisors

no longer able to pretend
i am not implicated

the performers draw near

carrying bone and flesh coloured forms
Monica
an armful of the broken, cross-like forms

clutched closely to her chest
opens her arms and heart to
this newly re-inhabited stretch of sand

a pyramid of the forms
grows at our feet
deposited by waves of performers

standing in for the generations of women
who searched for loved ones after war
we join in a circle around the forms

cradled between desert shards and stars
bearing witness