Peace Corps Writers
Readings from the 40 + 1 (page 4)
Readings from the 40 + 1

page 1
The Communist

page 2
Living Right in Antofagasta

page 3
La Vida Antofagastina 1968
How I became a poet

page 4
Meeting Neruda

      Meeting Neruda

    Down from the Northern Desert
    into the lush South forest
    lakes ringed with half-hidden chalets
    the Volcan Osorno
    posing for gorgeous postcards.

    We spend a day in the Puerto Montt mist
    waiting for the weekly boat to Chiloe
    where dolphins leap
    to look at us on deck.

    Saturday afternoon
    the rain has stopped
    crowds idle out of the closing shops.
    We sightsee nothing in particular
    and chat.

    Maria Elena, the prim librarian from Valparaiso,
    who knows I like literature,
    asks (theoretically)
    “Would you like to meet Pablo Neruda?”

    “Sure, why not?” I answer theoretically,
    but she ’s gone.

    Then she reappears from the crowd
    hand in hand
    with Neruda, an apparition from a dustjacket,
    enthusiastic and earthy as his odes,
    happy to meet me
    collaborating with an American photographer
    in Chiloe,
    with its fishing villages and ancient customs . . .

    When he leaves, still expansive, smiling,
    (it ’s a pleasure to know me),
    “I didn ’t know you knew Neruda,”
    I say to Maria Elena.
    “I didn ’t,” she says,
    “I just thought you ’d like to meet him.”

    Three days later
    as we stroll down a dirt road
    behind the University in Valdivia,
    coming the other way,
    his arm around a blond,
    is Neruda.
    He waves and smiles in recognition.

    Ah, what a place!
    Where great poets are friends with everyone!

James Galbraith taught English at the Universidad del Norte in Antofagasta. Since returning from Chile he has been teaching English and Spanish at Harford Community College in Bel Air, Maryland
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