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Pablo Neruda’s Houses

 

a) La Sebastiana

 

Valparaiso’s vastness lies

Prostrate and panoramic at your feet.

Is the clock shop of Don Asterio still there,

Enveloped by the washing lines

Of flag draped winding streets?

In the low season mist

We wander into the garden

Having negotiated the twisting roads

 

Of the Valparaiso hills,

Navigated with good intention,

But inexpert sense of direction

By Inés, helped out by passing locals.

Garrulous South American Spanish

Adorned with wild gesticulation

Have brought us through your gates.

 

Posing with your seated silhouette

I half expect conversation

But settle for the semblance

Of speech, camaraderie and contact.

This is no séance and you are no ghost

Yet the space exudes your presence

Like the vibration in an empty room

A loved one has vacated.

Stairs spiral skyward,

Tight doorways tease and entice

Into unfolding rooms of antiques,

Memorabilia and the makeshift.

A rocking horse makes haste,

Unbridled and fairground free,

The bar sign claims, ‘Don Pablo est ici’.

 

The deskroom invites adventure,

Shaped like a ship and fully equipped

With maps, globes, books and whiskey

Enough to ease most journeys.

The bedroom affords the finest views

The mists part, the harbour beckons,

An ancient neighbour waves a welcome

To the clutch of curious gringos.

The wardrobe door, slightly ajar,

Reveals Matilde’s slippers,

Mixing domesticity and desire.

Unguided, allowed a second look,

I retouch the surface of your life

Absorbing inspiration, empathy, illumination,

Invisible energy at my fingertips!

 

b) Isla Negra

 

Life long Communist, Pablo Neruda,

Who loved horses, sea-shells and women’s breasts,

(Not necessarily in that order)

Lies buried in the airbrushed agony

Of Isla Negra.

 

This soulless sideshow sweeps

Subversion under the carpet,

Mocks the meaning  of Marxist,

Sanitises the politics in poetry,

Offering ice-cream soda fizz

Before the full blooded wine of Chile.

 

On the writing desk observe

Baudelaire, balanced by Lenin.

Outside, the beauty of the sky

The beach, the rocks,

The solace of the ocean

Echoed, in the rhythm of his verse.

 

A sculpted hammer and sickle

Slips the censor, gracing the lobby.

 

In the shop of mementoes

I buy a postcard, Allende and Neruda,

Side by side.

Some things are irrefutable.

I step outside, smell the air,

Hear the South Pacific thunder,

Convinced he would not see

His legacy, in these commodities.

 

 

c) La Chascona

 

Wild haired beauty of the Santiago backstreets

If I caress your head and kiss your mouth

Will these curls unravel slowly,

Disentangling my fingers from your hair?

 

Give me the chance to cradle your sorrow,

Whispering away your brutalised past,

Let me revive your faith in the future,

Let me bring your tormentors to trial.

 

Your resurrection has been lovingly drawn,

Sensitive to the grace of your features

Respectful of your slender fragile aura,

Re-touching hidden scars, to lightly heal.

 

Imagining the conflicts you survived

Calm hands have soothed your aching body,

Stroked your hips, back, neck and arms,

Lingered on the fullness of your lips.

 

You deserve more than a holiday romance,

Yet this first embrace may be our last.

Thick unfamiliar words, mumbled in confusion

Fall heavily as I grope towards the door.

 

Like an uncertain lover, I stumble

As my rushed departure beckons.

Though distance may determine our destiny,

Your perfume will still haunt my every step.

 

 

 

Steve Bishop