The Wanderer Returned
In the middle of the street, I wonder, Where
is the city? It's gone, has not come back.
Perhaps this one is the same––it has houses,
it has walls, but I can't find it.
It isn't a matter of people––Pedro or Juan––
nor of that woman, nor of that tree;
now that city has buried itself,
has tumbled somewhere underground,
and this is another time, not the same at all,
taking on the same lines of streets,
assuming the same house numbers.
Time then does exist, I realize it.
I know it exists, but I cannot understand
how that city which had warm blood,
which had sky enough for all,
and whose midmorning smile
spread like a basketful of plums,
those houses with a forest smell,
wood newly cut at dawn with the saw,
the city that always sang at the water's edge
of sawmills in the mountains,
all that was yours and mine
of the city and its clarity,
wrapped itself up in love, secretly,
and let itself fall into forgetfulness.
Now where it once was there are other lives,
a different way of being, another hardness.
All is well enough, but why does it not exist?
Why is its old aroma now asleep?
Why did all those bells fall still,
and why did the wooden tower say goodbye?
Perhaps the city fell away in me,
house by house, its warehouses eroded
by the slow damp, by passing time;
perhaps it was I who lost the blue of the pharmacy,
the stored-up wheat, the horseshoe
that hung in the harness store,
and those souls who were always searching
as though in a well of dark water.
Then what am I coming to, what have I come to?
That woman I loved once among the plums
in the stunning summer, clear, clear
as an ax blade catching the moon,
she with the eyes that bit
like acid into the metal of helplessness,
she went away, went away without leaving,
without changing house or country,
went of her own will, tumbling through time
backwards, and did not fall into mine
when she opened, possibly, those arms
which clasped my body, and she was calling me
perhaps at the distance of so many years,
while I, in another corner of the planet,
was drowning in the distance of my age.
I will ask leave of myself to enter,
to return to the missing city.
Inside myself I should find the absent ones,
that smell from the lumberyard;
perhaps the wheat that rippled on the slopes
still goes on growing, but only within me,
and it's in myself I must travel to find that woman
the rain bore off, and there is no other way.
Nothing can last in any other way.
I am the one who must attend those streets
and somehow or other decide
where the trees should be planted, all over again.
--Pablo Neruda, from Fully Empowered
(translated by Alistair Reid)