IMAGE: Paz - Justicia - Libertad / Peace - Justice – Freedom. Chilean arpillera, Anonymous, 1970s. Photo Colin Peck. ©Conflict Textiles.


				For Marjorie Agosín

They met in hospitals, morgues and courtrooms:
the women in search of their loved ones,
knocking at the soundproofed perspex windows
in wall after wall of lies.

There were no disappeared.
Only the unmarked graves in Santiago’s cemetery
of those buried in the darkness of curfew.
No names to name and nothing to tell.

Stripped of their truths, like Philomena 
they chose to tell each story with their hands -
rose early to put in an hour with scissors and thread 
before readying the house for another working day; 

met weekly in Churches, hands clammy 
with the cold sweat of conspiracy and fear,
smuggling their stitched witness in closed umbrellas, 
tucked under coats, folded up sleeves. 

The vivid patch of grass in that garden scene 
is the sleeve of a daughter’s dress; the blue
of a son’s favourite shirt gives innocence back to a sky 
like the one where the sun shone the last time she saw him.
Their fingers craved knowledge of the missing  –
the texture of the clothes they wore, the brush of their hair,
the way an infant needs an absent mother’s smell
or the touch of her apron.

The women sewed and met and sewed.
They sewed and met and began to march,
wearing the same seasonless coats
since the moment of disappearance,

waiting to sew the last scrap of each life 
firmly into place.
Arpilleras are a popular art form in many South American countries. They are three-dimensional appliqué collages. During the Pinochet dictatorship, many Chilean women created them to depict the stories of the disappeared victims of the regime.