Ode to a Violin in California

words by Pablo Neruda

One day I fell like a stone
upon the California coast,
on my own and out of luck.
Morning came like an immaculate bowl
overflowing with stars and newness.

O pregnant sky,
blue sculpture’s
breast trembling
above Mexico’s boarders,
and on the shore
alone there with
only the wayfarer’s sadness,
a withered stick all alone,
wrung out and blistered,
washed up
on California’s sinister salt shore
by the tide’s whim.

Suddenly the voice of a violin,
thin and hungry,
floated on the evening air
like a stray dog’s howling.
it was my companion,
it was mankind howling,
it was someone else’s loneliness loose upon the sand.

I sought that violin in the night.
I searched street by pitch-black street,
went house by weathered house,
star by star.
It faded and fell silent
then suddenly surged,
a flare in the brackish night.
It was a pattern of incendiary sound,
a spiral of musical contours,
and I went on searching in silence.
Finally, there her was,
at the entrance to a bar.
a man and his hungry violin.

The last drunk weaved homeward
to a bunk on board a ship,
and violated tables shrugged off empty glasses,
Nobody was left waiting,
and nobody was on the way.
The wine had left for home,
the beer was sound asleep,
and in the doorway soared
the violin with its ragged companion,
it soared over the lonely night,
on a solitary scale
sounding of a silver and complaint,
a single theme that wrung from the sky,
wandering fire, comets, and troubadours,
and I played my violin half asleep,
held fast in the estuary’s mouth,
the strings giving birth to those desolate cries,
the wood worn smooth
by the plunging of many fingers.
I honored the smoothness,
the feel of a perfect instrument,
perfectly assembled.
That hungry man’s violin
was like family to me,
like kin,
and not just because of raised
its howling to the angry stars,
no: because it raised
learning how to befriend lost souls
and sing songs to wandering strangers.