La Casa de La Chascona
A visit to Pablo Neruda's house in Santiago

By Gar Smith
Thursday July 18, 2013 - 09:44:00 PM

A calm flows from the mountainside.

A murmur spiced with the sound of birds

Envelops the enclave of Neruda and Matilda:

The upstairs café serves espresso

With bait-sized bits of 70% cacao.

Metallic Nerudafish and figurines

Hover near windows, catching light

As visitors wait to navigate Neruda's rooms.


Eyes rise to rooflines 

Where the branches of trees 

Erupt though outdoor decks 

Crossing a wrap of metal rails 

That raises a hint of unseen sails. 


Beneath the sky, halfway to the open door, 

We move in groups of ten— 

in Spanish, French and Yankee— 

And hear the story of the two lost streams. 


Once, across this yard, two small rivers rolled, 

Engraved in stone by Neruda's water-loving hands, 

Today, though, only memories, dust, regret— 

Neruda's peaceful cove another wound from Chile's 9/11. 


With Pinochet's bayonets and bullets 

and the hail of bombs that fell on La Moneda 

Came angry troops whose hearts were filled with howls, 

Whose mouths burned hot with hate for folks like Pablo. 


In the vice of cancer in a far-off town, 

Neruda heard his radio echo with the 

Concussions of Santiago's struggle 

As the Generals dropped dynamite on 

The shoulders of Allende's embattled era. 


Angry men with tortured hearts 

Descended on Neruda's quiet, hidden home 

Demanding the poet's blood. 


Outraged to discover empty rooms— 

No bones to crush, no flesh to tear— 

They turned their madness on the poet's words. 


His books were torn. 

Bookshelves toppled' 

Poems hurled 

Essays ransacked 

Letters thrown to the floor. 


Flung through the glinting frames of broken windows, 

Neruda's library turned to rubbish 

In the sacramental yard 

Where two innocent streams coursed, 

Shoved into muddied heaps, by screaming men, 

Neruda's books were used 

To choke the water's song. 


But water needs to flow. 


Bowing to the landscape's call, 

The brooks rose from their violated beds. 

Words and water mixed and 

tumbled in a mud-strewn swirl, 

Filling the lower floors. 


Ducts and tracts spilled down the stairwells 

Carpets floating amidst a cascade of 

poems spiraling away forever. 


And then the flames. 


As the anger took bright, all-consuming form, 

Portraits left by celebrated friends 

Presented over the dancing, wine-soaked years 

Were chased by fire and madness. 


Canvas curled crisp by hatred's furnace breath. 

Neruda's home aflame. 

Matilda's bed ablaze. 

The thesaurus of an artist's life 

Blown to smoke and ashes in the startled night. 


And in the hills above Neruda's lair 

Were lemurs in the city's zoo 

Confused by sounds of human riot? 

Were tigers dismayed by the scent 

Of dreams devoured by hate and flame? 


The metal hood falls. 

The candle's gleam is snuffed. 

A trail of smoke rises in the dying night 

And all is dark. 

— Santiago, Chile. July 2012