When Elvira Hernández began publishing poetry in the 1980s, the few pictures that appeared of her in literary supplements never revealed her entire face. A hand, an arm, a post, a leaf, a slightly out-of-focus photograph would interrupt the frame to conceal her identity. Whereas some of Chile’s most renowned poets—Gabriela Mistral, Pablo Neruda, Pablo de Rokha—chose unique pseudonyms difficult to forget, Hernández, whose birth name is María Teresa Adriasola, adopted a pen name that could easily get lost among the crowd. Far from an artistic pose or esoteric performance to gain attention, Hernández’s decision to remain unrecognizable speaks of the very real political persecution that swept through Chile and the Southern Cone during the 1970s and 80s. To write or make art in the asphyxiating environment of Pinochet’s 17-year dictatorship, in the midst of disappearances and exile, media complicity and a cultural blackout, implied an act of resistance, a conscious decision, despite the risks involved, to create dangerously, as Albert Camus and, later, Edwidge Danticat would say.
The three of them play cards in the dining room. This is the story. Nothing else. Collectively, they’re almost three hundred years old. They drink juice and laugh. Now one of them turns on a small radio, which plays “Autumn Leaves.”
Soaked students trudge with their arms wrapped around one another, some toward their apartments to scrub the liquefied tear gas from their clothes, some to the nearby bars to wash away the stains they’ve gained on their souls. I am holding my weapon tight in both of my hands.
The wet warning shots have had the desired effect, dispersing a crowd that gathered in front of the Teatro Universidad de Chile to protest for the third time in as many days. A graying caribinero whistles low, and one of the stray puppers that roam the sidewalks of the Alameda runs up to nibble at some chorizo the green-clad cop produces from the pocket of his vest. I check my firing mechanism and center the old man in my crosshair. I can’t get a good shot; civilians in the way.