1. My mother read Neruda to us in Quilpué, Cauquenes, and Los Ángeles. 2. A single book: Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada (Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair), Editorial Losada, Buenos Aires, 1961. On the title page, a drawing of Neruda and a note explaining that this edition commemorated the printing of the millionth copy. Had a million copies of Veinte poemas already been printed in 1961? Or did the note refer to all of Neruda’s published works? The first, I fear, although both possibilities are disturbing, and unimaginable now. 3. My mother’s name is written on the second page of the book: María Victoria Ávalos Flores. A somewhat hasty examination of the handwriting leads me to the improbable conclusion that someone else wrote her name there. It is not my father’s handwriting, nor that of anyone I know. Whose is it then? After closely scrutinizing the signature blurred by the years, I am obliged to admit, albeit skeptically, that it is my mother’s. 4. In 1961 and 1962, my mother was not as old as I am now; she hadn’t turned 35, and was working in a hospital. She was young and full of life. 5. This copy of Veinte poemas, my copy, has traveled a long way. From town to town in southern Chile, from house to house in Mexico City, and then to three cities in Spain. 6. The book didn’t always belong to me, of course. First it was my mother’s. She gave it to my sister, and when my sister left Girona and went to Mexico, she passed it on to me. Of the books my sister left me, my favorites were the science fiction and the complete works (up to that point) of Manuel Puig, which I had given her, and re-read after she went away. 7. By that stage I didn’t like Neruda anymore. Especially not Veinte poemas de amor! 8. In 1968, my family moved to Mexico City. Two years later, in 1970, I met Alejandro Jodorowski, who, for me, was the Archetype of the Artist. I waited for him outside a theater (he was directing a production of Zarathustra, with Isela Vargas) and said I wanted him to teach me how to make films. I then became a frequent visitor at his house. I don’t think I was a good student. Jodorowski asked me how much I spent a week on cigarettes. Quite a bit, I said (I’ve always smoked like a chimney). He told me to stop smoking and spend the money on Zen meditation classes with Ejo Takata. All right, I said. I went along for a few days, but during the third session I decided it wasn’t for me. 9. I parted company with Ejo Takata in the middle of a Zen meditation session. When I tried to slip away he came at me brandishing a wooden stick, the one he used on the students who asked to be hit. What he would do was hold out the stick; the students would say yes or no, and if the response was affirmative, he’d let them have a couple of whacks, and the sound would echo in the dim room hazy with incense. 10. On this occasion, however, he didn’t ask me first. His attack was precipitate and stentorian. I was sitting next to a girl, near the door, and Ejo was at the back of the room. I thought he had his eyes shut and wouldn’t hear me leaving. But the bastard heard and threw himself at me shouting the Zen equivalent of banzai. 11. My father was a heavyweight amateur boxing champion. His unchallenged reign was restricted to southern Chile. I never liked boxing, but had been taught since I was a kid; there was always a pair of boxing gloves in the house, whether in Chile or in Mexico. 12. When Master Ejo Takata threw himself at me shouting, he probably didn’t mean to do me any harm, or expect me to defend myself automatically. Normally when he whacked his followers with that stick it was to dissipate their nervous tension. But I wasn’t suffering from nervous tension; I just wanted to get out of there once and for all. 13. If you’re being attacked, you defend yourself; it’s only natural, especially when you’re seventeen, especially in Mexico City. Ejo Takata was Nerudian in his ingenuity. 14. Jorodowski was to thank for Ejo Takata’s presence in Mexico, so he said. At one stage Takata used to go looking for drug addicts in the jungles of Oaxaca, mostly North Americans who hadn’t been able to find their way back from a hallucinogenic trip. 15. My experience with Takata, however, didn’t make me give up smoking. 16. One of the things I liked about Jodorowski was the way, whenever he talked about Chilean intellectuals (usually in critical terms), he would include me among them. That was a big boost to my confidence, although naturally I had no intention whatsoever of resembling the said intellectuals. 17. One afternoon, I can’t remember how, we got on the topic of Chilean poetry. He said the greatest Chilean poet was Nicanor Parra. He recited one of Nicanor’s poems straight-away, and another, and then one more. Jodorowski recited well but I wasn’t impressed by the poems. At that stage I was a highly sensitive young man, as well as being ridiculous and full of myself, and I declared that Chile’s finest poet was, without any doubt, Pablo Neruda. All the rest, I added, are midgets. The discussion must have lasted about half an hour. Jodorowski brandished arguments from Gurdjieff, Krishnamurti, and Madame Blavatski, went on to talk about Kiekegaard and Wittgenstein, then Topor, Arrabal, and himself. I remember him saying that Nicanor, on his way somewhere, had stayed at his house. In this statement I glimpsed a childlike pride which since then I have noticed again and again in the majority of writers. 18. In one of his books Bataille says that tears are the ultimate form of communication. I started crying, not in a normal, ordinary way, but wildly, in spurts, more or less like Alice in Wonderland, shedding gallons of tears. 19. As I left Jodorowski’s house I realized I would never return, and that hurt as much as what he had said, and I went on crying in the street. More dimly, I also realized that never again would I have a master as charming as that gentleman thief and consummate con man. 20. But what dismayed me most of all was my poorly argued, rather pathetic defense (a defense it was, nevertheless) of Pablo Neruda, when all I had read of his were the Veinte poemas de amor (which by that stage struck me as unintentionally funny) and Crepusculario (Twilight), including the poem “Farewell,” to which I remain unshakably faithful, though even then I saw it as the ultimate schmaltz. 21. In 1971 I read Vallejo, Huidobro, Martín Adán, Borges, Oquendo de Amat, Pablo de Rokha, Gilberto Owen, López Velarde, Oliverio Girondo. I even read Nicanor Parra. I even read Pablo Neruda! 22. The Mexican poets I was hanging out and swapping books with at the time belonged for the most part to one of two camps: the Nerudians or the Vallejians. I was, unquestionably, Parrian in my isolation. 23. But the fathers must be killed; poets are born orphans. 24. In 1973 I went back to Chile: a long journey over land and sea, repeatedly delayed by hospitality. I met with revolutionaries of various stripes. The whirlwind of fire that would soon engulf Central America could already be glimpsed in the eyes of my friends, who spoke of death as if they were talking about a film. 25. I reached Chile in August 1973. I wanted to help build socialism. The first book of poems I bought was Parra’s Obra Gruesa (Construction Work). The second was Artefactos (Artifacts), also by Parra. 26. I had less than a month in which to enjoy building socialism. At the time, of course, I didn’t know that. I was Parrian in my ingenuity. 27. I went to a conference and saw various Chilean poets; it was awful. 28. On the eleventh of September I turned up at the only functioning party cell in the suburb where I was living and volunteered. The man in charge was a communist factory worker, chubby and perplexed, but willing to fight. His wife seemed to be more courageous than he was. We all piled into their little wooden-floored dining room. While the man in charge was speaking, I examined the books on the sideboard. There weren’t many, mostly cowboy novels like the ones my father used to read. 29. For me, the eleventh of September was a comic as well as a bloody spectacle. 30. I kept watch in an empty street. I forgot my password. My comrades were fifteen years old, retired, or out of work. 31. When Neruda died, I was already in Mulchén, with my uncles, aunts, and cousins. In November, while traveling from Los Ángeles to Concepción, I was arrested during a road check and taken prisoner. I was the only one they took from the bus. I thought they were going to kill me there and then. From the cell I could hear the officer in charge of the patrol, a fresh-faced policeman who looked like an asshole (an asshole wriggling around in a sack of flour) and talking with his superiors in Concepción. He was saying he had captured a Mexican terrorist. Then he took it back and said: A foreign terrorist. He mentioned my accent, the dollars I was carrying, the brand of my shirt and trousers. 32. My great-grandparents, the Flores and the Grañas, vainly attempted to tame the wilds of Araucanía (when they couldn’t even tame themselves), so they were probably Nerudian in their excess. My grandfather, Roberto Alvos Martí, was a colonel, stationed at various forts in the south until his mysteriously early retirement, which leads me to suspect that he was Nerudian in his sympathy for the blue and white. My paternal grandparents came from Galicia and Catalonia, gave their lives to the province of Bío-Bío and were Nerudian in their landscape and patient labor. 33. I was imprisoned in Concepción for a few days and then released. They didn’t torture me, as I had feared; they didn’t even rob me. But they didn’t give me anything to eat either, or any kind of covering for the night, so I had to rely on the goodwill of the other prisoners, who shared their food with me. In the small hours I could hear them torturing others; I couldn’t sleep and there was nothing to read except a magazine in English that someone had left behind. The only interesting article in it was about a house that had once belonged to Dylan Thomas. 34. I got out of that hole thanks to a pair of detectives who had been at high school with me in Los Ángeles, and to my friend Fernando Fernández, who was twenty-one, just a year older than me, but possessed of a composure comparable to that of the idealized Englishman on whom Chileans were desperately and vainly trying to model themselves. 35. In January 1974 I left Chile. I have never been back. 36. Were the Chileans of my generation courageous? Yes, they were. 37. In Mexico I hear the story of a young woman from the MIR who had been tortured by having live rats put into her vagina. This woman managed to get out of the country and went to Mexico City. There she lived, but each day she grew sadder, until one day the sadness killed her. That’s what I heard. I didn’t know her personally. 38. The story isn’t exceptional. We are told of peasant woman in Guatemala being subjected to unspeakable humiliations. The amazing thing about the story is its ubiquity. In Paris I heard of a Chilean woman who had been tortured in the same way before emigrating to France. She too had been a member of the MIR; she was the same age as the woman in Mexico and, like her, had died of sadness. 39. Some time later, I was told of a Chilean woman in Stockholm: she was young, a member or ex-member of the MIR; in November 1973 she had been tortured, using rats, and she had died, to the astonishment of the doctors who were treating her, of sadness, morbus melancholicus. 40. Is it possible to die of sadness? Yes, it is. It is possible (though painful) to die of hunger. It is even possible to die of spleen. 41. Was this anonymous Chilean, repeatedly subject to torture and death, a single woman, or three different women who happened to share the same political affiliation and the same kind of beauty? According to a friend, it was one woman, who, as in Vallejo’s poem “Masa,” multiplied in death without in any way surviving. (Actually, in Vallejo’s poem, it is not the dead man who multiplies but the supplicants begging him not to die). 42. Once upon a time there was a Belgian poet called Sophie Podolski. She was born in 1953 and committed suicide in 1974. She published only one book, called Le pays où tout est permis (The Country Where Everything Is Allowed, Montfaucon Research Center, 1970, 280 facsimile pages). 43. Germain Nouveau (1852-1920), a friend of Rimbaud’s, spent the last years of his life as a vagabond and beggar. He went by the name of Humilis (in 1910 he published Les poèms d’Humilis) and slept on church porches. 44. Everything is possible. Every poet ought to know that. 45. I was once asked who were my favorite young Chilean poets. Maybe they didn’t say “young” but “contemporary.” I said I liked Rodrigo Lira, although he can’t really be called contemporary anymore (though he is young, younger than any of us) because he’s dead. 46. Dance partners for the new Chilean poetry; the mathematical scions of Neruda and the cruel progeny of Huidobro, the comic followers of Mistral and the humble disciples of De Rokha, the heirs to Parra’s bones and to Lihn’s eyes. 47. A confession: I cannot read Neruda’s memoirs without feeling seriously ill. What a mass of contradictions. All that effort to hide and beautify at thing with a disfigured face. So little generosity, so little sense of humor. 48. During a period of my life, thankfully behind me now. I used to see Adolf Hitler in the corridor of my house. All Hitler did was walk up and down the corridor, without even looking at me when he passed the open door of my bedroom. At first I thought it was the devil (who else could it have been?) and feared I had gone irreversibly mad. 49. After two weeks, Hitler disappeared, and I was expecting him to be replaced by Stalin. But Stalin didn’t show. 50. It was Neruda who next took up residence in my corridor. Not for two weeks, like Hitler, but three days—the shorter stay seemed to indicate that my depression was easing. 51. Neruda, however, made noises (Hitler had been as quiet as a block of drifting ice); he complained, murmuring incomprehensible words; his hands reached out as his lungs absorbed the air (the air of that cold European corridor) with relish. The pained gestures and beggarlike manner of the first night changed progressively, so that in the end the ghost seemed to have reconstituted himself as a grave and dignified courtier poet. 52. On the third and final night, as he was going past my door, he stopped and looked at me (Hitler had never done that) and, this is the strangest part, he tried to speak but could not, expressed his impotence with gestures and finally, before disappearing with the first light of dawn, smiled at me (as if to say that communication is impossible, but one should still make an attempt?) 53. Some time ago I met three Argentinian brothers who later gave their lives for revolutionary causes in different Latin American countries. The mutual betrayal of the two elder brothers accidentally implicated the younger one, who hadn’t betrayed anyone, and died, so I heard, calling out to them, although it is more likely that he died in silence. 54. The children of the Spanish lion, said Rubén Darío, a born optimist. The children of Walt Whitman, José Martí, and Violeta Parra; torn apart, forgotten, in mass graves, at the bottom of the sea, the Trojan destiny of their mingled bones terrifying the survivors. 55. I think of them this week as the veterans of the International Brigades that visit Spain: little old men climbing down from the buses, brandishing their fists. There were 40,000 of them, and 350 or so have come back to Spain. 56. I think of Beltrán Morales, I think of Roberto Lira, I think of Mario Santiago, I think of Reinaldo Arenas. I think of poets who died under torture, who died of AIDS, or overdosed, all those who believed in a Latin American paradise and died in a Latin American hell. I think of their works, which may, perhaps, show the Left a way out of the pit of shame and futility. 57. I think of our useless pointy heads and the abominable death of Isaac Babel. 58. When I grow up I want to be Nerudian in my synergy. 59. Questions to ponder before going to sleep: Why didn’t Neruda like Kafka? Why didn’t Neruda like Rilke? Why didn’t Neruda like De Rokha? 60. Did he like Barbusse? Everything seems to suggest that he did. And Sholokhov. And Alerti. And Octavio Paz. Odd companions for a voyage through Purgatory. 61. But he also liked Éluard, who wrote love poems. 62. If Neruda had been addicted to cocaine or heroin, if he had been killed by a piece of rubble during the siege of Madrid in 1936, if he had been Lorca’s lover and committed suicide after Lorca was killed, it would have been quite a different story. If Neruda had been the mystery that, deep down, he really is! 63. In the basement of edifice known as “The Works of Pablo Neruda,” is Ugolino lurking, waiting to devour his children? 64. Without the slightest remorse! Innocently! Simply because he’s hungry and doesn’t want to die! 65. He didn’t have children, but the people loved him. 66. Do we have to come back to Neruda as we do to the Cross, on bleeding knees, with punctured lungs and eyes full of tears? 67. When our names no longer mean a thing, his will go on shining, his will go on soaring over an imaginary domain called Chilean Literature. 68. By then all poets will live in artistic communities called jails or asylums. 69. Our imaginary home, the home we share.