Monday, July 12, 2010


[Neruda's house in Isla Negra. Photo: Jon Wesick]


Model ships, ships in bottles, a boat he never sailed,
mounted fish, concrete seahorse, toy wooden whale,
black-and-white film of him with  newsboy cap and bulbous nose
examining with some rusty gear or carved figure from Bali,
portholes, astrolabes, brass ship’s compass,
the seashell collection he resumed after giving the first away,
Neruda once saw a plank drifting in the ocean.
“Here comes my desk,” he said.

What’s left of that Communist
who once fled over the mountains on horseback?
Beetles and butterflies, green ink stains,
wooden masks, narwhal tusk, Pinochet’s iron fist,
the colored drinking glasses that made water taste better.
I can almost see him leaning elbows on the zinc bar
Campari in hand.

Stirrups, penguin, steam locomotive – all iron and eccentric wheels,
ceramic cow, Lorca’s ghost, 2000 Spanish refugees,
pink Coro-Coro bird embalmed wings spread,
paintings of watermelons, Whitman, Matilde
with Karl Marx hidden in her hair, some tourist saying,
“Neruda, he was just a poet. Right?”

Just a poet, just a singer of the commonplace:
tuna, tomatoes, Valparaiso’s ramshackle tin roofs.
Just a voice for laborers and the poor:
fishermen, peddlers, the bum stealing beer
from an outdoor café. They now sleep
under the roof of his words
and dream like he did
of a fifth-floor heliport
gateway to the stars.

~ Jon Wesick

This poem appeared in the 2008 San Diego Poetry Annual.

“Neruda, he was just a poet. Right?” reminds me of this interchange concerning Shakespeare in "Shakespeare in Love": -- "Who's that?" "Oh, nobody. He's the author." 

One of the things I enjoy in this poem is the sudden appearance, in the listing of Neruda's collection, of Lorca's ghost, 2000 Spanish refugees, and Karl Marx in Matilde's hair. I especially admire the line, They now sleep / under the roof of his words.

Please note: Neruda's birthday falls on July 12! He was born in 1904. Like Borges during his lifetime, I didn't care for Neruda's politics, but that didn't mean that I didn't appreciate his poems.


I really like Jon's Isla Negra. Envy his going there. There's a wonderful book in the library with large-sized of photos of his home there. Here is an excerpt that goes with one of the photos:

Neruda on small objects he had collected—

they told me
many things, every thing.
Not only did they touch me
but they were bound to my life
in such a way
that they lived in me
and were such a living part of me
that they shared half my life
and will die half my death.

I'm sure Jon knows Chris Vannoy's poem "Neruda," which I think is his best.


Fires of birds
swim from the dust of his feet
and he tells me
the journey’s just begun

His socks lie warm
near my bed
next to the locomotives of steaming villages
in a pot of stones and blue sky

A stream of feathers and clocks
ask me where he has gone
I tell them
he is sleeping in libraries
between oranges and melons

I tell them
tomorrow he will walk
in countrysides of mirrors and dreams

When they find him
their mouths will be filled with canaries
a dance of bones
will whistle
when he is near

Chris Vannoy, from Soft Fists of Rain


Kathleen Gilroy sent a poem based on another photo of Neruda's house:



Where is this house, this pale blue house,
multi-paned windows un-curtained at last,
peering out toward the unknown welcoming ones . . .
the beloved persons who will gather pages
of newspaper sheets scattered about
like coverings from unkempt beds?

Where are those who will water front lawns again –
cover with grass seed dirt so sparse
it emits a surreal hum 
for layers of top soil, before new planting is done?

Where is the whisper, then the rhythmic tune,
of a broom moving bristles across concrete;
over the driveway, the sidewalk, the walkway . . .
up to the door?

All that’s inside ready to welcome the peering face
of someone polishing the side-cornered window
embellishing the front of the house, the waiting driveway,
the smile to another person just walking by?

Where is this house that offers a glimpse of
an expansive garage round back, a sidewalk there, too,
that promises entry, and a kitchen door that faintly
beckons the brush of wind . . .

telling me, in my mind-journey,
I invite you. Come visit. Come stay.
We both have a chance
for peace again.

        ~ C. Kathleen Elliott Gilroy July 13, 2010



I think a comment in the form of a poem is the best kind! Your poem is so poignant, so full of feeling. The music is wonderful. And of course Neruda would love the very fact that his house inspired a lovely poem.

My favorite stanza – because it’s so sensory:

Where is the whisper, then the rhythmic tune,
of a broom moving bristles across concrete;
over the driveway, the sidewalk, the walkway . . .
up to the door?

But I love the whole magic of imagining being invited into the house. And note that it's not a house in heaven, where all our tears are to be wiped away, and there will be sidewalks of gold . . .  No. This is a house here on earth, a house requiring upkeep, cleaning. The driveway and the walkway require sweeping; the windows must be cleaned, the scattered newspaper pages removed from the floor. The speaker imagines someone doing those tasks lovingly. This is not a house in heaven, but here on earth, an ordinary house waiting to be transformed into a portion of earthly paradise by the care and affection of the "beloved persons" who are to live there and invite the speaker to join them, to live in peace with them. 

Looking at the second photo of Neruda's house, I get the sense the tranquility and harmony that Kathleen's poem evokes. Someone lovingly placed all those bottles and vases on shelves in the window. Periodically, the collection needs to be dusted. This is done not as a resented chore, but as an act of love, so that visitors can be enchanted. Lived in harmony, life becomes an exchange of gifts, be they as small and yet important as a smile at someone just walking by.


1 comment:

  1. I agree. This is a fine poem and it makes me want to visit his home. I remember Jon reading it and my reaction then is somewhat the same as now. It is rich with details. But I'd like for the poem to start at a different place. The lists almost get by too fast and the items need to be savored. What if Jon started with the like Neruda once saw... Then, other stanzas could be played with and moved around.
    I'd like to get a sense of the building's structure, the rooms, the space. Perhaps feel the wind from the sea coming through the open window. How can he put the reader in the house? Phrases like "a boat he never sailed" add a break from the list form and enhance the poem. More departure might add another a layering of more curious details about Neruda - the man and poet. And we don't know who the voice is sighting the collections. All of a sudden the tourists seem thrown in later in the poem and the reader suddenly realizes that the speaker may be one of them. Or is he a journalist? We don't know. This a commentary type of poem but I'd like to know who the speaker is early on. I think it would be interesting if we knew that this was a poet visiting Neruda's house. In the last stanza there is a missed opportunity for us to know that Neruda was also a singer of LOVE (one of the best in my opinion) though he also sang of the "commonplace." And where is his amazing collection of "ship heads." They once leaned from the wall imposing themselves on the room. I've seen photos of his home with those and they were large carved sculptures of mermaid women. Or was that a different house? I know at one point his house was raided and I hope those didn't disappear. There is a photo book about Neruda that you can get from the library. It's a treat.