January 2, 2013



Pablo Neruda Saves A Dog

I dreamed that I was with my mother, who has been dead since 1980, in a modern house after a funeral, undoubtedly for my stepfather, dead since 1957, but it was years after the sad occasion. I was trying to sleep but there were sounds of loud talk and laughter from another part of the house. I was trying to sleep, but a barking dog was keeping me awake in my own dream. 

It was so real. I imagined that my mother, who was a very fine and rapid typist, would appreciate the new laptop I had. She would fly over the keys and finally write what she always had wanted to write, whatever it was, because writing now was so easier than then, even before electric typewriters had been invented.

As far as I know, she never really tried to write. But she answered me once, drunkenly, when as a 12-year old, seeing how unhappy she was drunk, I had pleaded in urgent frustration, “What do you want to do?” that she wanted to write. She read a lot of books but I doubt if she read the good ones. She read Mickey Spillane detective novels and mysteries mostly.  Lying drugged sleepily in my Mexican bed, listening to the unstoppable dog and thinking that she was in the next room, a room of today in 2012, it dawned on me that if the house had a land phone I could get wireless or cable and connect her to the internet and give her what she always had wanted; for she was an intelligent and curious person, who never could find her talent because of the necessity to find a man who would support her, because then  it was harder for a woman alone with three children to make her own way and prosper than now.

She had finally found him, had two girls by him, and despite troubles was on her way to a happier life. For she had grown up during the 20s and the awful Depression that tortured the South most of all, living in little cardboard lumber and oil towns of southwest Louisiana, wishing she was Lana Turner who had been discovered in a soda fountain, but surrounded by poverty and abounding in ignorant, violent and horny rednecks who should not be permitted to breed. He had been nothing like that. They could have been perfect together.

And then he had been smashed by a car.

It swam through my head that I needed to get up and investigate whether we had a phone. I saw myself getting up and dressing. But then I was back in bed half-asleep and hearing the dog and planning to get up and dress. The laughter and frivolity of some intense discussion was still going on in the next room, but I could not make out the conversation.

A similar conversation, raucous and frantic, had occurred after my stepfather’s funeral; when a drunken riot between my mom and her stupid sister over a burning chair had brought me from my bed at 3 a.m. to demand that they stop, only to be slapped by my malicious aunt, whereupon I had knocked her out and sent her packing in a cab to Moissant International Airport of New Orleans. (Now Louis Armstrong International).

I was 15. The only father figure I’d known for a bare seven years was dead, and after her sister had attacked me I had grabbed her and slammed her against a wall. Drunker than a bitch is ever meant to be, she slid down the wall like a cartoon drunk and passed out. I had lifted her like a baby and dumped her on the couch. I hated her actually for mean things she had done to me growing up, but I could not then have admitted to myself that I hated anyone in my family.

“I hope she is dead,” I pronounced. I knew she was not. I had gone back to my bedroom and dressed, then set about getting ready to get rid of her. I felt unstoppable for the first time in my life. This bitch was going to leave if I had to drive her out of the house with a belt. She had in fact once dragged me upstairs, drunk as usual, by my hair, and whipped me with the buckles of a belt, kicked me in the stomach, and had to be restrained by her husband; my crime had been to say at the dinner table, quite cheerfully, "Pass the cheese please." She was jealous of her older sister for being fertile, or maybe she hated rhymes.

I would be sixteen soon and there was no other male around the house anymore. My mother had turned me over to him at eight, shocking me to my bones, and now he was gone for good. She was afraid to try to raise or influence me because she had abandoned me, the child of a date rape, for a year in Chicago where I had ended up in an orphanage of the City of Chicago.

When I tried to phone for a cab my bandy rooster aunt had torn the phone from the wall. I had gone to my stepfather’s toolbox, stripped the varicolored wiring and repaired it myself,  matching and taping colored wires, and then called a cab, packed her bag, and escorted her to the taxi at nobody’s protest or interference.

But I had no wish to usurp my mother’s authority; I merely wanted her to be our mother and see to her responsibilities, to quit drinking so much, and do what she was supposed to do. I didn’t know what she was supposed to do, but I did know that it was wrong to waste the family money on bottles of bourbon and scotch every night, and pass out in front of a television.

The poor woman, so lovely when younger, redolent then with subtle scents of lilacs, wisteria and whiffs of perfume, auburn-haired, a green eye and a brown one, her favorite decoration simple pearls, and  so amusing and gracious in company, had deteriorated in the space of only a few years due to the poisonous power of alcohol on a person who was allergic to it. (All alcoholics are.) Neither she nor I had known that then. If I had realized that alcoholism was a treatable disease it might have been different, but to me it was a simple matter of willpower. There was no Al-Anon then either, to counsel the families and friends of alcoholics.

The dog worked itself into a state of psychosis, and I briefly considered finding a big rock, hunting it down, and giving it a hurting. But first I had to share with Mickey the news of my brainstorm about us living together happily with her not drinking, but surfing the internet with comfort and the awareness that this was what she really wanted and always had been denied.

How happy we would be.

Finally, forgetting the dog, I managed to get out of bed and head for the closet for my pants so I could go out and tell her. The laughter had stopped. I imagined the room in the center of the house where I could set her up with a computer and a study of her own.

But I found myself standing in a bedroom in Oaxaca, Mexico, realizing that it had been a dream brought on by too little antidepressant medicine and too much Valium. How sad, I thought as I climbed back into bed. Finally to come up with an answer and a happy resolution 25 years after seeing her coffin lowered into a muddy Louisiana grave.

I resolved to kill the dog if it starts again tomorrow at 1 a.m. I will find two big rocks and hunt him down and break him of his arrogant superiority: I don’t care if he is someone’s pet here in Mexico. He is disturbing the peace and giving me bad dreams. I never met a dog yet that I did not believe I couldn’t kill, or one that I had deliberately hurt; they are more honest than we.

And then it stopped barking and peace returned to the small fishing village on the lower southern coast of Mexico.

Some things can never be fixed.

And then I read in “World’s End,” these truthful lines of the great Chilean (universal) poet, Pablo Neruda:

PROLOGUE
THE DOOR
What a ceaseless century!
We ask:
When will it fall? When will it end up facedown
in compactedness, in emptiness?
In the idolized revolution?
Or in the ultimate
patriarchal lie?

But what’s certain
is that we did not live it
because we wanted so much to live it.

It was always agony,
 it was always dying,
it dawned with light and in the night was blood:
it rained in the morning, by afternoon it cried.

Newlyweds discovered
that the wedding cake had wounds
as from an appendectomy.

Cosmic men climbed
a ladder of fire
and when at last we were touching
the feet of truth
it had marched off, to another planet.

And we looked at one another with hatred:
stern capitalists didn’t know what to do:
they had grown weary of money
because the money was weary
and the airplanes departed empty.
No new passengers showed up.

We all were waiting ,as in stations on long winter nights
we were waiting for peace
and war was arriving.

No one wanted to utter a word: all
were afraid of endangering themselves:
between one man and the next distance grew
and languages became so very different
that everyone wound up silent
or all conversing at once.

Only the dogs carried on, barking
in the wild night of impoverished nations.
One half of this century was silence:
the other half, dogs barking
in the wild night.

The bitter tooth did not fall.

It went on tormenting us.

It would open a door for us, follow us
with a tail of a golden comet,
close a door on us, jab
us in the belly with a rifle butt,
release for us a prisoner, and while
we were hoisting him to our shoulders
the prisons were swallowing another million,
another million were refugees fleeing,
then a million were entering an oven
and turning to ash.

In the doorway, I am leaving
and welcoming those who arrive.

When the Bomb dropped
(people, insects, incinerated fish)
we thought to leave with a hobo’s bundle,
for a change of heavenly body and race.
We wished to be horses, guileless horses.
We wanted to go away from here.
Far from here, and farther still.

Not only because of extermination,
it was not just about dying
(fear was our daily bread),
but that with two feet were no longer able
to walk. It was a solemn
shame,
being men
exactly like
the disintegrator and the carbonized.

And again, again,
again, until when?

The dawn seemed clean already,
so much forgetting did we clean it with
while killing here and killing there—
entranced, countries
carried on
manufacturing threats and storing them
in the warehouse of death.

Yes, it’s been resolved, thank you:
we still have hope.

For that reason, I wait at the gateway
for those who arrive at this festival’s end:
at this world’s end.

I enter with them, come what may.
I leave with those who set out
and I return.

My duty is to live, to die, to live.

So after trying to kill the dog three nights running with big rocks that missed the clever bastard every time, I read this poem and decided to give it up. (A big male pit bull chained behind a tree and ferocious in temperament, he since has been less disrespectful when I pass.)  I never intentionally hurt an animal in my life. Let the dogs bark; that’s what they do for us. If we could understand them their complaint probably would be the same as ours: against injustice. 

"Bark! Bark! Bark! Bark! I can smell you bitches out there and I am in the prime of my life! Get your horny tails over here! Release me from this leash! You unfair bastards! Bark! Bark! Bark! Bark! She's mine I tell you! Get away from her you bastards! Bark! Bark! Bark! Bark!" 

That is what I imagine he complains about. It is one of the many choruses and dog dialogues which echo from walls and hills in the subdued nights of the world. Like the birds, every bark, whimper, whine of dog or moo of cow or chirp of bird means something specific in languages that we won't try to comprehend.

I will move to another, quieter place.

And keep your cats inside and give the birds a break; will you not?

And thank you Pablo, for diverting me from murder.
(Of course I know he was referring to human dogs.)