Featured poet: Ernesto González Barnert

Ernesto González Barnert (Temuco, 1978) is the author of the anthology Equipaje ligero [Traveling light] (2017), as well as the poem collections Cul de sac (2016), Playlist (2015), Trabajos de luz sobre el agua [Works of light on water] (2015), Coto de caza [Hunting grounds] (2013), Arte tábano [Gadfly art] (2010) and Higiene [Hygiene] (2007). He was awarded the Premio Nacional del Consejo del Libro (2014), the Premio Nacional Eduardo Anguita (2009) and the Premio de Honor Pablo Neruda from the University of Valparaíso (2007). He works as a film director and cultural organizer at the Fundación Pablo Neruda in Santiago de Chile.



Sometimes, drinking a beer on the balcony
at sunset, facing the Fiat auto shop
inaccurately called Piamonte,
half the public streetlamps light up
and the first machines turn off.
Letting down their guard, the workers
make three or four jokes about the runt.
My life’s been lived by someone else, I think
and this isn’t my poem, but his
as I look at the clock and she doesn’t show.
Maybe she’s with him, being me.
Those in overalls think I’m the rat:
the one who snitches on those
who work and who don’t,
and rocks in an old chair, not the one
who finishes his can knowing
there are none left in the fridge.
He who writes after months of silence:
My life is an immense frozen lake
where I don’t know if I’m above or below.
I’d like to make a perfect circle
but what if he’s the one saved?
The one who crushes a can with his foot
and puts it in a bag with those from yesterday
and the day before.

Knife grinder

It’s been a long time since
you’ve seen a stone do turns,
held up by a system of upright pulleys
shuttling smoothly
forward, back over the pedal,
honing the blade to a point.

You hear the whistle, so distinct
you’d recognize it straight away,
though you couldn’t say
just how it is, how it does it.
Did it ever wake you?
Later the glints came:
pretty things like lowering the price
for a woman in a hurry
to stab her husband,
to magically fill the pot.
Another love story where money
doesn’t permit a happy ending
and idiots show themselves as they are.

Women always know it,
something shines in their eyes.
Like when I wanted to use the knife
in stubborn attempts to cut the meat,
peel the tomato, slice the onion,
but my mother knew I’d cut myself
and mess up the lunch.
Sometimes I took it secretly to mutilate soldiers,
or plunge it over and over into the pine tree.
The scissors she used to trim logs
and uniforms were another story.
She made us Indian costumes
to play in the nearby pampa
or adjusted a skirt or secondhand top.

Everything was mended.
Now knives, things in general aren’t fixed.
We buy, we sell. We do what’s convenient.
The machine belonged to the knife grinder’s father.
(I haven’t talked with mine in a couple months.)
Sharpening he always knew how to go
low to high in pitch, and vice versa
do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-si, si-la-sol-fa-mi-re-do
though I can’t really explain how it is.
I never knew his name,
but I always called him señor.

— Translations by Jessica Sequeira