Why do I want this man to stay beside my pillow?
My dog has died.
I buried him in the garden
next to a rusted old machine.
Some day I'll join him right there,
but now he's gone with his shaggy coat,
his bad manners and his cold nose,
and I, the materialist, who never believed
in any promised heaven in the sky
for any human being,
I believe in a heaven I'll never enter.
Yes, I believe in a heaven for all dogdom
where my dog waits for my arrival
waving his fan-like tail in friendship.
Ai, I'll not speak of sadness here on earth,
of having lost a companion
who was never servile.
His friendship for me, like that of a porcupine
withholding its authority,
was the friendship of a star, aloof,
with no more intimacy than was called for,
with no exaggerations:
he never climbed all over my clothes
filling me full of his hair or his mange,
he never rubbed up against my knee
like other dogs obsessed with sex.
No, my dog used to gaze at me,
paying me the attention I need,
the attention required
to make a vain person like me understand
that, being a dog, he was wasting time,
but, with those eyes so much purer than mine,
he'd keep on gazing at me
with a look that reserved for me alone
all his sweet and shaggy life,
always near me, never troubling me,
and asking nothing.
Ai, how many times have I envied his tail
as we walked together on the shores of the sea
in the lonely winter of Isla Negra
where the wintering birds filled the sky
and my hairy dog was jumping about
full of the voltage of the sea's movement:
my wandering dog, sniffing away
with his golden tail held high,
face to face with the ocean's spray.
Joyful, joyful, joyful,
as only dogs know how to be happy
with only the autonomy
of their shameless spirit.
There are no good-byes for my dog who has died,
and we don't now and never did lie to each other.
So now he's gone and I buried him,
and that's all there is to it.
Out of lemon flowers
on the moonlight, love's
lashed and insatiable
sodden with fragrance,
the lemon tree's yellow
from the tree's planetarium
The harbors are big with it-
for the light and the
of a miracle,
and a clotting of acids
into the starry
so the freshness lives on
in a lemon,
in the sweet-smelling house of the rind,
the proportions, arcane and acerb.
Cutting the lemon
leaves a little cathedral:
alcoves unguessed by the eye
that open acidulous glass
to the light; topazes
riding the droplets,
So, while the hand
holds the cut of the lemon,
half a world
on a trencher,
the gold of the universe
to your touch:
a cup yellow
a breast and a nipple
perfuming the earth;
a flashing made fruitage,
the diminutive fire of a planet.
A timeless voice
Why do I want this man to stay beside my pillow?
In one of those funny “Truth or Consequence” games in anniversaries or Christmas parties I became the “It”. Music was played and the players had to move around through a big circle and after several playful mock stops, finally the music was off and every player grabbed a partner. I failed to grab a partner so I was asked to choose between “Truth” or “Consequence”. I chose “Truth” and gave everybody a wink. The emcee asked this question: Who do you want to be beside your pillow at night? Without a thought, I barked: Pablo Neruda! Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto is his real name. He is a Chilean poet! The hall got rowdy and to restore the calm, I said: “Ok, I will tell you why I want this man to be near my pillow at night. Just near my pillow, I winked again. Listen everyone, please:
A Dog has died.............................>
Drum roll….Shouts of more more more…Then I read another poem by Neruda:
At gatherings where there is a possibility for sharing a small time performance, I bring a poem or two of my favorite poets and read poetry like all my life depends on it! Pablo Neruda is among my favorite ones. "Isla Negra", a Neruda collection written in Spanish and English has occupied the space beside my pillow for a long time and when I need the poetic fervor stirred in me, Neruda's poetry does the task. Here's a Neruda poem that makes hurdles on the road easier for me to overcome:
Canto XII from the heights of Macchi Picchu
Arise to birth with me, my brother.
Give me your hand out of the depths
sown by your sorrows.
You will not return from these stone fastnesses.
You will not emerge from subterranean time.
Your rasping voice will not come back,
nor your pierced eyes rise from their sockets.
Look at me from the depths of the earth,
tiller of fields, weaver, reticent shepherd,
groom of totemic guanacos,
mason high on your treacherous scaffolding,
iceman of Andean tears,
jeweler with crushed fingers,
farmer anxious among his seedlings,
potter wasted among his clays--
bring to the cup of this new life
your ancient buried sorrows.
Show me your blood and your furrow;
say to me: here I was scourged
because a gem was dull or because the earth
failed to give up in time its tithe of corn or stone.
Point out to me the rock on which you stumbled,
the wood they used to crucify your body.
Strike the old flints
to kindle ancient lamps, light up the whips
glued to your wounds throughout the centuries
and light the axes gleaming with your blood.
I come to speak for your dead mouths.
Throughout the earth
let dead lips congregate,
out of the depths spin this long night to me
as if I rode at anchor here with you.
And tell me everything, tell chain by chain,
and link by link, and step by step;
sharpen the knives you kept hidden away,
thrust them into my breast, into my hands,
like a torrent of sunbursts,
an Amazon of buried jaguars,
and leave me cry: hours, days and years,
blind ages, stellar centuries.
And give me silence, give me water, hope.
Give me the struggle, the iron, the volcanoes.
Let bodies cling like magnets to my body.
Come quickly to my veins and to my mouth.
Speak through my speech, and through my blood.
Many activists love Neruda’s poems but as far as I’m concerned it’s not just Neruda’s concern for justice that attracts me. It is his total love for beauty that seizes me by the arms. Listening to his poems of love, longing, loneliness, celebration, anger, trivia and anything about life makes me see myself in a child’s eyes of wonder watching the full moon, the sunset, the wilted grass, the stones on the highway…. anything like I am a child seeing things for the first time. When I first read his “Ode to a Lemon”, I immediately rushed to the kitchen to cut a lemon and enjoy the cathedral-like design of the two halves of the fruit. A simple subject as a lemon tackled by Neruda brings to a reader’s mind a world of beauty and introspection and thanksgiving.
If Gabriela Mistral, the poet who greatly influenced Neruda as a young poet, and Pablo Neruda were alive today and were in a TV talk show, they would certainly be asked the question: “Why are both of you Nobel laureates?”. The TV viewers could be having the poetic moment of their lives. What a treasure these two Chileans are!
Here’s a sample of Gabriela Mistral’s poem:
To See Him Again
Never, never again?
Not on nights filled with quivering stars,
or during dawn's maiden brightness
or afternoons of sacrifice?
Or at the edge of a pale path
that encircles the farmlands,
or upon the rim of a trembling fountain,
whitened by a shimmering moon?
Or beneath the forest's
luxuriant, raveled tresses
where, calling his name,
I was overtaken by the night?
Not in the grotto that returns
the echo of my cry?
Oh no. To see him again --
it would not matter where --
in heaven's deadwater
or inside the boiling vortex,
under serene moons or in bloodless fright!
To be with him...
every springtime and winter,
united in one anguished knot
around his bloody neck!
Pablo Neruda reading poetry
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