Poem

Six Poems

Pablo Neruda

The citizen


I went into the toolshops
in all innocence
to buy a simple hammer
or some vague scissors.
I should never have done it.
Since then and restlessly
I devote my time to steel,
to the most shadowy tools:
hoes bring me to my knees,
horseshoes enslave me.

I am troubled all week,
chasing aluminium clouds,
elaborate screws,
bars of silent nickel,
unnecessary door-knockers,
and now the toolshops are aware of my addiction—
they see me come into the cave
with my wild madman’s eyes
and see that I pine for
curious smoky things
which no one would want to buy
and which I only goggle at.

For in the addict’s dream
sprout stainless steel flowers,
endless iron blades,
eye-droppers of oil,
water-dippers of zinc,
saws of marine cut.
It’s like the inside of a star,
the light in these toolshops—
there in their own splendour
are the essential nails,
the invincible latchkeys,
the bubbles in spirit levels
and the tangles of wire.

They have a whale’s heart,
these toolshops of the port—
they’ve swallowed all the seas,
all the bones of ships,
waves and ancient tides
come together there
and leave behind in that stomach
barrels which rumble about,
ropes like gold arteries,
anchors as heavy as planets,
long and intricate chains
like intestines of the whale itself
and harpoons it swallowed, swimming
east from the Gulf of Penas.

Once I entered, I never left
and never stopped going back;
and I’ve never got away from
the aura of toolshops.
It’s like my home ground,
it teaches me useless things,
it drowns me like nostalgia.

What can I do? There are single men
in hotels, in bachelor rooms;
there are patriots with drums
and inexhaustible fliers
who rise and fall in the air.

I am not in your world.
I’m a dedicated citizen,
I belong to the toolshops.

Translated from the Spanish by Alastair Red

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