Missionarying was a better thing in those days than it is in ours. All you had to do was to cure the head savage ´s sick daughter by a miracle- a miracle like the miracle of Lourdes in our day, for instance- and immediately that head savage was your convert, and filled to the eyes with a new convert ´s enthusiasm. You could sit down and make yourself easy now. He would take the ax and convert the rest of the nation himself.
One of the greatest tragedies in my life is my deafness, for it's been over twenty years now since I've been able to hear notes. When I listen to music it's as if the letters in a text were changing places with one another, rendering the words unintelligible and muddying the lines. I'd consider my old age redeemed if my hearing were to come back, for music would be the gentlest opiate, calming my fears as I move toward death. In any case, I suppose the only chance I have for that kind of miracle involves nothing short of a visit to Lourdes.
It seems that, after nineteen centuries of extraordinary glorification, the small Host for which so many cathedrals have sprung up, the small Host that has rested in millions of breasts and that has found a tabernacle and worshippers even in the desert - it seems that the triumphant Host of Lourdes and the Eucharistic Congresses of Chicago and Carthage remains as unknown, as secret as when it appeared for the first time in a room in Jerusalem. Light is in the world as in the days of St. John the Baptist, and the world does not know it
Over the years, my church gave me passage into a menagerie of exotic words unknown in the South: "introit, " "offertory, " "liturgy, " "movable feast, " "the minor elevation, " "the lavabo, " "the apparition of Lourdes, " and hundreds more. Latin deposited the dark minerals of its rhythms on the shelves of my spoken language. You may find the harmonics of the Common of the Mass in every book I've ever written. Because I was raised Roman Catholic, I never feared taking any unchaperoned walks through the fields of language. Words lifted me up and filled me with pleasure.
I paid the taxi driver, got out with my suitcase, surveyed my surroundings, and just as I was turning to ask the driver something or get back into the taxi and return forthwith to Chille¡n and then to Santiago, it sped off without warning, as if the somewhat ominous solitude of the place had unleashed atavistic fears in the driver's mind. For a moment I too was afraid. I must have been a sorry sight standing there helplessly with my suitcase from the seminary, holding a copy of Farewell's Anthology in one hand. Some birds flew out from behind a clump of trees. They seemed to be screaming the name of that forsaken village, Querquen, but they also seemed to be enquiring who: quien, quien, quien. I said a hasty prayer and headed for a wooden bench, there to recover a composure more in keeping with what I was, or what at the time I considered myself to be. Our Lady, do not abandon your servant, I murmured, while the black birds, about twenty-five centimetres in length, cried quien, quien, quien. Our Lady of Lourdes, do not abandon your poor priest, I murmured, while other birds, about ten centimetres long, brown in colour, or brownish, rather, with white breasts, called out, but not as loudly, quien, quien, quien, Our Lady of Suffering, Our Lady of Insight, Our Lady of Poetry, do not leave your devoted subject at the mercy of the elements, I murmured, while several tiny birds, magenta, black, fuchsia, yellow and blue in colour, wailed quien, quien, quien, at which point a cold wind sprang up suddenly, chilling me to the bone.