A young woman I know works in the produce department of a grocery store, so when she told me she had become interested in poetry, I naturally thought of Pablo Neruda’s Elemental Odes. These include poems in praise of the onion, the artichoke, the watermelon, and, in addition to the fruits and vegetables, at least one nut. Here is his “Ode to a Chestnut on the Ground” in English:
I once copied out the first part of this poem as a note attached to some flowers for a girlfriend who was a compatriot of Neruda’s:
Del follaje erizado caíste completa, de madera pulida, de lúcida caoba, lista como un violín que acaba de nacer en la altura, y cae ofreciendo sus dones encerrados, su escondida dulzura, terminada en secreto entre pájaros y hojas, escuela de la forma, linaje de la leña y de la harina, instrumento ovalado que guarda en su estructura delicia intacta y rosa comestible.
The flowers were part of an attempt to be a proper boyfriend; once upon a time I had scorned as humbug the accessories of romance, buying dinner, sending flowers….the asymmetry had seemed to me disturbing, as though the guy were attempting to purchase the woman’s favors. My attitude had softened, though, as I stopped trying to deny that a beautiful woman who gives you her time is doing you an honor, so you might as well show your appreciation. So the flowers were a new thing for me.
But of course poems are much more personal, and I had more invested in the note than the bouquet. It was, therefore, disappointing that the flowers had arrived with no note—the flower-lady was rather ditzy. But never fear, I had memorized the text, so when my gf said the note hadn’t arrived, I recited it for her (in Spanish). I admit that I was giving myself points for this, and looking back, I still feel that it was a very respectable effort. The ode still strikes me as pretty sexy, not the sort of thing you’d send to someone you don’t know well,, but something one might reasonably expect a girl to enjoy if she thought you were sincere…and if she fancied you.
So I was prepared for thanks and (yes) praise, but instead she seemed to lose interest before I had reached “rosa comestible,” and just changed the subject. At this point, I should have realized that I didn’t have what it took to please this woman–actually, I should have figured it out when she invited me to come to the Holidazzle parade with her church group, but I was trying to be open-minded.
Anyway, it took her a few more weeks to reach the same conclusion and give me the boot, and it took a few weeks after that for me to be grateful that she had, making me available to recognize my true love.
PS: Back in his Euro hipster surrealist days, Neruda had written a volume of love poetry that he later considered pretentious and obscure. At a reading in his later years, a fan came up to him and asked him to autograph that book for his girlfriend. Neruda obliged, adding the inscription “No lo lead” (Don’t read it).