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  4. from The Prodigal: 11 by Derek Walcott
from The Prodigal: 11

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The dialect of the scrub in the dry season
withers the flow of English. Things burn for days
without translation, with the heat
of the scorched pastures and their skeletal cows.
Every noun is a stump with its roots showing,
and the creole language rushes like weeds
until the entire island is overrun,
then the rain begins to come in paragraphs
and hazes this page, hazes the grey of islets,
the grey of eyes, the rainstorm's wild-haired beauty.

The first daybreak of rain, the crusted drought
broken in half like bread, the quiet trumpet mouth
of a rainbow and the wiry drizzle fighting
decease, half the year blowing out to sea
in hale, refreshing gusts, the withered lilies
drink with grateful mouths, and the first blackbird
of the new season announces itself on a bough
the hummingbird is reglistened drilling
the pierced hedges, my small shaft to your heart,
my emerald arrow: A crowd crosses a bridge
from Canaries to the Ponte Vecchio, from
Piaille to Pescara, and a volley of blackbirds

fans over Venice or the broken pier of Choiseul,
and love is as wide as the span of my open palm
for frontiers that read like one country,
one map of affection that closes around my pen.
I had forgotten the benediction of rain
edged with sunlight, the prayers of dripping leaves
and the cat testing the edge of the season
with careful paw. And I have nothing more
to write about than gratitude. For la mer,
soleil-là, the bow of the arc-en-ciel
and the archery of blackbirds from its
radiant bow. The rest of the year is rain.


There was a beautiful rain this morning."
"I was asleep."
                           He stroked her forehead.
She smiled at him, then laughed as she kept yawning.
"It was lovely rain." But I thought of the dead
I know. The sun shone through the rain
and it was lovely.
                                "I'm sure," she said.
There were so many names the rain recited:
Alan, Joseph and Claude and Charles and Roddy.
The sunlight came through the rain and the drizzle shone
as it had done before for everybody.
For John and Inge, Devindra and Hamilton.
"Blessed are the dead that the rain rains upon,"
wrote Edward Thomas. Her eyes closed in my arms,
but it was sleep. She was asleep again,
while the bright rain moved from Massade to Monchy.

Sometimes I stretch out, or you stretch out your hand,
and we lock palms; our criss-crossed histories join
and two maps fit. Bays, boundaries, rivers, roads,
one country, one warm island. Is that noise rain
on the hot roof, is it sweeping out to sea
by the stones and shells of the almond cemetery?


The road is wet, the leaves wet, but the sun inching,
and always the astonishment: in March?
This blustery, this grey? The waves chopping
and circling and ramming into one another
like sheep in a maddened pen from a whiff of wolf,
or white mares, bug-eyed from the lightning's whip,
and, if they could, whinnying. But the light will win.
The sun fought with the rain in the leaves and won;
then the rain came back and it was finer out to sea.
A drizzle blurred the promontories evenly
and now the manchineels and acacias sparkled
with the new rain and the cows' hides darkened
as the horses dipped their heads and shook their manes,
and over the horizon the faint arc
of an almost imperceptible bow appeared
then dimmed across the channel towards Martinique.
This miracle was usual for the season.
"The sun came out just for you," he said.

And it was true. The light entered her forehead
and blazoned her difference there.
The pastures were beaded, roofs shone on the hills,
a sloop was working its way against huge clouds
as patches of sunlight widened with a new zeal
towards detachment, towards simplicity.
Who said that they were lying side by side,
the cupped spoon of her torso in his own
in the striped shadows of mid-afternoon?

The doors are open, the house breathes and I feel
a balm so heavy and a benediction
so weightless that the past is just blue air
and cobalt motion lanced with emerald
and sail-flecks and the dove's continuous complaint
about repletion, its swollen note of gratitude-
all incantation is the monody of thanks
to the sky's motionless or moving altars,
even to the faint drone of that silver insect
that is the morning plane over Martinique,
while, take this for what you will, the frangipani
that, for dry months, contorted, crucified
in impotence or barrenness, endured, has come
with pale pink petals and blades of olive leaves,
parable of my loin-longing, my silver age.

From the salt brightness of my balcony
I look across to the abandoned fort;
no History left, just natural history,
as a cloud's shadow subtilizes thought.
On a sloped meadow lifted by the light,
the Hessians spun like blossoms from the immortelle,
the tattered pennons of the sea-almond fluttered
to the spray-white detonations of the lilac
against blue the hue of a grenadier, dried pods
of the flamboyant rattle their sabres
and a mare's whinny across the parched pastures
launches white scuds of sails across the channel,
the race of a schooner launched in a canal.
A grey sky trawls its silver wires of rain;
these are the subtleties of the noon sea:
lime, emerald, lilac, cobalt, ultramarine.

Derek Walcott, "11" from The Prodigal. Copyright © 2004 by Derek Walcott. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC, www.fsgbooks.com. All rights reserved.

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Source: The Prodigal (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004)
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