{pf: poetry peeps appreciate Pablo (Neruda)}

Greetings! Welcome to another Poetry Peeps adventure on Poetry Friday!

Poetry Peeps! You’re invited to our challenge in the month of May! Here’s the scoop: we’re writing a ghazal. The ghazal (tripping correctly from the tongue as “guzzle” – with apologies to those of you giving it a French flair as I used to) is the oldest poetic form still in use, with roots in Arabic, Urdu, Hindi, and Hebrew traditions. A ghazal is made to be sung, and is a couplet-based form with internal rhyme. (Find out more about it at Poets.org.) As always, the topic is totally up to you, but the Poetry Sisters are continuing with our 2023 theme of TRANSFORMATION. You have a month to craft your creation and share it on May 26th in a post and/or on social media with the tag #PoetryPals.

I feel like I need to set up a camera in the garden, so I can capture the milometers-per-hour growth of my seedlings. We have hit the 80°F mark this week in my part of the world for the first time in 2023, and the acceleration of — everything green is just gobsmacking. We’re happily stashing windbreakers and pulling out our short sleeves. …For the most part, anyway.

Last week at my Sunday gig (choir #2), a friend stepped behind the pulpit and slipped off her cardigan to put on her robe. She saw me watching her and winced. “I don’t usually wear sleeveless dresses,” she explained hurriedly. “My arms just look so bad…so crepey.”

Of course, I fussed at her about it, as we do with friends. She looked gorgeous in her spiffy dress, which I’d complimented the moment I’d seen it and I reiterated. I told her it was a gorgeous day and she had a gorgeous set of arms that needed to feel the sun on them. And then we settled down to warm up and rehearse.

But, I kept thinking about it.

Poets, my friend is eighty years old. She is a size six, maybe a seven. She swims one hundred laps in an Olympic pool three times a week, and walks two miles the other two days. She sings in the choir with me, and she’s louder and has a longer range. She sports a perfect layered cinnamon-brown bob with nary a silver strand twinkling, as well as perfect manicure at all times. More, she’s kind and funny. And she’s still worried that her upper arms look bad.

As I said to the Poetry Sisters when I mentioned this, good Lord, at some point we HAVE to be enough.

I mean, I get it. I don’t display my upper arms. Having been various sizes of fat my whole life, even when I was really lifting weights and playing sports, they were still… squishy in a way that was socially unacceptable. Bigger than other girls. I never wear sleeveless things outside of the house. But, I will not be eighty years old and still worrying about this crud. I. Will. NOT.

And so I wrote a lovely sonnet to my upper arms. The style of Pablo Neruda to me is layered and rich, loquacious and bountiful — just like my arms. He writes a lot of love poems, heady and redolent with beautiful language with which he woos the reader. I choose to attribute that to his Argentine heritage, a beautiful country filled with beautiful people speaking a lilting and glorious (and gloriously complicated, I say from the perspective of sixteen hundred days on Duolingo) language. Using the mentor poem “One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII (I don’t love you as if you were a rose)” I speak of my arms – and your arms. And all of our arms. May we embrace ourselves, and our flaws, not like something about which poets sing – some romanticized, perfect thing. Rather, may we embrace ourselves as if we’re children who may or may not be sweaty, muddy, covered in pet hair, widdle, puke, snot, or tears and still – cherished, and worthy of love.

I Do Not Love You ‘As If’

I don’t love you as if you were a summer fruit, warm,
Firm, perfumed and toothsome:
I love you as an auntie loves a defiant toddler,
Exasperation woven from skeins of amusement and resignation.

I love you as the corner of the yard the cats favor,
Dense blooming bush beneath which they lie concealed, tails twitching,
Keen to pounce and leap and rend, replacing peace with panic,
Forcing conflict and change, challenge and confrontation.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or for what,
I love you austerely, without expectation or prediction,
I love you like this because I know no way but this, to embrace
The flawed and the fleshy, the crepey, creased, amd changed,
Complete in this moment as the sweet-fleshed perfection of a ripened peach,
Complete in this broad-shouldered, wide-bellied work of cradling a wailing world.

There’s always more poetry. You should see what Liz wrote. And here’s Mary Lee’s. Tricia’s poem is here. Michelle K’s poem is here. Heidi is “Neruda-ing” (yes, that IS a word) here. More Poetry Peeps will be checking in throughout the weekend, so don’t forget to come back and read the whole roundup. Meanwhile, Poetry Friday today is hosted by Ruth at There Is Not Such Thing As A Godforsaken Town. Thanks, Ruth, and Happy Seventeenth Blog Birthday!

Well, back to the garden, poets. I’m sending you out with a hug, from my arms to yours. Happy Weekend, you are loved. ♥

15 Replies to “{pf: poetry peeps appreciate Pablo (Neruda)}”

  1. Tanita. I don’t know if I’m supposed to cry, but I am. “AT SOME POINT WE HAVE TO BE ENOUGH.” AMEN!!!
    This poem is lush and beautiful and so, so Tanita-ey. I am in love with this…. I am in love with every metaphor, fruit to toddler. I wish there was a YouTube video of you reading this aloud slam style because this should go viral. Thank you.

  2. Luscious, Tanita, and all kinds of true.

    Lymphedema and a compression sleeve make acceptance of bodily asymmetry a little trickier for me. Just when I forget it’s there and begin to live peacefully in my own body, there are the stares, the assumptions, the questions. While I’m way more comfortable in long sleeves, I do eventually wear short sleeves, but never sleeveless (but why the hell not? Maybe it’s time for that to change). I tell my students the good news is that the surgery saved my life. The bad news is that they broke my lymphatic system on that side when they took the lymph nodes out from under my arm.

    1. @Cousin Mary Lee: As much as I *want* to wear sleeveless things, I don’t think this is the year it’s going to happen, either. I know it shouldn’t be! I don’t want to be caring about this, in lieu of something, you know, important, like a life saved, or arms that still work, regardless of their weird joint thicknesses! But, here we are…

      One step at a time.

  3. My sister-in-law won’t wear anything short sleeved or sleeveless; nor will my sister. I feel self-conscious about my own upper arms, already a bit crepey, and definitely a little turkey-wingy when I see myself gesturing on screen in virtual author visits. Why are we so very demanding of perfection? Who cares what our arms look like? Tanita, your fabulous and nurturing poem and post have now pissed me off a little. So I’m challenging me to remind myself how unimportant my upper arms’ looks are and how important their strength is. And I’m challenging you to wear a sleeveless top or dress sometime in May. Get it, Tanita! Live by the poem; die by the poem :>D

  4. Cousin Tanita, I love this post and your poem with every defiant bulge and sag of my body, and I will not wait until 80 to love me* as the “dense blooming bush” in the corner of the yard. You struck exactly the right notes of passion and fruit (although maybe every Neruda-style poem love poem needs the word “kiss”) and your last line is like a manifesto for living–I was going to say as a woman, but truly, it’s a manifesto for living as a human. <3
    *with eyeliner always, of course

    1. @Cousin Heidi: I think the bush is such a place of crossroads — a place where some go to rest, some go to hunt, and everyone eventually ends up flailing and leaping and frustrated.

      And yet, it’s a great bush… may we keep having the courage to meet there.

  5. There is much about our society that feels ruthless, holding up standards that are not important, often only for women. It’s a different love poem, perhaps more of it is needed, Tanita! Each part is an anthem to what IS important, “Complete in this moment”. Wise words to me, wishing it could be so for my granddaughters, too! That’s another sonnet to write. Thanks much for this, Tanita!

  6. Yes WOW, Terrific!!! Love this tribute to our, women’s upper arms and accepting them, and your graphic image–– now what shall we do about our faces, ha, ha, maybe another Neruda style poem perhaps in a distant moon… And tasty peach ending while “cradling a wailing world,” thanks Tanita!

    1. @Sara Lewis Holmes: Thank you… Someone once said that we have to love things that are annoying like we love children (perhaps someone’s image of God?) and the imagery of my annoying little brother came back, as I tried dressing his squirming two-year-old self… a lot of love, a lot of exasperation, a lot of acceptance that This Is Two, for him.

      Love is sometimes a work in progress.

  7. Oh wow! I LOVE your poem. It may be the only sonnet to upper arms ever written in the history of womankind. 🙂 Also appreciate your thoughts about aging, accepting our bodies, etc. Your friend sounds amazing. I confess to not liking sleeveless things either — fine for a younger me, but not so much now. My mom also had this thing about “exposing her arms.” Guess it rubbed off on me. Shouldn’t be, but there it is.

    1. @jama-j: In part, we spent so much dressed up time in church, and we, of course, didn’t ever wear sleeveless dresses in church. Now as an adult who tends to wear dresses in the summertime because I prefer them to shorts, I am faced with the plethora of such cute dresses but me looking at my arms and thinking… Um, maybe not.

      It shouldn’t be, but here we are. One day – and one body part – at a time. ☺

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