The Swimming Pool

Martín Espada
Poet, Essayist, Editor & Translator

The Swimming Pool at Villa Grimaldi

                              Santiago, Chile


Beyond the gate where the convoys spilled their cargo

of blindfolded prisoners, and the cells too narrow to lie down,

and the rooms where electricity convulsed the body

strapped across the grill until the bones would break, 

and the parking lot where interrogators rolled pickup trucks

over the legs of subversives who would not talk,

and the tower where the condemned listened through the wall

for the song of another inmate on the morning of execution,

there is a swimming pool at Villa Grimaldi.


Here the guards and officers would gather families

for barbeques. The interrogator coached his son:

Kick your feet. Turn your head to breathe. 

The torturer’s hands braced the belly of his daughter,

learning to float, flailing at her lesson.


Here the splash of children, eyes red

from too much chlorine, would rise to reach

the inmates in the tower. The secret police

paraded women from the cells at poolside,

saying to them: Dance for me. Here the host

served chocolate cookies and Coke on ice

to the prisoner who let the names of comrades

bleed down his chin, and the lungs of the prisoner

who refused to speak a word ballooned

with water, face down at the end of a rope.


When a dissident pulled by the hair from a vat

of urine and feces cried out for God, and the cry

pelted the leaves, the swimmers plunged below the surface,

touching the bottom of a soundless blue world.

From the ladder at the edge of the pool they could watch

the prisoners marching blindfolded across the landscape,

one hand on the shoulder of the next, on their way

to the afternoon meal and back again. The neighbors

hung bedsheets on the windows to keep the ghosts away.


There is a swimming pool at the heart of Villa Grimaldi,

white steps, white tiles, where human beings

would dive and paddle till what was human in them

had dissolved forever, vanished like the prisoners

thrown from helicopters into the ocean by the secret police,

their bellies slit so the bodies could not float.


From The Trouble Ball


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