NERUDA'S  DEAD FLOWER

O corres con ciertos abogados de mirada terrible
largamente desnuda, a la orilla del agua de la noche?
"Do you race, mother-naked, with those sinister lawyers
through the watery night of the beaches?'"
                                    Pablo Neruda / trans. Ben Belitt


Inside a dusty book on a shelf
I find a badly translated quote
about lawyers, along with a dead flower
I preserved twenty years ago
in the mountains of my youth.

There's not much there,
stems and papery tissue,
perhaps a threat of bloody beaches
retained next to the glory
of a blossom that never finished.

Neruda,
              what happened?

You were the overweight icon
of an age that believed
in community and love,
the dialogue of evergreens
with the edges of habitation,
old shoes, the miracle of salt,
and the relief of suffering.
All that hopeless stuff.

No one knew you seldom ironed your own shirts,
that you drank the best of clarets,
dealt in the importation of geraniums,
and would die in your bed
during the wrong revolution.

There was a voice of steel,
a voice of blood,
a voice of hot staunching
in wounds that never ceased.

There was, simply, a voice.

Neruda,
            what happened?

What happened to the desiccated flower
morphed into a boring symbol of a naive age,
while the real witchcraft of the economy
and conspiracy theory now commands
that those who suffer haven't suffered enough?

The new leaf's crust has hardened
with alchemical poisons put to the earth,
and the lake by the scree turned to ink
in the gathering of a surrealist's dusk
which only leads to another incurable dawn.

Subtle words and the cleansing of emotions
have become more important than statement,
the poets learning to fear language and song.

The new angels are clear on a compact disk
mastered with ocean and sea gull sounds.
There is talk of community and tough love.
Now the clear-cuts walk across the protected land.

Neruda,
              what happened?

Nothing.

In the nothing is a darkness
a darkness that went around --
de da de da de da
a bird flew up --
a volcano melted.
de da de da de da

Nothing.

That great, intractable army
of oily bureaucrats with squash racquets
parked under Queen Anne desks
will smoke their cigars
when they remember you --
and retired heroin dealers
also read your words, but not
the poor kid selling matches
in the street where he lost his legs.

So there was a drive, a rush,
a flood, and no one will claim
there can't be another. Yes
there will be a great roaring
that pours down the streets:
a run, a sigh, a shout, a shot
when the song begins again
like a bizarre demand for justice,
an inconvenient cry against poverty,
against the terminally dirty streets
and the fat-bellied, malnourished
children who play there
as the big, black limos roll past,
de da de da de da
de da de da de da
de da de da de da
as that faded and once-lost flower
    drinks the moisture
the dew brings in the morning,
    its seed
saturated with the logic of flowers.



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