from Pablo Neruda’s memoir:
My First Poem
Now I am going to tell you a story about birds. In Lake Budi, swans were brutally hunted. They were stalked quietly in boats and then, rowing faster, faster….Swans, like the albatross, take to the air clumsily, they have to make a run, skimming the water. They lift their huge wings heavily, and so were easily caught, finished off with sticks.
Someone brought me a swan that was half dead. It was one of those magnificent birds I have not seen again anywhere in the world, a black neck swan. A snowy vessel with its slender neck looking as if squeezed into a black silk stocking, its beak an orange color and its eyes red.
This happened at the seaside, in Puerto Saavedra, Imperial del Sur.
It was almost dead when they gave it to me. I bathed its wounds and stuffed bits of bread and fish down its throat. It threw up everything. But it recovered from its injuries gradually and began to realize that I was its friend. And I began to realize that homesickness was killing it. So I went down the streets to the river, with the heavy bird in my arms. It swam a little way, close by. I wanted it to fish and showed it the pebbles on the bottom, the sand the silver fish of the south went gliding over. But its sad eyes wandered off into the distance.
I carried it to the river and back to my house every day for more than twenty days. The swan was almost as tall as I. One afternoon it seemed dreamier; it swam near me but wasn’t entertained by my ruses for trying to teach it how to fish again. It was very still and I picked it up in my arms to take it home. But when I held it up to my breast, I felt a ribbon unrolling, and something like a black arm brushed my face. It was the long, sinuous neck falling. That’s how I found out that swans don’t sing when they die.