Thursday, March 3, 2016

SOL Day 3: Pablo Neruda's Way With Words

Fall, 1996.
I'm in graduate school, a MAT in ESL program at a tiny school that began life in the 1960s as a language training camp for early Peace Corps Volunteers.  One of our methods classes involves studying various experimental language teaching techniques, then breaking into small groups to take turns teaching a lesson to each other using that method.   We all have taught overseas already, and we all know at least one language other than English.  The Spanish speakers have some trouble finding true beginners for their practice lessons, but I have just started my first ever class in Spanish, so I'm a good guinea pig for Alden's lesson on Neruda's poetry.

It's a love poem, and the last line is:

Quiero hacer contigo lo que la primavera hace con los cerezos.

Primavera, which I associate with pasta, turns out to mean spring.  I now understand that pasta primavera is made with spring veggies, and I feel my mind expand.  The other "student" in our group is in intermediate Spanish, and he gets the full gist before I do.  I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.  The next week he reports back that he declaimed this line to his Spanish teacher, and despite the fact that he is a gay man and she's an older, married woman, she giggles and fans herself.  "I knew I'd said it right!" he crows.

Spring, 2000
I've been dating this guy since February.  I'm 31 years old and have never had a real boyfriend before.  I'm feeling the giddiness of a teenager and the uncertainty of someone who's life is undergoing significant change.  Cherry trees line the road out of town, and when I drive down the street on my way to see him, I think of the poem and smile--blush, even.  "Quiero hacer contigo," I murmur to myself, "lo que la primavera hace con los..." but I can't remember the Spanish word for cherry tree, even though I know some Spanish now, having lived and taught in Mexico for two months.  Calabeza?  No, that's pumpkin.  Cerveza?  Beer.  I drive down that cherry lined street enough times that spring that I finally remember to look it up.  In June, we start using the L word.  In October, we get engaged, and in December, we get married.  By spring 2001, I'm driving past cherry blossoms around the corner from where our mutual home is, and they still make me grin.  Blush a little, even.

Spring 2016
There's a cherry tree blooming in our yard now, a small birch bark cherry we bought after seeing one on a hike through the local arboretum.  It's spindly and mossy, but its pale pink blossoms still remind me of the first giddy rush of love.  If a tree erupting into flowers describes the sensual blossoming of lovers, then the seasonal changes and the deepening of roots serve as apt metaphors for all of married life.  Storms shake us.  We go through periods of loss and periods of growth.

And sometimes still, despite the familiarity, despite our no longer youthful bodies, despite the exhaustion of parenting and working and all that goes with it, I see my husband and think to myself, quiero hacer contigo lo que la primavera hace con los cerezos.

Written as part of the Slice of Life March writing challenge sponsored by Two Writing Teachers.


  1. What a love story! I heart Pablo Neruda and the line of poetry you share is striking. How cool that it has become a metaphor for your marriage. Your writing is very inviting.

  2. I saw Pablo Neruda in your title and had to read.
    I agree;
    "the seasonal changes and the deepening of roots serve as apt metaphors for all of married life."


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