Pablo Neruda

The Citizen, Pablo Neruda

I went into the tool shops 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 aluminum clouds, elaborate screws, bars of silent nickel, unnecessary door-knockers, and now the tool shops 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 tool shops 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.

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 tool shops. 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 tool shops. —Translated by Alastair Reid

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