by E. A. Costa (May 09)
Dime, la rosa está desnuda?
There’s no trick to it in Spanish unless one desires translation.
In the está is the question, not whether the rose is unclothed by nature, but whether at the moment the question is asked that happens to be the case.
“Tell me—are you undressed?” asks Neruda barging into boudoir of rose in full bloom.
Poet sees what he sees, and seeing asks—ultimately himself--what he may properly say about it.
It stands as open allusion to Gertrude Stein’s “A rose is a rose is a rose.”
Is it a statement of Rose’s nature or what she happens to be for the moment, which is without clothes?
Stein addresses the matter with two instances of “is”. Are they the same, and thus in echo of Wittgenstein’s tautology, thus also otiose?
Neruda possesses and is possessed of Picasso in the long moment of getting to the essence of Stein in his portrait while she repeats to him, calquing Spanish, “What you see is all there is.”
Rose clothed and Stein undressed stand pat.
“Die Welt ist alles, was der Fall ist”--and this is the case after all and after the fall.
She opens her note tactically, and in seemingly concessive, unstonely mode: “Many of the things you say are true.”
What to do with that? Is this another game of mother tongue? Is that all there is? In a roundabout way she then demands a commitment of one hundred thousand dollars.
Money, like God, is serious business on both sides of the family tree.
All that’s missing is the salesmanship of such a deal I have for you.
He long ago lost interest in carnality become adjunct of cold mask he no longer knew.
He didn't drink much and he never went to bed with strangers.
Her new girlfriends, he guessed, were surely telling her that all men are all men and all they are after is sex with them and nothing else.
He was a man. Therefore that is how he might be defused and dominated.
There is something ultimately biological about it.
Certainly it seems true in many instances of men, especially American, who have little to offer in the ways of women who have little to offer in the ways of men.
He responds as paper doll—her weapon of choice—and adds the tail of Neruda’s perro muerto in another e-mail:
...No hay adiós a mi perro que se ha muerto.
Y no hay ni hubo mentira entre nosotros.
Ya se fue y lo enterré, y eso era todo.
This is not written with lazy or unlearned in mind. It is unlikely ever to inspire mass hysteria.
The assonance from dog to death to lies to buried like a bone underground is not Neruda’s densest, strongest sentence but impresses nonetheless.
At the bank some of his little, long ago Spanish began to revive in still native if infantile Italian accent, itself far northern and with Lombard stress and Piacentine clipping, sometimes sounding as if every statement were a question and every question a statement.
Or is that the only dress she has: O sólo tiene ese vestido?
Neruda’s “O” rolls onward, Latinate only in the question of which “Or”, vel—“as you wish”, that is, one or the other or both, or “aut”, one of these and not the other?
Irritation lingers but staying power is gone.
“Many of the things you say are true”, the saleslady writes, trying to get a commitment to a cool hundred thousand.
He is not buying. But there is a flash of momentary charm as if a Munchausen (an English spelling) with bite.
“Perish the thought”, he smiles, “that anything I say could seem true to a lady like you.”
Is Gertrude nude or is that her only dress? Translation into mere English is impossible.
(EAC copyright 09)