Under the separated leaves of shade of the yellow hau tree,
The old one that has existed unchanged longer than any other
Tree in our village, I walk behind a huge haole man
In a white linen suit, his head balding and close-cut on the sides.
He pulls from his pants pocket a gaudy handkerchief,
Its persimmon-orange silk billowing like a schooner’s sail
In the momentary wind, then mops his glistening brow with it.
He sways slightly, gazing up the dirt street to the taro fields
Blazing in sunlight, green elephant ears of leaves
Trembling in neat rows nearly all the way to the Ko`olaus.
He walks through air the rain has washed, a boat of a man
Moving easily on the bright foam of white leather shoes,
Seeming to me miraculous, the gigantic swan from a child’s tale
Shaking off the remnants of its adult birth,
Slicking his wet hair, combing it back, winding and rolling
The iridescent scarf around the great dampness of his neck.
I have seen the egglike face in photographs before,
Heard of his exiles to an island in Italy and to Mexico,
Read of his own brief imprisonments and escape on mule back
Once across the Andes, only to suffer arrest again,
His guard gifting him, though, with his own poem in tribute to Neruda’s.
I too have read the man’s poems, heard them recited in my own jails
By the janitors in Santa Fe, by the soldiers in Albuquerque.
Salt of the roads and oceanic eyes Neruda sings,
A beach of disseminated sorrows, of nocturnal sugars
ransomed with blood.
I wanted to say to him My cemeteries are not lonely!
My graves are full of bones sighing with the waves from the sea!
But, with a wave of his immense hand, sulfur-colored birds,
His feet and his nails, his shirts from which slow, dirty tears
Are falling, choke off my words, and they settle like dust
Among the market greens and marine shadows of this street.
As I walk behind this man I remember that before I returned,
I walked the open desert at dawn outside my prison cell,
Following the whispers I heard come from birds in the sky,
From the slithering lizards on the loose sands of the earth,
And wished, only as desperate men wished, “May this day
Be different from the last!” Even as the birds mocked me,
Wishing as birds wish, with all the immensity of sky they inhabit,
“May this day be the same as your last, Kubota!”
But, when I see this great bird of a man, when his eyes
Meet my eyes, they bring a flower’s shade from the hau tree,
The shade of a swan’s wing, the coolness of early evening
in the middle of the day.
Speak to me, Pablo, arrive in my life like an admiral
Dressed for dinner, place on my face the fiery kiss
Of a brother liberated from oceanic pain, flying above
The sea as clouds do, cathedral like, trailing translucent rains.
I walk faster, Pablo, catching up with you, beseeching you to turn.
I touch your great shoulder with the curl of my palm
Just as you glance back at me, and the gold of your brilliant teeth
Catches in the highest light of day.
You call out my name—
Camerado! And lift me off my feet in transcendent recognition,
Pure acceptance. And I cannot tell my life from yours, Pablo,
My suffering from your subterranean joy up from volcanic depths
Of molten rock and the sheer, underwater cliffs of the sea.
I rise up with you, American brother, from the deepest
Reaches of my crushed hope, I take up your feathered hands
Which lift me, like a great bird skimming lucent jewels
From the sea, into these new, fresh days of my vernal life.