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Del Cuerpo

by Joe Nasta 2 years ago in literature
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after Pablo Neruda's 20 Poemas de Amor y una Canción Desesperada//for Cassi and Cassandra


I leapt, seabag bulging from my back. I stepped off the last concrete step on the dock. In the rolling launch, after flying to Chile and traveling eighty kilometers through her green and yellow roads, I was home. The Ocean. In the closing distance my ship bobbed in the current and wind-leaned away from her anchor in just-out-the-shipyard paint. I absorbed familiar cycles through the deck of the launch.

From the ship agent’s car on the road closest to the rocky shore, Valparaíso left a desert taste on my lips. I was empty. It was brown, packed dirt. I streaked the earth with grime.

Now fallen into the bay, I turned and saw the neon hills of Valpo, the jewel of the Pacific. When the limit of a ship lay not in her Panamax scantlings but in the salted determination of her crew, the only way between Pacific and Atlantic was around the storm-ridden tip of Cape Horn. This Chilean coast was the final stretch of land before dark-bending unknown.

Valpo had been the last port before the most dangerous and uncertain waters. In the protected harbor, her land arms extended around, enamored the vessels come to berth within her embrace. Sailors gazed up the cliffs, up to the sudden rise of hills towards afternoon sky. The hills were lined with houses. Crystalline blue, florescent yellow, ruby red and emerald, they were precious stones embedded in the dirt. The hills were lined with last hopes, penultimate chances, and a thin sheen of fearlessness. They were lined with living, breathing, pulsing people who might be the last acquaintances a sailor ever made.

Approaching this jewel, it was no wonder the sailors fell in love. My stomach groaned with lust: I wanted to be covered with soot and forgotten after the value of things changed.

Valparaíso rose above me and the sea. The water did not reflect the hills, los cerros. The sky did not smother the craggy cliff. The launch boat hurried through the surf.

The call of home temporarily anchored in her bay, the allure of her soaring hills, the warm air kiss on my cheeks. I climbed the pilot ladder up the side of the ship. Below my feet, the gap between me and the launch was lapped by gently glistening waves. I looked back towards los cerros and climbed aboard. They, too, were glistening.

Mornings onboard started with routine to ease into the day, keeping me from floating in a worksleepeatsleepwork endless cycle. I got up much earlier than was necessary, meditated, hopped on the rowing machine, showered, engaged in ritual coffee brewing with my pour over and Portland roasted grounds, journaled, read Some of the Dharma by Jack Kerouac, wrote an email to a friend, and ate breakfast.

Right before I hurried down to work at the last possible minute, the most fulfilling part of my day: I stood on the stern gazing at watercliffshore watercliffshore watercliffshore, sky. What did they do with each other when I wasn’t looking? Who were they to each other?


Cuerpo de hombre, morenos riscos, brazos morenos

me pareces más que como te presentas al cielo.

Mi cuerpo de esfuerzo te ví en la niebla y te hace parecer salvaje

sobre la calma que están antes de mis ojos.

shoreline at night

My first day ashore was Christmas. The city was empty streets strewn with litter. A huge square in honor of the Navy was vast across from the port entrance, and nobody loitered on its stones but me and an officer-on-horse statue, sword raised and glinting. He faced away from the ocean and charged towards the sudden rise in elevation. I tried to see the detail in his eyes but it was too far above me. I was too close to his base.

I decided to take the train along the coastline without knowing where I wanted to go. An old woman sat right next to me even though almost all the seats were open. I turned away, embarrassed of my pale face and clumsy tongue. I got off at the stop near the beach, the boardwalk. I only saw a few couples walking between the grey boulders on the shore and the abandoned gravel lot and graffitied warehouses. The lot was filled with resting seagulls clustered unflockishly. No squawking. I longed to run through them but chain link between us.

I made it back to the city. I did not look anyone in the eye. A park ran like a strip in the middle of a major road where a festival for children was packing up. The grass of the park died into patches of sand and dirt. I longed to roll the rough grains on my skin but fear of being seen.

The sunlight filled the streets with light, but all the shops and restaurants were closed. I got a sunburn in the shape of my tank top. I downloaded Tinder as I passed the park, just to see if anyone else was hiding. I wanted them to jump out and surprise me, grab me, hold me. Ha, nobody did.

I watched the sunrise gloworb stretch and resume his daily watch above the sea, the sky, and the hills. He traveled above the line that was horizon: the bay’s ripplegreen become blue, the reflection of whitesky become lovemark. He traveled up above the rocky cliffs the water hit endlessly.

I felt the passion of the night. Filled with the rage of secret, the water and the sky churned violence, meeting as if for the first time in the darkness of every night. Thick air hovered and mixed with salt. The blackness encompassed all of it.

Swells of sweatsmell infatuation. Cloud lips bitten, kelpy tongues pulled, humid skins pinched and slapped, blushing cheeks of open air became exposed by the rising sun; the bay showed the remnants of this love in the fuchsia, red, purple bruises of the morning sky.

I breathed all of it in on the stern. I longed for all of it on the stern. I longed to be the earth. And then I scuttled down to work, beaming.

gantry cranes

Fui solo como un reflexión. A mí peleaban las gaviotas

y en mí la mañana empezaba irrumpir,

pero la tierra era en una nube, y con mis ojos te creaba

como los cerros eran creando, y como las piedras grises eran,

y como cayeron ellas al mar de la misma gris.

landscape hillside

At first, I only said hello and exchanged a few messages, then stopped.


“Que tal?”

“Como Estás?”

The instant of their time held filled my chest with spontaneous purple marks that faded as quickly as they came. It made my heart race to talk, and then not talk, to these strange men. The hazy interactions with them blurred my intentions. I stayed up late to message them. I stopped getting up to complete my routine. I still made it to the stern every morning so wispy versions of the city entered my eyes.

Santiago was the first Chileno I had a full conversation with. He was an artist with big lips on a long face that never smiled in his Tinder pictures. Half-lidded eyes peered from the screen at mine. A tattoo peeked out under his shirt cuff.

We tried to speak in English, but as the time between his responses lengthened, I knew he must be having trouble with words. I waited a whole day while taking a heat exchanger apart in rhythmic motion, laying each of its hundred plates into a stack.

“Maybe my Spanish isn’t as bad as I thought. We can talk in Spanish if it is easier for you. We can try—“ with visions of the sky inside my mind, I began to type in Spanish. With every word, the space between me and the city became clearer. With every word, I knew the city was built of stone.

Still I held an image in my mind of a stranger with his head bent as he peered out sleepy eyes and worked on something I couldn’t see with his hands. The idea of him working, forming something real, existing and of him running up the city’s streets was irresistible to me.

Saturday night full moon, he kept a serious face as he danced under the streams of light. I bit my lip in a selfie. He uploaded a new picture: smiling.

Some days were bad. On days like those the sun rose unremarkably upon Valpo shrouded in her damp cloaks, fog moist to the middle of los cerros and impenetrable at the tops. The water burnt black as oil and the stagnant cloud caught thick in my throat.

The sameness of gantry cranes leered. Almost every shade of color dulled as boats, people, cars diluted into shadow selves.

With the sun obscured there was no heat, only brisk wind smacks on arms and faces. With no visible sunrise, the sky was not colored with love marks. I imagined them, still there. I felt through to the passion underneath.

To me the hills still glinted. Although muddied, the jewel’s faint shine still shone.


Ahora, huyó la niebla, y no te conozco más.

Cuerpo de hierbas, de espuma, de peñas húmedas y fuertes!

Ah tus uñas de madera! Ah tu pecho de arena!

Ah la realidad de su cara! Ah tu voz profundo y en calma!

fuente bavara

On a Sunday, I waited to meet a man in Plaza Aníbol Pinto at six. At six thirty I was still alone.

A statue of Poseidon rose from the fountain while I sat on the dirty grey steps. A few others sat alone or with friends in the Plaza. Café Music. Traffic, bus after bus, and a man on a unicycle passed. Pigeons dashed along the cobblestone and picked at trash.

Left, up the rise of the road. The sun blazed. I would be burnt again.

I wandered up towards the sky in an aimless fashion. People rushed around me like they do in all of the cities I have ever been to or lived in. I hardly noticed anything about them.

I looked them in the eyes but they avoided me because I was foreign and crazy. I hiked up a long flight of brightly painted steps that was decorated with graffiti, wishing to run up them filled with energy, but at the grey top I only felt exhaustion. From my perch on top of the earth I could see the whole ocean, but I could only focus on my own ship at anchor in the bay.

The morning after the Plaza I stood on the stern. Something tasted different in the air. The sun rose. It was beautiful. No scent of hidden passion. After the wild we all existed together in the calm and that was beautiful.

The sailing board was set. I looked towards the ocean, the respite from wild, tame, beautiful, hideous, full and empty. Valparaíso. I had fallen in love but I knew, like the sailors of old, that it was time to leave.

storefronts and people

Cuerpo de hombre no mío, presentaté a mí!

Mi esperanza, mis ojos, mi ignorancia!

Resplandor solar de alba sin oscuro donde te vives,

y donde sonríes tu, y hago yo una mueca.

church and steps

Cuerpo de hombre no mío, presentaté a mí!

Mi esperanza, mis ojos, mi ignorancia!

Resplandor solar de alba sin oscuro donde te vives,

y donde sonríes tu, y hago yo una mueca.



About the author

Joe Nasta

Hi! I'm Joe (ze/zir), a queer multimodal artist and writer. I work in Seattle & I write love poems.

@roflcoptermcgee on Instagram

@joenasta on TikTok

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