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.
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