Friday, August 28, 2009

I (Want to) Like For You to Move!

I Like For You to be Still

I like for you to be still: it is as though you were absent,
and you hear me from far away and my voice does not touch you.
It seems as though your eyes had flown away
and it seems that a kiss had sealed your mouth.

As all things are filled with my soul
you emerge from the things, filled with my soul.
You are like my soul, a butterfly of dream,
and you are like the word Melancholy.

I like for you to be still, and you seem far away.
It sounds as though you were lamenting, a butterfly cooing like a dove.
And you hear me from far away, and my voice does not reach you:
Let me come to be still in your silence.

And let me talk to you with your silence
that is bright as a lamp, simple as a ring.
You are like the night, with its stillness and constellations.
Your silence is that of a star, as remote and candid.

I like for you to be still: it is as though you were absent,
distant and full of sorrow as though you had died.
One word then, one smile, is enough.
And I am happy, happy that it's not true.

That Pablo...

Is it cheesy and more than a little emo to have a favorite poet? Especially a tragic Latin American poet of the unrequited loving self-destructive variety? Every time I read one of Neruda's poems and get that twinge of empathy I feel a little like someone who weeps at opera and fight the urge to slap some of the sensitivity out of myself, but in the end, it still gets me.

At one point in life, I read this and thought it was the most beautiful thing; the thought that a simple gesture from a romantic love could, in the midst of a void, swell into this crescendo of sheer joy that rescues you in glowing affection, and in some ways I still view the poem that way. In the context of everyday life with all of its cold, hard edges a smile or an unexpected expression of tenderness can be more meaningful than the most elaborate romantic plans.

But with some experience, I now view a darker side to what Neruda wrote. And I guess in the context of his life it makes a little sense. I mean, let's face it, Neruda is saying he likes to imagine his lover dead. Not much of a Valentine's Day card, is it? He's saying he likes to think of his relationship at the absolute apogee of despair. He makes himself imagine his love in the bleakest terms so that the tiniest sign otherwise becomes as huge as salvation. This all makes for very romantic expression, but it sounds like quite the roller coaster to me. Essentially, what he's saying is that he's willing to imagine his love being completely unreflected in his lover so that he can taste the delicious feeling of being rescued from his morbid imagination.

As much as I find this reading of the poem to be far from what I would want in a relationship, I have to admit, I know a great number of people who have been guilty of this in relationships, myself, unfortunately, included. How often do we create problems where none really exists and test our partners for that gesture, that smile, that word so that we feel affirmed? The thing about it, and in the way Neruda has written this poem I get the sense that he would know exactly what I'm talking about, is that simple gesture becomes addictive; once we've experienced it, we have to have that intoxicating feeling of reassurance. Neruda even says it at the end of the poem. He's happy, but not because the woman he is writing about loves him, but because she's not dead. Whatever he's built up in his head as the worst possible outcome is not true. But that feeling is just a fix, selfish even. The poem even echoes the fleeting salvation he feels. He spends the whole of the poem articulating how awful he's imagined things to be and then only gives one line to the joy of discovering they're not true. If the poem went on, he'd immediately have to start imagining things to be horrible again just to get back to that one brief moment of hollow satisfaction and, as I said before, it's not even happiness that he is loved by his partner. It's a hollow look alike for mutual love. Nothing about this is sustainable and what seemed romantic to me when I first read it seems dysfunctional now. And that's not even scraping the surface of what it must be like to be the one who is made to play dead all the time. Unfortunately, it also rings much truer to me than it did when I first read it.

Goodbye to all that. Thank you, Pablo, you're still my favorite poet, but I'd much rather commit to building something sustainable and real than wallow in imagining disaster in the hopes that the one I love will tolerate me imagining her dead so she can suddenly rescue me from despair. Maybe it doesn't make for world class poetry, but I bet it lasts longer.


Rachel said...

I heart your writing. You would have faired well at Bread Loaf.

An American in Aland said...

Just decided to check your blog for the first time in a minute and was excited to see all these entries! I love your take and reflection on Neruda's poem. I think you're right--we are all guilty of treating our relationships in this way at times of vulnerability and insecurity. It was nice to read this and recognize that tendency and its fallibility.

Have you ever read any Sherman Alexi? I think I may have asked you that before. He's one of my favorite poets. He's not as much of a writer on love as Neruda (and god love Neruda for that) but his poems/short stories/novels focus on life as a Native American raised on a reservation. His poems are both hilarious and tragic.

I know we are all looking forward to you getting home! Take care and keep on writing--you are as entertaining as ever!