Rough translation: like poetry to wine. It’s from a Rachael Yamagata song called “I Want You,” one of the lyrics of which is “When I dream of London I can only see your face.” I like the idea, but it’s never been true for me. London is so much more than a one-faced dream.
I’ve made tons of mistakes when it comes to my educational choices. I should’ve taken IB Spanish instead of going the easy route. I’d be able to enjoy some of my favorite literature without the aide of translators instead of slowly bumbling through conversational Spanish. Oh well. I still read Neruda’s love sonnets side by side.
I first got my hands on Neruda when I was 16. I can’t remember if it was in English class, Spanish class, or at the induction to the Spanish Honor Society… It all happened junior year though. He’s been on my bookshelf or nightstand ever since. I wrote about one of his sonnets before because I used it for teaching how to analyze poetry. “Sonnet XLIV” is one of the 100 Love Sonnets from the afternoon mediodia section, and it’s beautiful with romantic love in mind. “You must know that I do not love and that I love you because everything alive has its two sides… I love you in order to begin to love you, to start infinity again and never to stop loving you: that’s why I do not love you yet.” One of the reasons I’ve always liked reading it, and particularly liked using it to teach poetry strategies, is because it’s so fucking confusing, not unlike romantic love. However, I’ve been thinking about only three lines of it the last few days, and not with love in mind at all. “…as if I held keys in my hand to a future of joy- a wretched, muddled fate-…”
I have a decision to make. On one level, it’s a simple yes or no. On a bigger level, I’m at something much more complex than a crossroads or a fork in the road. Two roads do not diverge in a wood, Mr. Frost. There are at least 10 roads to choose from. (Frost came to me in my senior year of high school, but I don’t love him any less for arriving in my life a year later than Neruda.) It’s more complicated than even Neruda implies with his two choices, though “muddled” seems to be the operative word of the moment. I like the image Neruda conjures though – I’m holding the keys, but I do not know what’s on the other side of the door. I have the means to find out, but do I want to know?
Earlier this year I had a similar decision. It wasn’t so much “this or that,” nor is it now. It was one thing at a time, one yes or no at a time. I gambled. I said no because I was holding out for what I wanted with most of my heart (yeah, not all of it. There’s very little I do with my whole heart because the thing gets bruised too easily.) I took the risk and lost. The words of Kipling’s “If” have stayed close to the surface of my brain because of it (and because of Paullina Simons’ The Bronze Horseman trilogy book two Tatiana and Alexander… Alexander and his dad in prison – I can’t read it without crying). Not to repeat history, and not to breathe a word of my loss, I was ready to say yes this time around.
But then my heart came calling again. Quietly at first. I heard it and wrestled it and calmed it and told it that “Wait” doesn’t mean “never.” Then it got louder, and I had to stop my “yes” before it led me in a direction I wasn’t ready to go. Now I’m waiting, gambling again. There might be less risk this time because I have a better idea of one thing that might be on the other side of the door, what lies down one path. The “use your head” crowd is battling the “follow your heart” crowd – and I’m blessed to have loved ones in both camps.
And because I haven’t referenced enough literature, I’m just this minute reminded of the payoff in Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch “What if one happens to be possessed of a heart that can’t be trusted?”
It’s no wonder poetry – and literature in a broader sense – goes hand in hand with wine. I need the alcohol to kill the brain cells that stir all this mess. Tonight, without wine, I’m still holding the keys, not using them yet. There’s a special agony to waiting outside with the keys in your hand.