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Posts Tagged ‘Ode to the Book’

Announcement of Neruda readingI got a call on Friday asking if I would be one of seven bilingual speakers to present dramatic readings of Pablo Neruda poetry and views of his political life. “Si, como no,” I said (although afterwards I worried that “dramatic readings” were a second cousin to slam, which, as I’ve noted before, I don’t do).

The readings will take place in mid-June. I’ll receive the poems and scripts soon and can begin working on them and meeting with the director of the production as well as the other readers. Tengo un poco miedo now that I’ve signed up to do this. Too bad I can’t read them in Spanglish.

I have to admit, I’m not particularly smart when it comes to Neruda. My first truly serious boyfriend, someone I lived with for five years and considered marrying, gave me a collection of poems by Neruda. I don’t recall Neruda’s poems as much as I remember the significance of a man giving me Neruda poems. It was the first time I was in love. Everything was a sign.

I remember the two of us, me and my boyfriend, sitting on the edge of Albuquerque’s west mesa desert where it overlooked a canyon. There were old cars at the bottom that looked like they’d been pushed over the edge. Washing machines and refrigerators, too. The kind of place where someone could dispose of a body and get away with it. The clouds were forming into figures; we were stoned. “There goes a moose,” I said, “can you see the antlers?” “Yes,” he cried. He saw everything I saw, and I honestly thought that was what people meant when they talked about true love. 

Then the clouds turned dark and before you knew it we were caught in one of those New Mexico thunderstorms that scares you to death, where you think you’re going to get hit by lightning because there’s nothing out there taller than you. And in that way your mind can play tricks when you’re stoned, I believed the clouds were angry imps telling me this relationship was doomed. One minute perfect, the next doomed.

The relationship ended, not because of that episode or anything in particular except for the fact I was completely afloat during that time in my life. I was always looking for what things meant. That he gave me a collection of poems foretold a sort of soulmate union, which thunderheads later told me to end. I never revisited Neruda after the relationship ended. I took off to Spain to find myself and for over a decade ran into a sort of fallow period as far as it came to poetry.

This weekend I looked up Neruda on the web. The first poem I came across was the one below. Maybe I’m still stuck on signs but it sure seemed to portend something important. A kind of message about life. How books are everything yet nothing. There’s only so much you can get out of a book, it seemed to say. You have to live to write.

What do you think? What does this poem say to you? What can you tell me about Neruda that might help me prepare for my dramatic reading of his words?

Ode to the Book
translated by Nathaniel Tarn

When I close a book
I open life.
I hear
faltering cries
among harbours.
Copper ignots
slide down sand-pits
to Tocopilla.
Night time.
Among the islands
our ocean
throbs with fish,
touches the feet, the thighs,
the chalk ribs
of my country.
The whole of night
clings to its shores, by dawn
it wakes up singing
as if it had excited a guitar.

The ocean’s surge is calling.
The wind
calls me
and Rodriguez calls,
and Jose Antonio–
I got a telegram
from the “Mine” Union
and the one I love
(whose name I won’t let out)
expects me in Bucalemu.

No book has been able
to wrap me in paper,
to fill me up
with typography,
with heavenly imprints
or was ever able
to bind my eyes,
I come out of books to people orchards
with the hoarse family of my song,
to work the burning metals
or to eat smoked beef
by mountain firesides.
I love adventurous
books,
books of forest or snow,
depth or sky
but hate
the spider book
in which thought
has laid poisonous wires
to trap the juvenile
and circling fly.
Book, let me go.
I won’t go clothed
in volumes,
I don’t come out
of collected works,
my poems
have not eaten poems–
they devour
exciting happenings,
feed on rough weather,
and dig their food
out of earth and men.
I’m on my way
with dust in my shoes
free of mythology:
send books back to their shelves,
I’m going down into the streets.
I learned about life
from life itself,
love I learned in a single kiss
and could teach no one anything
except that I have lived
with something in common among men,
when fighting with them,
when saying all their say in my song.

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