I 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. II 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. III 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. IV 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.
Derek Walcott - 1930-2017
The growing idleness of summer grass With its frail kites of furious butterflies Requests the lemonade of simple praise In scansion gentler than my hammock swings And rituals no more upsetting than a Black maid shaking linen as she sings The plain notes of some Protestant hosanna— Since I lie idling from the thought in things— Or so they should, until I hear the cries Of two small children hunting yellow wings, Who break my Sabbath with the thought of sin. Brother and sister, with a common pin, Frowning like serious lepidopterists. The little surgeon pierces the thin eyes. Crouched on plump haunches, as a mantis prays She shrieks to eviscerate its abdomen. The lesson is the same. The maid removes Both prodigies from their interest in science. The girl, in lemon frock, begins to scream As the maimed, teetering thing attempts its flight. She is herself a thing of summery light, Frail as a flower in this blue August air, Not marked for some late grief that cannot speak. The mind swings inward on itself in fear Swayed towards nausea from each normal sign. Heredity of cruelty everywhere, And everywhere the frocks of summer torn, The long look back to see where choice is born, As summer grass sways to the scythe's design.