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The Prodigal, 3.II -- Derek Walcott

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.
-- Derek Walcott
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.


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