Just as I’ve always thought of myself as a carpenter-poet. I think of Rafita as the poet of carpentry. He brings his tools wrapped in a newspaper, under his arm, and unwraps what looks to me like a chapter and picks up the worn handles of his hammers and rasps, losing himself in the wood. His work is perfect.
A little boy and a dog accompany him and watch his hands as they move in careful circles. His eyes are like those of Saint John of the Cross, and his hands raise the colossal tree trunks with delicacy as well as skill.
On the rauli wood beams, I wrote with chalk the names of dead friends, and he went along carving my calligraphy into the wood as swiftly as if he had flown behind me and written the names again with the tip of a wing.
Some Words for a Book of Stone
This stony book, born in the desolate coastlands and mountain ranges of my country, was abandoned in my thoughts for twenty years. It wasn’t possible to write it then for wandering reasons and the tasks of every year and day.
It is the poet who must sing with his countrymen and give to men all that is man: dream and love, light and night, reason and madness. But let’s not forget the stones! We should never forget the silent castles, advance to kill or die, adorn our existence without compromise, preserving the mysteries of their ultraterrestrial matter, independent and eternal.
My compatriot, Gabriela Mistral, said once that in Chile it is the skeleton that one sees first, the profusion of rocks in the mountains and sand. As nearly always, there is much truth in what she said.
I came to live in Isla Negra in 1939 and the coast was strewn with these extraordinary presences of stone and they spoke to me in a hoarse and drenching language, a jumble of marine cries and primal warnings.
Because of this, the book, adorned with portraits of creatures of stone, is a conversation that I open to all the poets of the earth, so that is may be continued by all in order to encounter the secret of stone and of life.
The Pacific Ocean was overflowing with borders of the map.
There was no place to put it. It was so large, wild and blue that it didn’t fit anywhere. That’s why it was left in front of my window.
The humanists worried about the little men it devoured over the years.
They do not count.
Not even that galleon, laden with cinnamon and pepper that perfumed it as it went down.
Not even the explorers’ ship — fragile as a cradle dashed to pieces in the abyss — which keeled over with its starving men.
In the ocean, a man dissolves like a bar of salt. And the water doesn’t know it.
From Neruda’s book Isla Negra, published in 2001 and translated by Dennis Maloney and Clark Zlotchew.