Ode to Pablo Neruda
by a contributor
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 imperfect fruit.”
(“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 else.
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 melancholy, violent.
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/