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To wash clothes on a saturday afternoon
Poem by Liliana Ancalao, Translated from Spanish by Seth Michelson

to wash clothes on a saturday afternoon

among the workers shot during the rural strikes of 1920 and 1921 there were surely
indigenous men who forty years earlier had freely roamed the southern territories

the peasants
as they were called
asked for saturday afternoon

to wash clothes
those whom we’d today call
the indigent
williches pikunches
abonikenk shelknam
yagan kaweskar
and also
the kamolifunche

forty years later

they asked to be wentru
despite the fences

always affable
they weren’t told
nor yes
to their request
to the breezy windows
of the closed washroom
opening the breast with a clean sigh
and carrying the scent of corrals
over them
like soapy water could
on saturday afternoons
on the patio of the estate

a breath of air

without the owners
as we now should name
the very rich

they weren’t told no
though the busiest
caused the military to appear
and they weren’t given
time to wash their faces or their hair
in water that should’ve run to their feet
on saturday afternoons
to wash their underwear
scabs off fists
grime from collars
from backs

to escape the wool cycle
for a stint
the calving
the castrating of lambs
and the branding of ears with the owner’s symbol
the clearing of eyes
the shearing
the bundles of wool rising to the ceiling

they didn’t have
the benches they’d requested
to sit on
to rest their bodies
converse in circles
or silence

and in such places
of fenced-in distances
amidst the immensity of plantations
they requested
no human be condemned

as unequal
in exchange for returning
to produce profits

so they were tied up
like their relatives had been
forty years prior
back in chubut
in sacamata’s corral
like animals
the obedient soldiers
of the very rich

they weren’t told no
nor yes

to becoming wentru again
for the briefest stint
on saturday afternoons
by washing

they asked only
not to be alone in their posts


were the answer
of the obedient soldiers
to the most daring peasants
who first were stood up
in rows
like the fence posts
and targeted
for oblivion

then fell
bloodied shirts
that no soap could scrub clean on a saturday afternoon

and the rush of pain returns
it returns



A leading Mapuche poet, Liliana Ancalao was born in 1961 in what is today Argentina. She also Works with the Mapuche community group Ñamkulawen to advance Mapuche culture, and she is a retired high school literatura teacher. She has published the books of poetry Tejido con lana cruda and Mujeres a la intemperie-pu zomo wekuntu mew, as well as a book of essays and poetry titled Resuello-neyen. She has been widely anthologized internationally in books on Mapuche poetry, Argentine poetry, and indigenous poetry, and her work has been trasnlated in English and French.



Seth Michelson is an award-winning poet, translator, and professor of poetry. He has published fourteen books of original poetry and poetry in translation, and he also edited the bilingual-Spanish poetry anthology Dreaming America: Voices of Undocumented Youth in Maximum-Security Detention (Settlement House, 2017), with all proceeds from its sale going to the incarcerated youth. He currently teaches the poetry of the Americas at Washington and Lee University, where he founded and directs the Center for Poetic Research.



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