Sadness in Families

By Robert Kahn

Nothing I can say about this election would do anyone any good.

I have translated Pablo Neruda’s poem, “Sadness in Families,” from his 1935 collection, “Residence on Earth.”

The final stanzas express my feelings pretty well. If the first stanza doesn’t make sense, well, press on. Try to get through it. Sometimes that’s all you can do.

Here is the poem.


I keep a blue flask,

inside it an ear and a portrait:

When the night forces

feathers of owl,

when the harsh cherry

breaks its lips and threatens

with shells that the oceanic wind penetrates

I know there are great buried plains,

quartz ingots,


waters blue for battle,


veins of retreats and camphor,

fallen things, medals, tendernesses,

parachutes and kisses.


It’s nothing but the step of one day toward another,

a single bottle cast on the sea,

and a restaurant where roses arrive,

a dining hall abandoned like a spine: I refer

to a shattered cup, a curtain, the core

of a deserted room where a river flows

dragging stones. A house

built on foundations of rain,

a house of two floors, with obligatory windows

and strictly faithful ivy.


I leave in the afternoon and I arrive

full of mud and death,

dragging the earth and its roots

and its vague belly in which

cadavers sleep with wheat,

with metals and collapsed elephants.


And over everything there is a terrible

abandoned lunchroom,

with broken cruets

and vinegar running under the chairs,

and an arrested moonray,

something obscure, and I search

for a comparison within me:

perhaps a store surrounded by the sea

and torn dishcloths dripping brine.

It’s only an abandoned lunchroom,

and around it are submerged factories,

woods that only I know,
because I am sad, and I travel,

and I know the earth, and I am sad.

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