Recently, I’ve been teaching a bit of poetry to one of my private students at work. She’s quite enthralled with it all, and it’s been making me miss my poetry collection back home. Until I’m reunited with my books, I will have to make do with the Internet. Yesterday was National Poetry Day. I used to try to write something on National Poetry Day, but this year I settled for reading. This morning, I discovered a Chilean poet called Pablo Neruda. He wrote this wonderful poem, translated by Alastair Reid, called “Return to a City”. Here it is:
Return to a City
What have I come to? I ask them.
Who am I in this dead city?
I can’t find either the street or the roof
of the crazy girl who once loved me.
There’s no doubting the crows in the branches,
the monsoon green and boiling,
the scarlet spittle
in the eroded streets,
the air heavy–but where,
where was I, who was I?
I understand only the ashes.
The betel-seller looks at me,
recognizing neither my shoes
nor my recently resurrected face.
Perhaps his grandfather would grant me
a salaam, but it so happens
that he succumbed while I was travelling,
dropped deep into the well of death.
I slept in such a building
fourteen months and the corresponding years;
I wrote out my misery.
innocently into bitterness.
I pass now and the door is not there.
The rain has been working overtime.
Now it dawns on me that I have been
not just one man but several,
and that I have died so many times
with no notion of how I was reborn,
as if the act of changing clothes
were to force me to live another life,
and here I am without the least idea
of why I cannot recognize a soul,
of why no one recognizes me,
as if everyone here were dead
and I alive in the midst of such forgetting,
a bird that still survives–
or, the reverse, the city watching me,
and realizing I am the one who is dead.
I walk through the silk bazaars,
and the markets of misery.
It is hard to believe the streets
are the selfsame streets; the black eyes,
hard as nailpoints,
glare back against my glances,
and the pale Gold Pagoda
with all its frozen idolatry
has no eyes now, no hands,
no longer any fire.
Goodbye, streets soiled by time,
goodbye, goodbye, lost love.
I return to the wine of my house,
I return to the love of my loved one,
to what I was and to what I am,
water and sun, earth ripe with apples,
months with lips and with names.
I come back not to return;
no more do I wish to mislead myself.
It is dangerous to wander
backward, for all of a sudden
the past turns into a prison.