Friday, September 25, 2009

Oh, So Long Ago - Senor Neruda's Memoirs (Poem)

That homage to Hopper's art I mentioned in any earlier post impelled me to dig out an old poetry manuscript, "The Provocation of Goodbyes". Written in 1977-78, about two years after I'd graduated from Vassar College, where I'd been reading a lot of the so-called "Confessional Poets" and wondering where my ivory-tower education was going to take me, the manuscript includes 7 homages or dedications: to dancer-choreographer Isadora Duncan, the painter Matisse, the composer Frederic Chopin, the painter Pablo Picasso, magical poet Pablo Neruda (I used to be able to read him in Spanish), and poets Anne Sexton and Robert Lowell.

Kind of bold of me, don't you think, to be so young and write about these greats?

I have no idea if the poems in my manuscript are any good. I really didn't try to shop them around. And, some of them, I still like, a lot. But, as I said, Glynn's poem about Hopper's painting got me to thinking. . . So, here's one poem I've unearthed from the manuscript. Please don't be shy about telling me what you think of it. (Note: Forgive my inability to find the character that goes over the "n" in Senor. Always, the way poems look on the page matters to me a lot. I couldn't duplicate here how the poem looks in the manuscript, where I laid it out over 6 pages.)

Senor Neruda's Memoirs


Che Ernesto Guevara carried poems and pistols.
Neruda's cantos ran with his blood
in a Bolivian jungle. They played like bullets
in the soldiers' backs.


Neruda said the closest thing to poetry
is a loaf of bread
or a ceramic dish
or a piece of wood lovingly carved.

So he poured his words
into the glass of another language
only some of the world speaks.

He gave light to the mines of Coquimbo.
Now they glitter like dew on a silver fish.

He left the smell of fresh ink and crisp paper
at the broker's, who traded his wife's voice
for a rainbow of lightning.

He melted the snow on broad-sided mountains
to water the dust on Santiago's tongue.

He found the blue of Chile's sky
in the bellies of volcanoes, its silence
in a guitar in Spain.

Neruda's the rush of roots
after a sudden breath

the warm tear on a face in love

the sound of adolescence missing a beat.


The sea could rise above him;
the wind make of him a sail.

Too young he was
for the blackness of his dress,
the year climbing to its close.

But when asked,
the poet shaped in the man
remembers a ride on an empty road
and the color of rain in his childhood
and the look of a long-necked swan
that would not sing when it died
heavy in his arms one undone afternoon.


Meanwhile, his name;
the time and place adventure traced.

This would be Neruda:

a diary of shorelines
a journey of borrowed phrases
a work of nights, alone/together

Habit his heart followed to a stranger's land.

In Paris people uncovered their heads
to feel the daylight of his words.

New York strung its darkness before him.
Stockholm made him an expensive diploma.

Later, medals marched across his chest
and men in high places
shook his hand like a walking stick.


The life of a poet is all a disguise.

In the eyes of a woman
Neruda is the ceremony of an open palm.


Neruda wove the gaps in his life
into tapestries he hung around the world.

In his own country they shimmer
like lies before the firing squads.

Copyright 1978 - 2009 Maureen E. Doallas
All Rights Reserved.


Glynn said...

This is amazing.

All through the 1980s and 1990s (and beyond), I discovered the Latin Americans -- Vargas Llosa, Garcia Marquez, Neruda, and so on. Reading them was like reliving my childhood in New Orleans (northern rim of the Caribbean culture). Children with pig tails? Ha! My aunts in New Orleans told stories just like that.

And then, here it is again. Very cool, Maureen.

L.L. Barkat said...

Just. Lovely. And. Haunting.

Joelle said...

I liked these images especially: "the wind make of him a sail" and people baring heads in Paris to receive the light of his words. Remembering the light I basked in singing a Neruda poem in Chile on a choir tour. Reading his poetry is a unitive experience, opening my soul to sense the oneness with All that always is. And your words here honor truly his spirit. Thank you.

Megan Willome said...

Keep writing, Girl, this is awesome!