In 1928, he saw the same sky
that I saw in 2005. His sky was grey with
not smog-clouds. Cars hadn’t been around long enough
though I suppose it could have been coal ash
and factory soot, if he was painting in the city—
Santiago in 1928 had factories, and warehouses.
I stand at the top of Cerro San Cristóbal and wonder.
The swirls of grey collapse into the center
but there’s light like a smog-day in Santiago;
sometimes the snow-tips of the Andes will peek through
What you can’t see from Cerro San Cristóbal is the wind
and the blizzards
that make you kiss the earth. Not a playful wind, no summer storm
but real danger. You close your eyes in a storm like that
and pray you will be okay in the dark.
Es mal tiempo.
I have never been to Santiago in its summer, only mine, because
seasons are reversed. Perhaps they, too, have skies that are collapsing
Big Bang in miniature. The rooftop gardens will drink in creation
when it spills forth, to suck out poison from the air
and make grey clouds grey with water only
and not with cancer.
What do you think, Dale?
Could you paint Santiago in monochrome? It would be far away
from your nature, from the storm-skies and abstracts.
It would require hard edges.
What would it look like to paint cumbia in shades of grey?
Could you capture the Chilena spark, the way they dance
until the sun comes up, drinking cervezas and promising
Mas, mas, todo when it comes to music and food and life?
Maybe you would paint the Andes instead. Stand here, Dale.
At the top of Cerro San Cristóbal, with the shadow of the Virgin
falling over your canvas. See? When the sun comes up,
the mountains are rose-gold and milk. Maybe you could make
an exception, Dale, just this once. Maybe you could paint them in color,
save your blacks for the skyscraper forest of apartments
and office buildings
that clusters at the base of the mountains, children clinging
But then there’s the people. In a pale wash, there’s an
emotion lost. If you paint the Andes, Dale, you don’t see the man
balancing on one hand atop a garbage can
painted in silver, other hand holding out a flower.
A mi me encanta, Americana. Para you.
I pay him because I can’t help but pay him—my pesos give him joy
the way his flower gives me joy on the streets of a city
thousands of miles from home.
So maybe instead of the Sky Profile or the Andes
you can come with me to the tiny restaurant, where the abuela tells me
Estos empanadas son mejores—a mi te quiero—Love, I love
and passes over basket after basket of tiny, fragrant pastries
filled with shrimp and cheese.
Maybe when you see her face you could paint it in monochrome
because it’s just like the sky, collapsing in the middle
and yet there is such light.
Or maybe it’s you who sees it right, Dale, and everything
is a wash of grey. Not a grey that has no meaning
but a grey that holds every meaning. Because it’s not random,
your painting. It’s dark where it’s meant to be
and light where it’s meant to be
and even the momentary flashes of canvas through oil are 100% intention.
Santiago is like this, I think. From the top of the hill or the Andes
or down in street-markets where music throbs a beat that taps
your toes or your fingers along artisanal booths
where men say Ay, Ay, Americana, que te quieres? Te gustan?
Aquí, aquí and you buy three shawls made of alpaca wool
just because son magníficos, me encantan, everything is
meant to be.
Your painting carried me away, Dale, and Santiago
is my Emerald City. No colored glasses needed to
wash everything jade; leave the canvas blank for this one
and just feel the city sink into fingertips, toe-tips, the ends of your ribs
and the base of your skull.
A mi me encantan todos.