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QUINTESSENCE

The All of Life


I see you washing my handkerchiefs,
hanging at the window
my worn-out socks,
your figure on which everything,
all pleasure like a flare-up,
fell without destroying you,
again,
little wife
of every day,
again a human being,
humbly human,
proudly poor,
as you have to be in order to be
not the swift rose
that love's ash dissolves
but all of life,
all of life with soap and needles,
with the smell that I love
of the kitchen that perhaps we shall not have
and in which your hand among the fried potatoes
and your mouth singing in the winter
until the roast arrives
would be for me the permanence
of happiness on earth.

- from "Not Only the Fire," Pablo Neruda (THE CAPTAIN'S VERSES, 1952)

This stanza from a verse by Pablo Neruda marks the shift mid-poem from a love note to his lover to a deeply intimate song to the same woman he has made his life with. I found myself thinking of the phrase, "again,/little wife/of every day/." There is something achingly tender in the poet's recognition of the humble work of daily life, the hours after love filled by the mundane. It is his recognition of the precious happiness in these moments, his joy in the simple wrenching domesticity of his own life, that made me sit quietly for a moment in the midst of my own chores today.

My list of things to do, errands and tasks, is long. My heart not in them but thinking of words and pages I want to write. I look at the list. At the top - fill a box of things for my son away at the Naval Academy and mail. Followed by drop-offs at the dry cleaner, return items to a store, pick up groceries. A chunk of time, lost. More than an hour, or two, away from my desk. I read the list again, slowly this time. Where is the love here? The box for my son? These are things he needs and a few treats to mark his 20th birthday. I smile, knowing how he will grin to get thermal muscle wraps, protein bars and sour jelly beans in the same box. The dry cleaner? Reviving clothes worn to the symphony, both for myself and for my friend, as a favor. The return items? Dresses never worn, but the idea of them, of spring, makes me smile. And the groceries? Ingredients for a nurturing chicken soup for a pal with a cold. I think of their dear faces, the laughter and moments together. Aren't humble tasks such as these the "worn-out socks," the "hand among the fried potatoes," Neruda's celebration of "life with soap and needles"? In every way the "all of life"?

Today I know the words and pages will wait a bit for life to be lived. Little wife of the everyday... The pages will get written.
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