Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Tuesday Poem: "in the Village" by Derek Walcott


I came up out of the subway and there were

people standing on the steps as if they knew

something I didn’t. This was in the Cold War,

and nuclear fallout. I looked and the whole avenue

was empty, I mean utterly, and I thought,

The birds have abandoned our cities and the plague

of silence multiplies through their arteries, they fought

the war and they lost and there’s nothing subtle or vague

in this horrifying vacuum that is New York. I caught

the blare of a loudspeaker repeatedly warning

the last few people, maybe strolling lovers in their walk,

that the world was about to end that morning

on Sixth or Seventh Avenue with no people going to work

in that uncontradicted, horrifying perspective.

It was no way to die, but it’s also no way to live.

Well, if we burnt, it was at least New York.


Everybody in New York is in a sitcom.

I’m in a Latin American novel, one

in which an egret-haired
viejo shakes with some
invisible sorrow, some obscene affliction,

and chronicles it secretly, till it shows in his face,

the parenthetical wrinkles confirming his fiction

to his deep embarrassment. Look, it’s

just the old story of a heart that won’t call it quits

whatever the odds, quixotic. It’s just one that’ll

break nobody’s heart, even if the grizzled colonel

pitches from his steed in a cavalry charge, in a battle

that won’t make him a statue. It is the hell

of ordinary, unrequited love. Watch these egrets

trudging the lawn in a dishevelled troop, white banners

trailing forlornly; they are the bleached regrets

of an old man’s memoirs, printed stanzas.

showing their hinged wings like wide open secrets.


Who has removed the typewriter from my desk,

so that I am a musician without his piano

with emptiness ahead as clear and grotesque

as another spring? My veins bud, and I am so

full of poems, a wastebasket of black wire.

The notes outside are visible; sparrows will

line antennae like staves, the way springs were,

but the roofs are cold and the great grey river

where a liner glides, huge as a winter hill,

moves imperceptibly like the accumulating

years. I have no reason to forgive her

for what I brought on myself. I am past hating,

past the longing for Italy where blowing snow

absolves and whitens a kneeling mountain range

outside Milan. Through glass, I am waiting

for the sound of a bird to unhinge the beginning

of spring, but my hands, my work, feel strange

without the rusty music of my machine. No words

for the Arctic liner moving down the Hudson, for the mange

of old snow moulting from the roofs. No poems. No birds.


The Sweet Life Café

If I fall into a grizzled stillness

sometimes, over the red-chequered tablecloth

outdoors of the Sweet Life Café, when the noise

of Sunday traffic in the Village is soft as a moth

working in storage, it is because of age

which I rarely admit to, or, honestly, even think of.

I have kept the same furies, though my domestic rage

is illogical, diabetic, with no lessening of love

though my hand trembles wildly, but not over this page.

My lust is in great health, but, if it happens

that all my towers shrivel to dribbling sand,

joy will still bend the cane-reeds with my pen’s

elation on the road to Vieuxfort with fever-grass

white in the sun, and, as for the sea breaking

in the gap at Praslin, they add up to the grace

I have known and which death will be taking

from my hand on this chequered tablecloth in this good place.

by Derek Walcott

For more information about the poet, Derek Walcott, see:


No comments:

Post a Comment