'you come from the poor South, where my soul began; in that high sky your mother is still washing clothes with my mother. That's why I chose you, companera.'
A friend participates in a collaborative blogging project they call The Four. And they are inviting responses to the quotation.
I've thought about the quotation enough to know all I can come up with is a sort of stream of consciousness. Aha! That's all I ever seem to come up with.
I suspect that Neruda was speaking quite clearly about geography, but like many people nowadays my experience and that of my mother were spread out in various locations. So my impulse was to take the meaning as a metaphor for a deep familiarity between persons.
A few words stuck out: mother, soul, companera.
One morning my mother woke up and said she didn't feel right and wanted to go to the hospital. Her complaints weren't very specific. In the hospital emergency room, if I remember properly, the doctors didn't finger anything specific either. She was old and weak. But they admitted her anyway. Within a day it seems clear now in retrospect that she entered a dying period. And, indeed in a week she had died. It was a week my father and I and then later my sister Sharon sat in vigil. Altogether it was an eventful week. There was much happening in my mother's mind, it was obvious to see that, but not so obvious as to what. The stories didn't always make much sense and anyway are too hard to tell because the stories and the feelings so intertwined.
There is something she told me which moved me very much and I like to share. At one point she looked at me and said,
"It's uncanny, when I look at you now, I see you now and as a baby and a child, a handsome teenager; I see you as you have always been at once."I put quotation marks around it, the words probably weren't exactly that, but those are the words as I recollect. Her vision of me reminds a little of the curiosity that I can look at photographs of me, no matter what age I am in them, and see myself in the photograph. Well, even at my age, it still seems a little odd to look in the mirror and see myself, and that I always do recognize me. Odder still that I'd recognize a wolf looking back at me in the mirror as some people do. The point is that in recognition seems something of a mystery, at least to me.
I loved my mother very much and felt a sense of grief that nobody else would ever see me as she was seeing me then. She knew me before I knew myself and nourished me all along. With all my sadness, there was also a smile, partly a curious one. I couldn't imagine how she was seeing all of the me at once, clearly her sight was physics amended. And a smile because in her telling me what she saw, she made clear to me a cord connecting us together through time.
Neruda also makes such cords visible.
My thoughts turned then to what it means for the invisible to become visible. My mother said what she was seeing, and I'm sure she was seeing what she was saying. But for myself, when I'm saying a cord was made visible, I'm speaking in metaphor, seeing as a way to say something was made plain.
In the bathroom where I shave my face, there is a window that looks out onto the vegetable garden. We don't bother with a fence, so animals do visit the garden and eat there. I often see woodchucks in the garden. They have burrows against the foundation of our house. Really, I'm not sure how many animals occupy these dens, many. I can look out the window at them, but the geometry is such that it's not easy for them to see me in the window. With their backs to me and intently eating, somehow they still know when I'm looking. I imagine that I can tell when someone is looking at me too. I wonder what sense it is that receives the message of someone looking? And how is it that we can sometimes look at a stranger to us and know we share a familiarity? I think sometimes we can.
"Where my soul began" seemed so easily understood that I didn't pause there, instead turning my imaginations to "that high sky." I wonder about places I've never been, and Chile of all places is rich for imagination. My soul seems so specific, objective and precise, but on further reflection I know nothing of souls.
The photograph is of Blind Wille Johnson. I snagged the photo from a page a graduate student in history at San Fransisco State University by the name of Corry Dodson for a course "Computer Methodology For Historians." I like the pages and of course the photograph. What the photograph of Blind Willie Johnson has to do with the meaning of soul, is his haunting song Won't Somebody Tell Me What Is a Soul of a Man (YouTube video). I also like very much Bruce Cockburn's version of the song which can also be heard at YouTube.
The question doesn't have a good answer even when the question makes sense. Something that makes any definition for soul difficult is that I'm rather attached to my soul as you are to yours. Souls are personal and private. Our souls are also entwined with those who've come before us and we'll leave after us in the sense I was suggesting that my mother's vision of me made a cord between us visible.
I very much like the part of the quotation: "in that high sky your mother is still washing clothes with my mother." I don't know whether he wrote this as an old man, whether his mother was dead or alive. It doesn't seem to matter much, in that this entwining of souls seems removed from ordinary time; a relationship not a thing.
Our souls are the root criterion of life and there is a universe of souls. But I can't say what is a soul of a man.
I like the word "companera." Alas, I only speak English and my tongue is so often tied as it is. In a lazy way I render "companera" as "partner." In my imagination, I'm sure Neruda is speaking of his love too.
In my imagination I have my love, but not really. Still my imagination is so vivid that in one who is my love is mutual recognition, like children whose mothers wash clothes in that high sky.
Summer is such a lovely time. Still with steps on ground soft from a summer rain, a chorus of song birds singing vespers in the twilight, the smell of sweet grass in the air, and blossoms everywhere, I can feel melancholy. In the summer it's hard to take such feelings too seriously, if for no other reason than to hear the squeals of children playing in the distance which always raise a smile.
I love the poem I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. It doesn't take long to read, or you can hear Angelou recite it accompanied by music by Buckshot Le Fonque if you're inclined towards YouTube as I am.
The caged bird sings of freedom. Surely my life is a life of great privilege. But a caged bird sings and in that song is an understanding of soul available to us all, no matter how privileged. Our souls pine and yearn for the unattainable. The slightly bitter quality is necessary as our souls are in creation.