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Past the Dark Arroyo

ISSUE:  Summer 1984
Like a tourist with some phrases in the language,
the sky is not a proper sky, too blue
for anyone. Nighttime will be cobalt

with the salt of stars. And also particular,

the sky above St. David, Arizona, 1949.
Sundown, the horizon lucid for a moment,
looking for itself, and finding three figures

on a car hood, lolling like saguaro arms.

They’re resting with a canteen, a hundred miles to another

The heavy man, lighting a Viceroy, hand cupped lantern-
for an instant before his face, is Pablo Neruda,

younger than we’ll think of him in thirty years

as he puffs out from the book jackets, the red volcanic face
a little flabby. Two American Communists,
one who used to write for Hollywood, have ferried Neruda

from the outskirts of El Paso and by night
will move him north to Vancouver Island. He lifts
the flashlight, and writes in a yellow
spiral notebook: cobalt with the salt of stars.

He jokes with them—how night, enormous and American,

is now his only passport, though he tries too hard
to find the English words, and the men
know little Spanish. Past the dark arroyo,

he sees the whalebacks of mountains, a continent of exile,

some river gone wrong and zigzagging slowly north
On the roadside, a sign banging hapless in the rising

And Neruda, turning—What is this to mean?


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