Once (Elena Huegel, Chile)

A poem from Elena Huegel

Two cups of tea, dissimilar,
            on a table set with simple beauty.

Plastic placemats,
            a strainer to fish the leaves that tint
                        the hot water in the bottom of the cup
                                    while waiting for boiling water to sputter forth from the kettle.

“Come in and share ‘once’ with me.
I have home-made, hand kneaded, leavened bread,
          still warm from the clay oven.”

A dignified Mapuche* hostess invites me
         when I visit her ruca* on the skirts of
                  the Villarrica Volcano.

Butter spread on the bread
        melts and runs down my fingers.
I savor a feast more exquisite than the
        delicacies on a king’s table.

I am huinca*, invader, foriegner, of the race that conquers.
And I am hungry.
          Hungry for a smile.
                   Hungry for welcome.
                              Hungry for home.

I came into your house and you received me.
   I came to your table and you fed me.
      I came at tea time, and you served me.

And on lonely afternoons,
          when I am far away from southern stars,
          and longing squeezes out tears,  the salts of memories,
          and the cacophony of voices
          selling, buying, demanding, pleading, insulting
          compete to trap my attention
          and deafen the song of my caged soul,
                    I close my eyes and jump the puddles
                    on the track that leads to Campo Alegre.*

In the rhythm of the drizzle I hear the singsong of your speech
inviting me and all who are hungry for peace in this land
          to come to the table
          to break bread, and
          to drink a cup of tea. 

Elena Huegel, a member of Iglesia Cristiana Ebenezer, Los Fresnos, Texas, serves the Pentecostal Church of Chile (IPC). She is an environmental and Christian education specialist.

*”Once” is what afternoon tea is called in Chile.
*The Mapuche, “people of the earth” are one of the original peoples of Chile.
*”Ruca” is the mapuche word for dwelling or home.  The ruca is usually a single room with a fire place in the middle.  The roof has a vent over the fireplace for the smoke.
*”Campo Alegre” literally means “Happy Fields” in Spanish.  It is the name of a Mapuche settlement in southern Chile at the base of the Villarrica Volcano.
*”Huinca” is a derogatory term in mapuche for the conquerors.  It is similar to the word “thief.”