Omeros by Derek Walcott

Omeros
1990

BOOK SIX – Chapter XLIV

I

In hill-towns, from San Fernando to Mayagüez,
the same sunrise stirred the feathered lances of cane
down the archipelago’s highways. The first breeze

rattled the spears and their noise was like distant rain
marching down from the hills, like a shell at your ears.
In the cool asphalt Sundays of the Antilles

the light brought the bitter history of sugar
across the squared fields, heightening towards harvest,
to the bleached flags of the Indian diaspora.

The drizzling light blew across the savannah
darkening the racehorses’ hides; mist slowly erased
the royal palms on the crests of the hills and the

hills themselves. The brown patches the horses had grazed
shone as wet as their hides. A skittish stallion
jerked at his bridle, marble-eyed at the thunder

muffling the hills, but the groom was drawing him in
like a fisherman, wrapping the slack line under
one fist, then with the other tightening the rein

and narrowing the circle. The sky cracked asunder
and a forked tree flashed, and suddenly that black rain
which can lose an entire archipelago

in broad daylight was pouring tin nails on the roof,
hammering the balcony. I closed the French window,
and thought of the horses in their stalls with one hoof

tilted, watching the ropes of rain. I lay in bed
with current gone from the bed-lamp and heard the roar
of wind shaking the windows, and I remembered

Achille on his own mattress and desperate Hector
trying to save his canoe, I thought of Helen
as my island lost in the haze, and I was sure

I’d never see her again. All of a sudden
the rain stopped and I heard the sluicing of water
down the guttering. I opened the window when

the sun came out. It replaced the tiny brooms
of palms on the ridges. On the red galvanized
roof of the paddock, the wet sparkled, then the grooms

led the horses over the new grass and exercised
them again, and there was a different brightness
in everything, in the leaves, in the horses’ eyes.

II

I smelt the leaves threshing at the top of the year
in green January over the orange villas
and military barracks where the Plunketts were,

the harbour flecked by the wind that comes with Christmas,
edged with the Arctic, that was christened Vent Noël;
it stayed until March and, with luck, until Easter.

It freshened the cedars, waxed the laurier-cannelle,
and hid the African swift. I smelt the drizzle
on the asphalt leaving the Morne, it was the smell

of an iron on damp cloth; I heard the sizzle
of fried jackfish in oil with their coppery skin;
I smelt ham studded with cloves, the crusted accra,

the wax in the varnished parlour: Come in. Come in,
the arm of the Morris chair sticky with lacquer;
I saw a sail going out and a sail coming in,

and a breeze so fresh it lifted the lace curtains
like a petticoat, like a sail towards Ithaca;
I smelt a dead rivulet in the clogged drains.

III

Ah, twin-headed January, seeing either tense:
a past, they assured us, born in degradation,
and a present that lifted us up with the wind’s

noise in the breadfruit leaves with such an elation
that it contradicts what is past! The cannonballs
of rotting breadfruit from the Battle of the Saints,

the asterisks of bulletholes in the brick walls
of the redoubt. I lived there with every sense.
I smelt with my eyes, I could see with my nostrils

Derek Walcott

Derek Walcott
Born: 23 January 1923, Castries, Saint Lucia
Nationality: Santa Lucian
Died: 17 March 2017, Cap Estate, Santa Lucia

Walcott was a poet and playwright. He was the distinguished scholar in residence at the University of Alberta where he taught undergraduate and graduate writing courses. From 2010 to 2013 he was Professor of Poetry at the university of Essex. He won numerous literary awards including the 1992 Nobel Prize for literature

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