Life in the moment, or a moment in life
Excerpt from and thoughts on Pablo Neruda’s I’m Explaining a Few Things:
And one morning all that was burning,
one morning the bonfires
leapt out of the earth
devouring human beings
and from then on fire,
gunpowder from then on,
and from then on blood.
Bandits with planes and Moors,
bandits with finger-rings and duchesses,
bandits with black friars spattering blessings
came through the sky to kill children
and the blood of children ran through the streets
without fuss, like children’s blood.
Jackals that the jackals would despise
stones that the dry thistle would bite on and spit out,
vipers that the vipers would abominate.
Face to face with you I have seen the blood
of Spain tower like a tide
to drown you in one wave
of pride and knives.
see my dead house,
look at broken Spain:
from every house burning metal flows
instead of flowers
from every socket of Spain
and from every dead child a rifle with eyes
and from every crime bullets are born
which will one day find
the bull’s eye of your hearts.
And you will ask: why doesn’t his poetry
speak of dreams and leaves
and the great volcanoes of his native land.
Come and see the blood in the streets.
Come and see
the blood in the streets.
Come and see the blood
in the streets!
I know this poem seems sad and stained by anguish, but I feel that at its heart is a beautiful thing, a movement for ethical action by unmasking the horror of too often romanticized or erased wars.
I remember quite clearly when I first read this poem. I was in my old office. It breathed new life onto an ember that had been for some time dormant in my chest. I remembered my own childhood, and heard again as if newly retold the stories of my family. I admire their courage. No, this is a dismissive term, and misrepresents. There is no courage in what those who came before me did, they simply lived. They lived within a pregnant moment and there was no tomorrow, and the days that had passed reverberated like the dull moan of a voiceless gong.
I listened to a professor at Tehran University speak of his protest against the arrest of students and faculty. He was asked if he feared for his security; no, he lived in the full bloom of life. Earlier this year, I saw a legless once-soldier during a meeting dispel the growing anxiety within the room with a calm speech on the need for understanding and respect not only for our enemies but for allies as well. He cut through the room’s tension with his short speech and brought bickering allies to common cause. What was going through my mind then? I realized how small I was, how petty I could be, at times so self-absorbed. I also thought, that could have been me; I might have lost my limbs in the human wave assaults; but I got away.
I remember the day of the black rain. A plague of fearful and grotesque rumours had infected my childhood city: chemical weapons were killing soldiers and civilians. It was true, in the west, but it did not reach us, we were too far away. But then it rained black rain. People’s clothes were stained with it, cars were stained with it, and the paranoid had to be reassured by the majority who were sensible (or simply had blind faith) that the chemicals could not be borne by the clouds, that this was nothing more than the too common pollution that clogged the city’s air.
This seems so very ugly; it is. And perhaps it should strain the very cord of our spine to bear the weight of this knowledge, to know that we can be so lacking in wisdom, so very flawed that we would kill for a fistful of dirt. Would I do this? Would I drain the blood of my fellow human in fear, blindness, and ignorance?
But there is beauty in this plight. The fog of human ignorance is thick, that is certain, but to look on this and pierce through it I can see the very many acts of kindness; there is a boundless and timeless moment that can hang within and between us, a no-space and no-time that can move the legless once-soldier to speech. So, I don’t wish to avert my gaze, I don’t wish to blindly believe in the ill or good of people, I would rather see the haunting beauty of it all and hope to gain some measure of wisdom in my life.