27 December 2010

Pablo Neruda

[from Pablo Neruda's Confieso que he vivido, tr. Carol Peters, Plaza & Janés, 1998]

I examined [the toilet] with curiosity. It was a wooden box with a hole in the middle, very like the unit I was used to in my rural childhood, in my country. But ours sat over a deep pit or over a stream of running water. Here the receptable was a simple metal cube under the round hole.

The cube appeared clean every day without my knowing how the contents disappeared. One morning I rose earlier than usual. I stood astonished at what was happening.

From deep inside the house, like a dark moving statue, came the most beautiful woman I had seen up until that point in Ceylon, a Tamil, of the pariah caste. She wore a red & gold sari of the stiffest fabric. Above bare feet she wore heavy anklets. On either side of her nose shone two red studs. They must have been ordinary glass, but on her they seemed rubies.

She headed toward the privy with solemn steps, without seeing me, without giving the slightest sign of my existence, & disappeared with the sordid receptacle on top of her head, moving away at her godlike pace.

She was so beautiful that in spite of her humble task she stayed in my mind. As if she were a wild animal, arrived from the jungle, belonging to another existence, a separate world. I called to her without effect. Later I left some gift in her path, silk or fruit. She passed without hearing or looking. That miserable route had been transformed by her dark beauty into the obligatory ceremony of an indifferent queen.

One morning, totally determined, I took her tightly by the wrist & stared at her, face to face. I had no language to speak to her. Without a smile she allowed me to lead her & quickly she was nude on my bed. Her narrow waist, her full hips, the abundant swell of her breasts, made her the equal of thousands of sculptures in the south of India. The encounter was of a man with a statue. She stayed the whole time with her eyes open, passive. It made me despise myself. It did not happen again.


  1. Anonymous22:51

    Interesting and shocking. I recommend reading Zizek's "Living in the End Times"; he mentions this Neruda's passage, pgs 24-25, discussing the mystification of the victim's passivity and the perverse dynamics that develop within a relationship/system of oppression

  2. Thanks, I'll check out Zizek.