"Poetry, is perfection's sweat but which must seem as fresh as the raindrops on a statue's brow", claimed Walcott in his Nobel speech. Here, the poet of the Caribbean, illustrates this apparent ease of writing and shows us how fragmented memory is central to his poetry.
(for Garth St Omer)
Whatever else we learned
at school, like solemn Afro-Greeks eager for grades,
of Helen and the shades
of borrowed ancestors,
there are no rites
for those who have returned
only, when her looms fade,
drilled in our skulls, the doom-
only this well-known passage
under the coconuts' salt-rusted
swords, these rotted
leathery sea-grape leaves,
the seacrabs' brittle helmets, and
this barbecue of branches, like the ribs
of sacrificial oxen on scorched sand;
only this fish-gut reeking beach
whose frigate stuck like buzzards overhead
whose spindly, sugar-headed children race
pelting up from the shallows
because your clothes,
seem a tourist's.
They swarm like flies
round your heart's sore.
Suffer them to come,
entering their needle's eye
knowing whether they live or die,
what others make of life will pass them by
like that far silvery freighter
threading the horizon like a toy;
for once, like them,
you wanted no career
but this sheer light, this clear,
infinite, boring, paradisal sea,
but hoped it would mean something to declare
today, I am your poet, yours,
all this you knew,
but never guessed you'd come
to know there are homecomings without home.
You give them nothing.
Their curses melt in air.
The black cliffs scowl,
the ocean sucks its teeth,
like that long dugout canoe
like a small petal fallen in a cup,
reflecting nothing but its image,
you sway, reflecting nothing.
The freighter's silvery ghost
is gone, the children gone.
Dazed by the sun
you trudge back to the village
past the white, salty esplanade
under whose palms, dead
fishermen move their draughts in shade,
crossing, eating their islands,
and one, with a politician's
ignorant, sweet smile, nods
as if all fate
swayed in his lifted hand.
Poem Copyright: Derek Walcott
Photo Copyright: Nigel Parry