In Patagonia Day 42
Valparaiso: La Sebastiana, Pablo Neruda’s house
There were no seashells, there in Neruda’s house. Maps, boats, and bottles, but no shells. Pablo, where did you leave them? And why is there no trace, except a mother-of-pearl inlaid table which I’m sure didn’t come from your beachcombing? They said you thought water tasted best when drunk from green glass, so there is plenty of that, even an oversized bottle of Brut by Fabergé cologne which made me think more of Joe Namath than the words of a great poet. Joe in a full-length fur coat would be out of place next to your jar-shaped fireplace, French carousel horse, or your chair of the clouds. But the words, those you traced in green ink every morning high upstairs in your study were of that same color—distinctive and flavorful. And there in that room is an American from New Jersey —the looming photograph of Walt Whitman containing multitudes even in Chile. William Carlos Williams, another poet from Jersey, old and partially blinded by strokes wandered the beaches of Florida collecting shells thinking of you, straining after the rhythm of the waves perhaps like his friend Wallace Stevens whose Key West apparition “sang beyond the genius of the sea,” striding by the shore, but for him “it was she and not the sea we heard.” Stevens listened to the she/sea with Ramon Fernandez, Williams with Pablo: “the/ language also of Neruda the/ Chilean poet—who collected/ seashells on his/native beaches.” La Sebastiana, your house, echoes still with the sounds of dinners of conger stew, French wine, and politics—that which could never be ignored. But the sea also cannot be ignored, and Williams heard it in your words, trying in his own: “the/ changeless beauty of/ seashells, like the/ sea itself, gave/ [your] lines the variable pitch/ which modern verse requires.” William Carlos Williams, looking to the language of his mother and his own middle name, came to your poetry and in his declining years wrote for you a poetic tribute that, for unforeseen circumstances was not delivered until you too were dying and soon dead.
T. Hugh Crawford