Dear Pablo Neruda,
They exhumed you on April 8th. Matilde will be furious. They cracked
wide your crypt and jimmied out your casket, just like they did to
Salvador Allende. There were reporters, television cameras, flashbulbs.
And the sickly scent of death – real or imagined – in the nostrils of
all present, lingering for weeks. Perhaps they’ll find that you were
poisoned, correcting the myth you died of prostate cancer – that blocked
old man’s disease.
Certainly in art you were not blocked. Truth is I hate you for being so prolific. As of 1968, your Obras Completas
boasted 3,237 poems. Everybody translates you. Everybody buys the slim
pink volume of your love poems. Men call you the Godfather of Love. I
don’t even know why I am writing you. I’m not that big a fan. There are
so many other poets – under-sung and under-read (and unexhumed) –
trampled by your flat-foot stomping across the public heart.
In school, it was nice to have my nakedness compared to one of my
hands (I feel more ladylike with you than with edward estlin, my hands
being so much bigger than the rain’s). I’ve always wanted to be lisa, terrestre, mínima, redonda, transparente.
You’re like the Billy Collins of Chile of your time – if he had had a
dictator to cross, a civil war to wail about. You both are impure poets.
You write of “flowers, wheat, and water” … “stained by food and shame”
and “wrinkles, observations, dreams” … “beasts, blows, idylls” and et
cetera. You both write with the “sentimentalism of another age, the pure
(“moonlight, the swan at dusk, ‘my beloved’”)
My bad taste cometh before my fall.
But you persist. You hold the reader’s hand.
Your cronies say “we aren’t romantic soloists on this sky island of earth.” But if not that then what were you?
It’s not that you didn’t say anything. It’s that you said so much.
You wrote an ode to everything. The darling of the lettered world.
I’m not excited by your words so much as comforted by them. They
sound like poetry sounds to anyone in elementary school – bland and
universally beautiful – trancelike – clichés cascading over river stones
– subjectless – the language barriers broken down.
Animals and elements we do not need to see to touch.
You are all sex, pastoral love, shadowy fish, and butterflies of
dreams. Breasts that smell of honeysuckle. And gunpowder and bells and
docks and trees. Leather oceans and multiplied tomatoes rolling down to
sea. It’s easy poetry. It flows now as it flowed from you. It’s
background music, words to be incanted in the background.
Yet, dear nonetheless, melancólico varón varonil, was it all
that simple? Did you not struggle? Did you not say you sometimes found
yourself somewhere between shadow and space (sombra, espacio).
Did you not labor just like everybody else to answer all those objects
knocking, struggling to be named? To get that first green petal of an
ode to show herself your sister?
You wrote a poem in just once sentence – as if running out of time
(or space, or breath). You spoke of absent thirst for the invisible
water, for wisps of sound to come out to your nascent ear, for Erato to
come begging for lo profético in you. Your translators don’t seem to understand the title – Arte Poética – or that here, finally, this (and maybe also in your ode to la pereza)
is where you confess to being just like every other writer grappling in
the darkness (blankness) of the empty page. Maybe you didn’t fuss too
much with words. But you surely wrassled images and sounds. You lassoed
ideas from the ether, then fumbled to identify them. Just like everybody
You weren’t quite so hubristic as I thought. You let yourself be seen
as a humiliated waiter, an old mirror, the smell of a house alone (not
lonely) that’s been strewn with drunken guests and piles of clothes. You
stayed up nights and let the wind whip through your chest and it was
You were Adam naming animals.
Making real from trembling abstract.
You were apportioned with that singular heart (or did you mean ‘unique,’ ‘unusual,’ ‘peculiar’? did you mean ‘endowed’?).
You were like a bell that’s gone a little hoarse. Your dreams were fatal too.
But, so wrote Jim Harrison, your poetry “always returns to earth.”
Always back to dust, enormous calabashes, plums in mouths.
Sometime late this summer, so will you.
Meghan Flaherty is an MFA Candidate at Columbia
University in Nonfiction and Literary Translation. She writes
memoir, translates poetry and prose from Spanish, and is currently
working on a book-length personal history of Argentine tango. Her
essays and reviews have appeared in Alchemy, Printed, Columbia: A Journal Of Literature and Art, The New Inquiry, and the Iowa Review. http://meghanbeanflaherty.wordpress.com/