Tag Archives: pablo neruda

Fairy of Fate

As my only answer, I let my head drop on his heart, as I had so often done in my dreams.
-María Luisa Bombal, House of Mist (53)

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What took place after that was unquestionably the most tragic experience any woman in love could have had to endure in all her life. (63)

Every morning among my emails a question of the day for SAT practice appears. I only have a couple of weeks left, I really need to practice the math but about three to one are grammar and vocabulary questions. My 17 year-old son and I will take the test together, which delights me and somewhat dulls the anticipated pain.

The other fun part of taking the test is the seemingly random literary references that appear in the grammar sections. Either a Roberto Bolaño reference is wildly inappropriate for teenagers, or perfect. I can’t quite decide.

One of the questions involved the Chilean author María Luisa Bombal. I was intrigued enough to hunt her down. It wasn’t effortless. The librarians I work for relieved me of some of my bottomless ignorance- where I had thought I was doing sweeping state-wide searches for books, I had in fact been trapped in a small consortium of libraries. I was so happy to discover this, that when I went back into the stacks, to finish the shelves I was meant to dust and “read” for accuracy of order, I put my headphones on and danced.

So, victory! I finally found Bombal in the U.S. Coast Guard library of all places. That’s the odd path that led me to this writer. I love an odd path.

“So Serena is engaged?” I inquired, just for the pleasure of repeating their sister’s lovely name.

What a wonderful detail – just for the pleasure of repeating.…. Initially I was unsure what to make of the child-like voice of the heroine, but it’s a beautifully fresh if odd voice. There is a sad mysteriousness at the heart of the tale, the first being how she could possible love the beastly Daniel. But even there I am sympathetic, the arrow of  love is a powerful force and does leave one a defenseless child of Eros. It’s cruel. The book is like a fairy tale – brutal, nostalgic, magical, with a child’s profound capacity for fear and passion.

The word “fairy” can be etymologically traced to the Latin  Fata, the Goddess of fate. Fate is a strange concept: whether or not we are resisting or yielding to something that is real is a plaguing question. Are we fated to be loved or unloved? It’s convenient to think so –it’s not me, it’s fate– is a salve on the heart of the miserable. Never the less, everyone knows fairy tales end happily. Everyone also knows that fairy tales don’t exist -except between the covers of the pages.

And it happened that in spite of myself, I was beginning to hear the precise working of this destructive rhythm hidden at the center of life.
Tic-tac! I could hear, out there in the abandoned tower, the books in the enormous library shriveling up, turning yellow, being blotted out, collapsing in rows…(74)

Life as a library is a favorite theme of mine. Here it is almost a metaphor for being an unloved woman. Bombal was known for writing stories about women who escaped their lives into a dream world ( according to the SATs). Her life took an extraordinarily odd path as well:  there was her suicide attempt, her near murder of one husband (probably had it coming as he didn’t share her love of literature), friendships with Neruda and Borges- is it any wonder that she keeps the story on half-footing in and about reality?

And that night I knew love…that love of which I had had only a glimpse through Daniel’s taciturn passion, the love that gives and receives…the love that is knowledge, exaltation, tenderness… (115)

I confess, I became absorbed in the story.  The orphaned heroine is quite lovely and grows on the reader. Like me, she roots for the love story, even when it is not her own. The Beauty and Beast heart of the tale is complicated by the loose boundaries of the mind. The heroine remains throughout the entire story pure in her love. It seems a fragile, childish thing, but the force of it is unrelenting.

Called La última niebla in Spanish, (which, correct me if I’m wrong, translates as The last mist) still, as a title, The House of Mist works, all fairy tales need a house –  the starting point of the collusion by collision of our inner and outer worlds that clouds our view and tangles the path.

For now, now I knew all was but a dream, life to me seemed no more than a long, dull, purposeless road along which in time I would become old and die without having known love (162)

Yeats…

Things fall apart
in our house,
as if jarred by the whim
of invisible ravagers:
not your hand
or mine,
or the girls
– from Things Breaking, Pablo Neruda

I recently watched Annie Hall in my film class; it is easy to simply enjoy the angst ridden humor, but, there is an expectation in some scholastic environments that one think a little more deeply every now and then. And Allen does provide a lot of fodder,  particularly for those of us living in the second half of our lives.

In the film, Allen uses the concepts and ideas of psychology both visually and within the context of the story. His characters freely go in and out of their bodies and over time to comment on past influential events or to simply suggest the distance that is felt between our bodies and ourselves.

His love of New York City is always highlighted in his films and he has, of course,  some beautiful shots that emphasize the drama and energy of New York. I love his use of very long shots where the characters are heard having an intense conversation but only slowly come into view walking to us, it naturalizes the “medium” as it were, and if we take (at the dire risk of pontificating) Allen’s funny exchange over Marshall McLuhan in the theater waiting to see The Sorrow and the Pity, the medium really is the message. Films, like novels, as John Crowley once said to me,  must always end in a way that life does not- there is a very unnatural summing up that real life does not offer to the living. But the fakery of cinema becomes the message- that unsettling feeling of being a character in our own inescapable film. Who is this difficult person inside our bodies?

Yes, the body. Allen’s unembarrassed attention paid to his sexual life is refreshing, the woman in me must assess him sexually, he asks for it -even if the assessment does not necessarily compliment- there it is. He draws it out and it must stand. In a way, it is exactly the point. Why? Why is Alvy sexually vacant with his first wife, who was, in his opinion, perfectly lovely? Why is it so much more complete and satisfying with Annie?  That is an unanswerable question that many of us struggle with at one time or another. Why this person, and not that person? Allen confronts this essential aspect of romantic love, albeit from a very analytical angle.

D.H. Lawrence, of course, wrote a lot about physical intimacy and its importance to our feeling of being deeply connected to another person. For Lawrence, it is vital that humans allow themselves to really feel. Sex, being…well, physical, was his method of discussing the larger themes of life, meaning and connection in our bodies,  where, it shouldn’t be denied,  each of us dwells. Allen does this as well, (this theme comes up again and again in his films) he is without question, funnier, but, he is not quite as convincing because he is such a pain in the ass. However, he is asking the questions – why does it matter? Why can’t we control the “yes” switch as it were? Turning it on or off at will would make it all so much easier.

And finally why? Why do things fall apart? Is it just the law of entropy? The centre cannot hold. Allen cannot answer the questions, he can only offer a lame joke with an earnest punch line: We may only believe ourselves to be chickens (or in love) but don’t tell us we’re not – we need the eggs. And we need each other.

Life grinds
on the glasses and powders, wearing us threadbare,
smashing to smithereens,
pounding
the forms;
whatever is left of its passing abides
like a ship or a reef in the ocean,
and perishes there
in the circle of breakable hazard
ringed by the pitiless menace of waters.

– from Things Breaking, Pablo Neruda

Amore, spoken in Ant

“But my words become stained with your love.
You occupy everything, you occupy everything.” -Pablo Neruda

lichen, photo by Victoria Accardi

I recall reading an excerpt from Proust once in which he was a traveler on a train going through the countryside. Looking out the window, he sees a woman hanging laundry on a line next to a house in the middle of nowhere. His mind reels away as he imagines an entire life together with her. I was riveted. Being young, naturally I thought only I did that sort of thing, and that perhaps there was something wrong with me because of it.

I was sitting at the table yesterday reading a wonderful book when an ant crawled up on my page. I shook the page and thought I had gotten rid of it. I turned to the next page and the ant was blithely walking across it again. I shook it again, and again he appeared on the next page.

Amore, in Ant

“Ant,” I said, “What are you doing?”
He continued his path
across my tome
Oh, Ant.

I could. I could walk next to him
he’d tell me where to go
our antennae touching
just barely

We’d glide effortlessly across the words,
leaving our trail on the page before.
I’d look at him, for him.
Our bodies one,
sectioned thrice:
beginning, middle and end.

“Ant, did you ever love me?”
No answer.
No. Of course not.
I don’t really blame you.

My mouth along the edge
of the page,
the words blur
as I blow.

JA /2012
I guess I am not even the only one who finds myself talking to ants…

This Morning
Enter without knocking, hard-working ant.
I’m just sitting here mulling over
What to do this dark, overcast day?
It was a night of the radio turned down low,
Fitful sleep, vague, troubling dreams.
I woke up lovesick and confused.
I thought I heard Estella in the garden singing
And some bird answering her,
But it was the rain. Dark tree tops swaying
And whispering. “Come to me my desire,”
I said. And she came to me by and by,
Her breath smelling of mint, her tongue
Wetting my cheek, and then she vanished.
Slowly day came, a gray streak of daylight
To bathe my hands and face in.
Hours passed, and then you crawled
Under the door, and stopped before me.
You visit the same tailors the mourners do,
Mr. Ant. I like the silence between us,
The quiet–that holy state even the rain
Knows about. Listen to her begin to fall,
As if with eyes closed,
Muting each drop in her wild-beating heart.
– Charles Simic