I am sitting under a Magnolia tree in the courtyard of la Reina Sofia reading Neruda and I’m having trouble understanding his words having trouble understanding why I am in this city in the first place aren’t Magnolia trees only supposed to grow in the south I remember the magnolia tree that grew in my grandparent’s home in Louisiana, remember making ship boats out of the large waxy leaves I would send them sailing in the bathtub with people fashioned out of toothbrushes wearing magnolia blossom dresses I miss bathtubs miss living in a home with always hot water miss living in a place with books I understand. I could read and reread all of these sonnets but would never glean half the meaning I wonder what it feels like to be a poet knowing that over half the world will only ever read your words in translation I wonder if that makes it worth it or if it just makes you feel small.
She walks the perimeter: plumb-faced and love-handled. I cannot place her geography. I hate how now that’s what I think about: whereareyoufromwhereareyoufromohwhatisitlikethereyesi’mfromamerica I never would have said that before, never would have wedded myself to a country whose history makes my skin prickle. I wonder if she comes here like I come here. Maybe she lives in a small apartment in my neighborhood maybe I’ve walked past her in the streets maybe we take our coffee the same way with just enough milk to cover up the taste of coffee I wonder if she thinks about leaving this city I wonder if she hates this city as much as I hate this city I think about asking her these things. But I don’t hate this city and it isn’t fair to ask so much of Madrid. Madrid did not ask me to come here did not ask me to do my growing here. She wears jeans that are too tight and I’m annoyed with myself for noticing. Maybe she bought them when she was younger and can’t bear to throw them away because a man she loved once told her that they made her ass look bodacious I wonder if anybody uses the word bodacious anymore and I wonder if she has someone to call her beautiful or brilliant or funny or sharp and I wonder if she thinks those things are as important as I do.
An old couple.
They walk without holding hands. Maybe they aren’t a couple maybe they don’t even know each other because they don’t walk the way people in love walk or should walk or maybe they’re a couple in the late afternoon of their romance — comfortable but seeing the darkness. Or maybe they just met at the front desk and being lonely decided to see the exhibit together maybe they don’t know each other’s names or the shapes of each other’s knee caps or maybe he hasn’t said iloveyou in too long and she’s feeling deflated. Maybe he never left her in the morning on his way to work and maybe she never unwrapped the pillow from his side of the bed and stuffed the pillowcase in her purse and maybe during boring meetings at her job she never played with the softness, never pressed her fingers to her nose and breathed in something heavy of his scent of crushed coffee beans and mint and maybe they’re not best friends and he never told her that he wanted to spend the rest of his life memorizing every part of her body and maybe she never faked an orgasm because she loves him more than she loves herself.
She places a hand on his shoulder and they stop walking.
She grabs a tissue from her pocket and starts to dab at the corners of his mouth and then he kisses her on the forehead and they continue walking and I am thinking about the simple surprise of someone you love wiping drool from your mouth when nobody else will and how it’s been a while since anyone has cared enough about my mouth or my nose or my fingers to kiss or wipe away the ugly. Neruda doesn’t write about the foulness of love and in that way I hate his writing which makes me feel pretentious because I’m a twenty-year-old who has to use word reference to define almost every word of his poetry but Neruda must have felt like this once must have sat on a bench and watched and crafted love out of something like a piece of tissue held in hands wrinkled and glass fragile but now they’ve left and the woman too and a plump grey cloud rolls above my head.
I place the book in my bag and prepare to leave — I feel a hard rain coming on.