weekend-readsTwo Poems from Residencia en la Tierra (1925-31)

Pablo Neruda

Translated from Spanish by Lewis Hyde

Dead Gallop

     Like ashes, like seas breeding into themselves,
in the sunken slowness, in the formless,
or the way one hears from high up on the roads
the strokes of a bell crossing in a cross,
having that sound already separate from the metal,
confused, acting heavy, working itself to dust
in the same grinding place of forms so far away,
or remembered or not seen,
and the aroma of the plums that rolling to the ground
are rotting in time, infinitely green.

     All of that going so fast, so lively,
but still not moving, like an idle wheel spinning on itself
those wheels in motors, that is.
Existing like the dry stitches on the seams of a tree,
quieted, all over the place, in such a way,
all the limbos mixing up their tails.
That is, where to? or from? or on what shore?
The ceaseless, uncertain spinning, so silent,
like the lilacs all around the nunnery,
or when death comes to the tongue of an ox
who falls headlong (look out!) and his horns want to blow.

     So therefore, in the motionlessness, stopping oneself, looking around,
then, like an immense fluttering of wings, overhead,
like dead bees or numbers,
aw, that thing my white heart cannot enclose,
in great numbers, in tears that barely seep out,
people trying so hard, miseries,
black deeds suddenly uncovered
like frost, huge disorder,
sea-like, for me who comes in singing
as if carrying a sword among unarmed men.

     OK then, what is it makes up this rising of doves
that runs between night and time like a wet ravine?
That sound that’s gone on so long
that it falls scattering stones on the road,
or better, when only one hour
suddenly starts growing and keeps on growing forever.

     Inside the ring of summer
one time the huge gourd-plants pay attention—
stretching out their compassionate leaves—
out of that, out of the thing that needs so much from itself,
out of the fullness, plants darkened with heavy drops.

The Widower’s Tango

     Oh Maligna, now you’ve found the letter, now you’ve cried with rage,
and you’ve insulted the memory of my mother,
calling her a rotten bitch and the mother of dogs,
now you’ve drunk the afternoon tea alone, lonely,
staring at my old shoes, empty forever,
and now you can’t recall my illnesses, my night dreams, my meals,
without cursing me out loud as if I were still there
complaining about the tropics, about the corringhis coolies,
about the poison fevers that hurt me so much
and about the dreadful Englishmen, whom I still hate.

     Maligna, the truth, what an immense night, what a lonely earth!
Once again I’ve come to lonely sleeping rooms,
to eating my cold breakfast in restaurants, and once again
I throw my pants and shirts on the floor,
my room has no coat racks, no portraits of anyone on the walls.
How much of the shadow that’s in my soul I would give to have you back,
and how threatening the names of the months seem to me
and how the word winter sounds like a sorrowful drum.

     Later you’ll find, buried by the coconut palm,
the knife I hid there for fear you’d kill me,
and now, suddenly, I’d like to smell its kitchen steel
accustomed to the weight of your hand and the shine of your foot:
under the dampness of the earth, among the deaf roots,
of the human languages only that of the poor could know your name,
and the heavy earth doesn’t understand your name
made out of impenetrable, divine substances.

     This is how it hurts me to think of the clear day of your legs
resting like suspended and firm water from the sun,
and the swallow that lives in your eyes, sleeping and flying,
and the dog of rage that you shelter in your heart,
and this is also how I see the dead who are between us from now on,
and I breathe the air made of ashes and ruins,
the long, lonely space that surrounds me forever.

      I’d give this wind from the gigantic sea for your rough breathing
heard in the long nights without a trace of forgetfulness,
uniting itself with the atmosphere like the whip on the horse’s hide.
And just to hear you pissing in the dark at the back of the house,
as if you were spilling a thin, trembling, silvery, insistent honey,
how many times I would deliver up this chorus of shadows I possess,
and the sound of useless swords that can be heard in my soul,
and the pigeon of blood that’s all alone on my forehead
calling for things that are missing, missing people,
substances strangely inseparable and lost.

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