Our Endless Grief


Fifth Estate # 406, Spring, 2020

Catrillanca, Wounded Jewel,

your spirit rides through the ravaged

fields of Temucuicui.

Your head destroyed,

your spirit crushed

by the fickle language

of the powerful.

Tear gas whistles, flying

in your funeral procession.

Children, mothers, old people moan

no longer able to harvest

the Mapuzugun of their dreams.

The language of death has been unleashed,

brutality is the only recourse.

What will we give the children of the future,

the daughter of your blood,

those children fleeing alone

toward harsh underbrush?

Others cry and do not sleep

gravely injured by adults

safeguarding with guns

the Rule of Law.

Our endless grief

on the wet gray earth,

our endless pain

under the light of the sun.

But the song in our memory defends us,

but the tongue of the flowers,

but the rumbling of the rivers,

but flocks of Southern lapwings

announcing visitors

under the Southern rain.

¡Petu mongeleiñ, petu mongeleiñ!*

cry the mountains

that neither sleep nor plead.

We still exist, Catrillanca,

in the air of Wallmapu,

in the dance of Darwin’s rhea,

in the eyes of your daughter

now growing up next to the fire

waiting along with us for

justice to reign on earth.

*”Petu mongeleiñ” is a phrase in Mapuzugun meaning “We are still alive.”

—from the unpublished book Kawiñtun üyelüwün mew Ceremonia de los nombres
Translated by Cynthia Steele.

About “Our Endless Grief”

On November 14, 2018, Camilo Catrillanca, a 24-year-old Mapuche farmer and activist, was shot in the back of the head and killed by special forces of the Chilean police when they entered his farm in Ercilla allegedly in pursuit of car thieves.

Catrillanca died at the scene and a teenager riding with him was arrested and tortured. Catrillanca was unarmed, and subsequent revelations about the torture and police obstruction of the investigation, led President Sebastian Piñera to force the resignation of the police chief and ten other police commanders.

Jaime Huenún Villa is an award-winning Mapuche-Huilliche poet from Valdivia in southern Chile. His books include Ceremonias (1999) Reducciones (2013), and the forthcoming bilingual Cronicas de la Nueva Esperanza (Santiago LOM, 2020) in which this poem will appear. Two of his other books are also available in English translation: Port Trakl (Action Books, 2007) and Fanon City Meu (Dialogos/Lavendar Ink, 2018).

Translator Cynthia Steele is Professor Emerita of Comparative Literature at the University of Washington, Seattle. Her translations of other poems by Jaime Huenún Villa are forthcoming in Michigan Quarterly Review and Washington Square Review.