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i didn’t follow the prompt for poetry thursday, because i’ve had neruda on the brain. i lent my collection of neruda poetry to my cuban friend one year and forgot to get it back from him when i moved. neruda’s voice is one of the ones that flutters around in my head a lot. his rhythms ground me.

this is one of my favourites. when banane moved to ecuador for 8 months, i kept a journal for her for every day she was gone, and i sent this poem to her right before she came back. i found it torn out of its original letter and taped to her current journal – it’s just one of those poems that changes lives.

Keeping Quiet
by Pablo Neruda. (trans. Alastair Reid.)
And now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth
let’s not speak in any language,
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines,
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would not look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victory with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about,
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.

Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve,
and you keep quiet and I will go.


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