For this prompt, I read a section of Pablo Neruda’s poem “Dead Woman” (see below), and asked everyone to choose two consecutive lines from the poem to use as a prompt. Everyone had a copy in front of him or her, so they took a moment with this after I was done reading out loud. The lines I chose were “I shall stay alive/because above all things you wanted me/indomitable.”
The section of the poem I chose, and my writing in response, are below Neruda’s poem.
Dead Woman (La Muerta)
If suddenly you do not exist,
if suddenly you no longer live,
I shall live on.
I do not dare,
I do not dare to write it,
if you die.
I shall live on.
For where a man has no voice,
there shall be my voice.
Where slaves are flogged and beaten,
I cannot be dead.
When my brothers go to prison
I shall go with them.
not my victory,
but the great victory
even if I am dumb I must speak;
I shall see it coming even if I am blind.
No, forgive me.
If you no longer live,
if you, beloved, my love,
all the leaves will fall on my breast,
it will rain on my soul night and day,
the snow will burn my heart,
I shall walk with frost and fire and death and snow,
my feet will want to walk to where you are sleeping,
I shall stay alive,
because above all things you wanted me
and, my love, because you know that I am not only a man
but all mankind.
-Pablo Neruda (1904 -1973)
You brought me here, made the choice to push through pain and blood, the awful fluids, and bring me screaming to life. Before that, a kidney failed, was removed, and a few years later you entered the obstetrician’s office six weeks late.
“You are a candidate for termination,” he said. “Pregnancy taxes the kidneys. You are potentially in danger.”
I’m told you never wavered. You simply said, “Doctor, I’ll be fine.”
I could sing your praises, hold you up on the altar for your selflessness and love, like Guadalupe or Christ, but you were not virginal and you did not die for our sins. And I’m tired of writing about your dementia, your little body and how it shrank, how you didn’t know me at the end. It’s over now, so why go on and on with all of that?
Sometimes, I still have nightmares about you. They are ugly and involve feces and urine, dirty fingernails, fragile bones. I wake up and have to turn the light on, have to repeat this mantra to calm myself down: it’s over, it’s over, it’s over.
It is over. And mostly, I’m done missing you. Grieving you. I’m even close to letting go of the grief of what we lost: a relationship as adults, long phone conversations, lunch outdoors, a shared joke and our similar laugh: a sing-song cackle. I’m nearly done grieving my lost adolescence, but I’ll never be finished with thanking you.
Not for the confusion, the pain, the loss of you, the loss of you, the loss. Never for that. I hold onto that each day with the knowledge of what we never had. But I’m thankful for the way you took responsibility for my safety, for the way I never felt threatened or judged or alone. For the love of small birds and bright colors and the miracle of growing something in the wet, black soil. For the joy I still feel, watching cookies rise on a thin metal sheet in the frame of an oven window. For the way it felt to be seen, really seen, with nothing but affection.
You were so skilled, so at ease with that kind of love. I realize now how rare that is. How I’ve inherited that willingness to love others so completely, how some parents don’t do this well, or at all, or with the ambivalence you never seemed to have.
Am I angry? Am I sad? Of course. Oh, God, am I ever. That battle goes on every day. But it feels good to be thankful now; I’m so clear that I’m thankful now. I’m thankful now. I’m thankful.