Category Archives: Poetry

Breaking Bad + Homesick = Another Neruda Translation

Last week, while binge watching the last season of Breaking Bad, I heard a song I’d never heard that made my heart skip a beat and then pick up again more insistently.

The music choices in Breaking Bad don’t disappoint. First of all, rather than using music to cue the viewer’s next emotion like many (most?) shows do, Vince Gilligan, the show’s creator, seems to trust his viewers to feel, on their very own thankyouverymuch, what it is the scene is about. The music, then, reflects and highlights, rather than suggesting and manipulating. Also, he just plain old picks good music. His choices, spot-on, are not your everyday popular music, and he often plays, if not in full, then at least most of a song. Ah, respect not just for his viewers’ emotional intelligence but also for the artist. Refreshing, that!

But, back to hearing the song: the beat was of native drums (even though it is a remix, it has nothing even remotely resembling the sound of a drum kit). I could practically feel the pull of gravity on my body —down my center line, through my feet, and into the earth— as I listened. The language was Spanish and, um, could it be?! Mapuche? Yes. After a few verses it was unmistakeable. The beat was reminiscent of a Mapuche ritual dance called the “Lonkomeo.” A number of the words brought to mind the names of cities and towns and rivers and lakes of the Araucana region of Southern Chile, where I grew up, and Northwestern Argentina. It made me terribly homesick.

After downloading the song and listening to it at least as many times as the number of barrels of money that Walt White was burying in the desert in the scene that touched off my bout of homesick, I pulled out Neruda, who was from Southern Chile, of course, and tried my hand at another translation.

Here you go!

Know Ye Know Ye Know

(translation by Heidi Fischbach of
Sepan Lo Sepan Lo Sepan” by Pablo Neruda)

Oh but the lie we lived
was our daily bread.
People of the twenty first century,
it is necessary that you know,
what we did not know,
that the cons and the what fors be seen,
because we ourselves did not see,
so that no one else eat
the false food
that nourished us in our time.

It was the century of communication
held incommunicado:
the cables beneath the sea
were at times true
when the lie took on
more latitude
and longitudes than the ocean:
languages became accustomed
to straightening the devious,
to suggesting threats,
and the long tongues of wire
would coil around gossip central
like serpents
until we all shared in
the battle of the lie
and after lying we’d run away
lying to kill,
and we’d arrive lying to death.

We lied among friends
in sadness or in silence
and the enemy lied to us
with a mouth-full of hate.

It was the cold era of war.

The quiet era of hate.

A bomb from time to time
burned the soul of Vietnam.

And God tucked away in his hiding place
spied like a spider
upon remote provincials
who with drowsy passion
were falling in adultery.

[Pablo Neruda’s original, in Spanish, HERE]

Afterthought: Sadly, if Neruda saw us —the very twenty first century people to whom he wrote this poem— today, I imagine he’d shake his head and sigh. Apparently, we still haven’t gotten what he wanted us to know.

Now, go have a listen to Chancha Via Circuito’s remix of José Larralde singing “Quimey Neuquén,” as played in episode 10 of season 6 of Breaking Bad. The original song was written, as best I can tell, by Milton Aguilar y Marcelo Berbel.

Copyright © 2014, Heidi Fischbach. Don’t steal! But do feel free to share, with proper attribution and link.

Hide ‘n’ Seek! (Also, counting twelve and keeping quiet with Pablo Neruda)

Hide ‘n’ Seek. Remember the wordless buzz with which you would scatter about while someone counted to twelve, or to twenty, or to whatever number you and your friends would have determined with so much ease, using that superpower you had (still do! maybe just dormant) which instantly took whatever it needed into account and, voilá! Just like that:

“Twelve!” you’d say, “Let’s count to 12!”

Close your eyes now and there it is, right inside you, replete with receding whispers, breaking twigs, and excited waiting. No need for 3D glasses, no need for surround sound. Then is now!

Can you feel the roughness of that tree’s bark on your cheek? Can you feel the snugness of that crawl space you managed to —yup!— squeeze your whole goshdarnit body into? (High fives!)

How quietly and quickly, how without argument, it all happened. Just like that!

The best time for hide ‘n’ seek was dusk, of course. That magical time between light and night, between bright and shadow, between knowing and not knowing. A time when you’d switch from day vision, to that full-body, all-sensory, seeing that happens more easily when the world is dark.

Hide ‘n’ seek. Ahhh…

And then you grew up. You got busy. You started making yourself do things you didn’t want and not letting yourself do what you, truly, heart of hearts, wanted. Maybe you started telling yourself you were too big for crawl spaces, or too small, or old, or something for climbing places. Over the years, your thinking got crowded and, whereas before you’d have counted to 12 without a second thought, now you deliberate. And deliberate. And deliberate. And in between all that deliberation —hmmm… 12 or 20? Is 100 too much? Is 10 too little? Should we have a meeting? Make an agenda?— you bemoan the fact that you have no time, and that it’s so hard to make a decision, and and and…

Oof! Tired yet?

What if today looked like a game of hide ‘n’ seek?

What if instead of the deliberating you covered your eyes, counted to 12, and then just went ahead instead? Could it be that the next thing to do might be as obvious, if surprising, as the perfect crawl space which appears, magically, in the moment of hiding and not a moment sooner?

What if instead of pushing and pushing and pushing through that effing blah and blah and blah project you stopped and counted 12—?

What if instead of checking, once again, your smartphone, you went for a walk? Or gazed at your hands instead, maybe holding one in the other, or bringing them up to your dear face?

What if instead of yelling at the kids, or at yourself, or at Congress to stop with its bickering already you started twirling and twirling and twirling until your turning became a dance that they (or you!) couldn’t help but stop and stare at, all wide-eyed? (Who IS this marvelous, if dorky, creature? I’ll have what she is having!)

What if at the next red light you got all up close and intimate with your next breath as if it were your very first kiss?

You may not know this about me, but I share my hometown (Temuco, Chile) with belovéd Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda. Although Neruda died in 1973, when I was just a wee girl, still, I like to think that he and I drank of the same water, breathed the same air. In my dreams we walk down Temuco streets together: I am 8 and he is old and always we are walking. He has the kindest, sparkliest eyes, and we play a game which only allows us to speak in metaphor.

I like to translate my favorite Neruda poetry into English, my now-main language. Today I bring you one of my very favoritest poems of all, the one that always takes me back to Hide ‘n’ Seek:

Keeping Quiet (Pablo Neruda)
[translation (c) Heidi Fischbach, 2013]

Now we will count to twelve
and we’ll all keep still.

For once upon the earth
let’s not speak in any language,
for one second let us stop,
and not move our arms about so much.

It would be a fragrant minute,
without hurry, without locomotives,
we would all be together
in a sudden, strange unease.

Fishermen in the cold sea
would do no harm to whales
and the salt miner
would look at his torn hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars of gas, wars of fire,
victories without survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk alongside their brothers
in the shade, without doing a thing.

Don’t confuse what I want
with a total lack of action:
life is only what we do,
I want nothing to do with death.

If we weren’t all so complicit
about keeping our lives in such motion,
perhaps doing nothing for once,
perhaps a great silence would
interrupt this sadness,
this never understanding ourselves,
this threatening ourselves with death,
and perhaps the earth would teach us
as when everything appears to be dead
and then turns out to have been alive.

Now I will count to twelve
and you’ll be quiet and I will go.

[Hear Heidi read it in Spanish: HERE]


Hey! Shhhh… Yes you! Wanna hide on my massage table? You can schedule your next session online HERE (easy peasy!)


Sometimes poems run up ahead and wait for you. Sometimes they go back for you.

Sometimes poems wait for you. It’s like a poem has run up ahead to get the lay of the land and then waits for you to catch up. That’s how you can get a poem way before you get a poem, way before being able to put into words the why or the how of it. But somehow your bones knew all along because bones always know things way before thoughts do. Funny thing, that. Way before you get it in a lightbulb-in-the-brain kind of way, you can get a poem in that curious, nebulous, below-the-surface body place and there, in the dark, it can start shifting and moving things around. That’s how a poem can give you a memory of things to come, of ways things could be. And then when you come around that next bend in the path, there is the poem, waiting for you –hello, my darling!– and you realize that somehow you knew it all along.

Sometimes poems go back for you. They show up someplace you were and bring you that little thing that would have helped everything if only you’d known it or had it then. Like a wink across the table to let you know that even though you are the littlest one, the quietest one, the oddest one, the stripiest socked one, you aren’t crazy. Or a cool hand on your forehead when you’re burning up. Or a life preserver when the plane that was your world took a nosedive into the ocean. You thought you were alone but, alas, you weren’t, and when the poem shows up for you back then, it all comes together now.

Not that poets are trying to help you. Lord no. Poets aren’t preachers. And poets aren’t teachers. Poets are truth-tellers. Poets are prophets. Oftentimes prophets are only understood and become popular in retrospect because no matter what the truth looks like, no matter how the truth will land, poets say it like it is. Poetry is not the blah blah blah soundbite polished and regurgitated bullshit that comes at us all day every day these days. A poem cuts to the chase. Boom! And you sigh. And sighs never lie. Sighs come from the bone, they are bone-words. And even when a poet is saying a thing that’s hard to hear, and even though it may not be pretty at all, it feels good in your bones. Because it’s true.

Here’s a poem by Mary Oliver that I got in my bones years and years before I ever got it otherwise. At the time when I first heard it everything in my world felt broken and ugly and all I kept trying to do was fix things. My bones heard the poem and sighed. Ahhhh… They knew that broken things don’t become whole by fixing but by understanding. And oh was I ever exhausted from trying to fix things.

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice—
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.

The Journey is by Mary Oliver. It is published in “Dream Work.”

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