We will never remember dying.
We were so patient
the numbers, the days,
the years and the months,
the hair, the mouths we kissed,
but that moment of dying:
we surrender it without a note,
we give it to others as remembrance
or we give it simply to water,
to water, to air, to time.
Nor do we keep
the memory of our birth,
though being born was important and fresh:
and now you don’t even remember one detail,
you haven’t kept even a branch
of the first light.
It’s well known that we are born.
It’s well known that in the room
or in the woods
or in the hut in the fisherman’s district
or in the crackling canefields
there is a very unusual silence,
a moment solemn as wood,
and a woman gets ready to give birth.
It’s well known that we were born.
But of the profound jolt
from not being to existing, to having hands,
to seeing, to having eyes,
to eating and crying and overflowing
and loving and loving and suffering and suffering,
of that transition or shudder
of the electric essence that takes on
one more body like a living cup,
and of that disinhabited woman,
the mother who is left there with her blood
and her torn fullness
and her end and beginning, and the disorder
that troubles the pulse, the floor, the blankets,
until everything gathers and adds
one more knot to the thread of life:
nothing, there is nothing left in your memory
of the fierce sea that lifted like a wave
and knocked down a dark apple from the tree.
The only thing you remember is your life.
I have loved the poetry of Pablo Neruda for a long time, but this one is 8 months new to me. A friend read it to me, when my belly was big with child. The line that struck me fiercely then was, “It’s well known that we are born,” and this likely because I used to stare amazed at every New Yorker I saw in the hot summer subway, thinking twin thoughts: “You were born, and you!” and, “It is is possible to give birth.”
Now I am struck by what we will remember and what we won’t. We will not remember our death, as we do not remember our birth. “The only thing you remember is your life.” This fills me with a desire to remember for others–their deaths and births–which could also be called remembering others. I can do this for my daughter, and for dear ones close to me. It also fills me with a desire to remember my life, in writing, in photographs, in stories, and moments shared. I want to create a life I want to remember.
Lastly, I am struck by Neruda’s title, Births plural. It may be about death as a birth, but it may also be about life as a birth. What do you think?
What strikes you about this poem, or other’s by Neruda?