This morning, I read the Pablo Neruda poem “I Explain a Few Things” whose first half includes the lines: “do you remember my house with balconies where / June light smothered flowers in your mouth? / Brother, brother! / Everything / was great shouting, salty goods, / heaps of throbbing bread.” Being inside that part of the poem felt almost too lush–the lilacs and poppies, the “lean face of Spain / like an ocean of leather,” the “dogs and children,” and especially the heaps of throbbing bread. I felt an almost ovewhelming scream growing inside me–mounful and hungry–then settle. The second part of the poem turns dark: “And one morning all was aflame / and one morning the fires / came out of the earth / devouring people / and from then on fire… / Come and see the blood in the streets!” At these lines, I could feel something else igniting in my chest, the anger that stops me from reading the newspaper and being present. My eyes burned, but I didn’t (couldn’t) cry.
I awoke today to our smoky, yellowy sky in Southern California. When I looked at my phone I saw images of the bay area (a place we used to call home) with an even more eerie sky: orange and apocolyptic. I listened to a few minutes of the White House Press Secretary spinning the latest lie and recognized a familiar ennui settle in between my shoulder blades.
You want to know the word that came into my mind when I was thinking about writing anything today? Elegy.
“I am going to tell you all that is happening to me,” Neruda writes at the begnning of his poem, which is about the longing for a time that has passed and the fury at the leaders who do not lead, who allow war to ravage a country and its people, and exile Neruda’s beautiful Spanish street to the past. I think a lot these days about how things that are happening to us are so often not what is happening around us. Around us are the familiar walls, the humming fan, the squeaky dryer, the glowing screens, the laughing children, day after day. Inside us is a kaleidoscope of feeling: the horror whirls, unspooled by our imaginations as we read the headlines (“the blood in the streets”), the hunger for heaps of throbbing bread and the clatter of crowded restuarants, this longing for bodies that despite what they may want to believe, rememeber exactly what we remember.
After reading the poem, I did some meditation. I allowed myself to sit in the presence of myself, enjoy her weight, relish in her softness and breathe into her belly a new feeling: hope. I’m choosing to allow what is happening around me to win this day, but never forgetting that what is happening to me is forever changing the valleys in my soul and mountains on fire in my mind.
I’m going to tell you all that happened to us in 2020, I will say to my daughter one day, but in order to understand you must first know comfort.