Memoirs of Pablo Neruda as a Child
I remember my boyhood in Temuco, and the unforgettable presence of rain falling from the skies of Cape Horn.
I remember the sudden squall of heat that followed, that my hands tasted like salt and course-milled flour. I remember my undershirt clinging to my small rib cage.
I remember watching the street turn into the Jarama River, as leaves, battered flowers, and small, green plastic army men moved down the slow mud current.
I remember the shoes lined up at the door like toy locomotives.
I remember an old trunk with a green parakeet painted on it.
I remember the smell of dampness and cedar while I read through hundreds of love letters and postcards with pictures of foreign landscapes, all signed by a man named Enrique.
I remember thinking that my mother, Doña Rosa Basoalto, died before I could have any memory of her, though her face was the first my eyes ever gazed upon.
I remember laughing at a peasant wearing a heavy black cloak as he whipped his oxen trying to dislodge his cart's wheels from the mud.
I remember my wet socks bashfully drying next to my sister's brazier and how I cringed when they touched after a gust of wind.
I remember collecting beetles on the trunks of coihu and wild-apple trees and marveling at their titan legs and domed backs that were as shiny as a shotgun barrel.
I remember our unkempt garden and the riot of poppy blossoms.
I remember my father's friend Monge, a swarthy man with a vertical scar on his face, and that he had a cane, a knife, and a diamond stickpin.
I remember writing love letters for a schoolmate who had fallen in love with a girl named Bianca, and I remember the day when Bianca asked me if I was the author of those letters. I embarrassedly said yes.
I remember that after I said yes, Bianca gave me a quince, which of course I did not eat, but instead put it in my windowsill until it caved into itself with regal rot.
I remember on my fifteenth birthday making love to a woman after threshing wheat all day with the Hernandez tribe. The scent of frangipani woke me from my sleep in the straw, and I felt an avid mouth and then a warm body.
I remember the cherry blossoms blossoming.
I remember the Araucanian Indian names, and how the sound of their syllables suggested a clay pot, a loaf of bread, buried honey or a fragrant wild plant.
I remember capturing a black-necked swan in Lake Bundi.
I remember the black-necked swan dying in my arms from fear, and feeling it's sinuous neck fall over my arms like a girl's velvet ribbon. That is when I learned that swans don't sing when they die.
I remember trying to write a poem about the swan, but my words were clumsy and maladroit, like an albatross skimming the water while trying to take flight.
I remember greedily hunting words as though they were rare blue eggs.
I remember vowels leaping like silver flying fish. Words settling on the page like spume on the shore or dew on a field. Words dripping like stillicide from eaves or clicking like stilettos on a wooden floor.
I remember hearing the voices of the fierce conquistadors, their words budding from the potatoes and billowing from the tobacco smoke, their buried skulls still speaking of gold in the cordilleras.
I remember writing poems by my window at night and dreaming about what lies beyond the hills of Valparasio—the remote bays and distant ports.
I remember the iron depth of the night.