Guest poem submitted by Aseem Kaul:
(Poem #1733) The Prodigal, 3.II
The tidal motion of refugees, not the flight of wild geese, the faces in freight cars, haggard and coal-eyed, particularly the peaked stare of children, the huge bundles crossing bridges, axles creaking as if joints and bones were audible, the dark stain spreading on maps whose shapes dissolve their frontiers the way that corpses melt in a lime-pit or the bright mulch of autumn is trampled into mud, and the smoke of a cypress signals Sachsenhausen, those without trains, without mules or horses, those who have the rocking chair and the sewing machine heaped on a human cart, a waggon without horses for horses have long galloped out of their field back to the mythology of mercy, back to the cone of the orange steeple piercing clouds over the lindens and the stone bells of Sunday over the cobbles, those who rest their hands on the sides of their carts as if they were the flanks of mules, and the women with flint faces, with glazed cheekbones, with eyes the colour of duck-ponds glazed over with ice, for whom the year has only one season, one sky: that of rooks flapping like torn umbrellas, all have been reduced into a common language, the homeless, the province-less, to the incredible memory of apples and clean streams, and the sound of milk filling the summer churns, where are you from, what was your district, I know that lake, I know the beer, and its inns, I believed in its mountains, now there is a monstrous map that is called Nowhere and that is where we're all headed, behind it there is a view called the Province of Mercy, where the only government is that of the apples and the only army the wide banners of barley and its farms are simple, and that is the vision that narrows in the irises and the dying and the tired whom we leave in ditches before they stiffen and their brows go cold as the stones that have broken our shoes, as the clouds that grow ashen so quickly after danw over palm and poplar, in the deceitful sunrise of this, your new century.
Finally managed to get my hands on Walcott's new book (The Prodigal; Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2004) and was so totally overwhelmed by it that felt I had to share it on Minstrels. This is classic Walcott - not perhaps the singing genius of Omeros but more the soft-spoken, wise old man we've come to know and love from Tiepolo's Hound. The poems here are rich with melodies, gentle miracles of language - the voice of someone who speaks softly but exactly. If Walcott seems to ramble a bit, like an old man reminscing, this is no more than an act, a carefully constructed illusion. Behind the stream of consciousness flow of these poems breathes a poet of incredible talent, so that reading his work you can see the occassional phrase gleam out at you, like sunlight shining for a moment on a great river. This in itself is proof of Walcott's fecundity - some of the lines here are so searing that a lesser poet would have dedicated an entire poem to them - Walcott, however, just tosses them in casually, almost without noticing. Nor is the flow of this poem an accident; the little leaps that Walcott makes are surprising but also entirely natural, and the different thoughts and threads of the poem assemble easily into an overall image, a vision of refugees travelling along a country road, that is intensely real. There's no real reason why I chose this section of The Prodigal over any other (well, okay, so the fact that it's not too long to type in may have had something to do with it!) - I pretty much opened the book at random and picked a section to send in. So if you really want to experience the full power of Walcott's writing - read the book. Trust me, it's worth it. Aseem.