Poet’s Nook: ‘The Judges’ by Pablo Neruda

Children living and working in the, literally, garbage hill ...


In high Peru, in Nicaragua,

throughout Patagonia, in the cities,

you’ve had no rights, you’ve nothing:

cup of misery, America’s

abandoned child, there’s no

law, no judge to protect your land,

your little house with corn.


When your chiefs came,

your masters, by now forgotten

the ancient dream of talons and knives,

the law came to depopulate your sky,

to seize your revered fields,

to debate the rivers’ water,

to steal the kingdom of trees.


They testified against you, stamped

your shirts, stuffed your heart

with leaves and papers,

buried you in cold edicts,

and when you awakened on the edge

of the most precipitous calamity,

dispossessed, solitary, vagrant,

they gave you jail, bound you,

shackled you so that swimming

you couldn’t escape the water of the poor,

so that you’d drown kicking.


The benign judge reads you clause

number Four Thousand, Third Paragraph,

the same used in the entire

blue geography liberated

by others like you who fell,

and you’re instituted by his codicil

without appeal, mangy cur.


Your blood asks, how were the wealthy

and the law interwoven? With what

sulfurous iron fabric? How did the

poor keep falling into the tribunals?


How did the land become so bitter

for poor children, harshly

nourished on stone and grief?

So it was, and so I leave it written.

Their lives wrote it on my brow.

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