(Poem #1041) The Schooner 'Flight'
1. Adios, Carenage In idle August, while the sea soft, and leaves of brown islands stick to the rim of this Caribbean, I blow out the light by the dreamless face of Maria Concepcion to ship as a seaman on the schooner Flight. Out in the yard turning grey in the dawn, I stood like a stone and nothing else move but the cold sea rippling like galvanize and the nail holes of stars in the sky roof, till a wind start to interfere with the trees. I pass me dry neighbour sweeping she yard as I went downhill, and I nearly said: "Sweep soft, you witch, 'cause she don't sleep hard", but the bitch look through me like I was dead. A route taxi pull up, park-lights still on. The driver size up my bags with a grin: "This time, Shabine, like you really gone!" I ain't answer the ass, I simply pile in the back seat and watch the sky burn above Laventille pink as the gown in which the woman I left was sleeping, and I look in the rearview and see a man exactly like me, and the man was weeping for the houses, the streets, that whole fucking island. Christ have mercy on all sleeping things! From that dog rotting down Wrightson Road to when I was a dog on these streets; if loving these islands must be my load, out of corruption my soul takes wings, But they had started to poison my soul with their big house, big car, big-time bohbohl, coolie, nigger, Syrian, and French Creole, so I leave it for them and their carnival -- I taking a sea-bath, I gone down the road. I know these islands from Monos to Nassau, a rusty head sailor with sea-green eyes that they nickname Shabine, the patois for any red nigger, and I, Shabine, saw when these slums of empire was paradise. I'm just a red nigger who love the sea, I had a sound colonial education, I have Dutch, nigger, and English in me, and either I'm nobody, or I'm a nation. But Maria Concepcion was all my thought watching the sea heaving up and down as the port side of dories, schooners, and yachts was painted afresh by the strokes of the sun signing her name with every reflection; I know when dark-haired evening put on her bright silk at sunset, and, folding the sea, sidled under the sheet with her starry laugh, that there'd be no rest, there'd be no forgetting. Is like telling mourners round the graveside about resurrection, they want the dead back, so I smile to myself as the bow rope untied and the Flight swing seaward: "Is no use repeating that the sea have more fish. I ain't want her dressed in the sexless light of a seraph, I want those round brown eyes like a marmoset, and till the day when I can lean back and laugh, those claws that tickled my back on sweating Sunday afternoons, like a crab on wet sand." As I worked, watching the rotting waves come past the bow that scissor the sea like silk, I swear to you all, by my mother's milk, by the stars that shall fly from tonight's furnace, that I loved them, my children, my wife, my home; I loved them as poets love the poetry that kills them, as drowned sailors the sea. You ever look up from some lonely beach and see a far schooner? Well, when I write this poem, each phrase go be soaked in salt; I go draw and knot every line as tight as ropes in this rigging; in simple speech my common language go be the wind, my pages the sails of the schooner Flight. But let me tell you how this business begin.
Section 1 of "The Schooner 'Flight'", from "The Star-Apple Kingdom", 1980. "The Schooner 'Flight'" is a truly marvellous poem. Walcott/Shabine's odyssey through the past and present of the Caribbean is rich in symbolism and history; it's full of wonderfully quotable truths: "I have Dutch, nigger, and English in me and either I'm nobody, or I'm a nation." But for me, what makes the poem special is its language. Walcott begins in stately, flowing English, but as the lines go by, the cadence of the Caribbean seeps into his verse like summer sunshine, until his words are "soaked in salt", his "pages the sails of the schooner Flight". Like I said, truly marvellous. thomas. [Moreover] Is it plagiarism to reproduce one's own work? Or merely laziness? Either way, it doesn't bother me overmuch :). Here's part of my commentary to a previous Walcott poem on the Minstrels; much of what I wrote about "Midsummer, Tobago" (Poem #993) applies equally well to today's poem: Walcott's poems are about voyages. Not necessarily physical ones; he's equally concerned with the links that connect past and present, and the journeys of the mind between them. He fills his verse with ruminations on the nature of memory and the creative imagination, the history, politics and landscape of the West Indies, his own life and loves, and his enduring awareness of time and death. These themes are explored with insight and tact; they are also, in Walcott's hands, infused with the rarest of qualities, a sense of _place_. Walcott's poems are excellent proof of the fact that it is possible to write "poetically" using free verse. His language is elegant and evocative and never forced; his merging of various linguistic influences (the vibrant Creole of his native Caribbean, the stately Latin and Greek of the classics,the workaday English of his Boston years) gives his poetry a richness and texture lost to many more traditional poets, while the absence of formal structure gives it a suppleness equal to the demands of his themes. thomas.