Down the dead streets of sun-stoned Frederiksted,
the first freeport to die for tourism,
strolling at funeral pace, I am reminded
of life not lost to the American dream,
but my small-islander’s simplicities
can’t better our new empire’s civilized
exchange of cameras, watches, perfumes, brandies
for the good life, so cheaply underpriced
that only the crime rate is on the rise
in streets blighted with sun, stone arches
and plazas blown dry by the hysteria
of rumour. A condominium drowns
in vacancy; its bargains are dusted,
but only a jewelled housefly drones
over the bargains. The roulettes spin
rustily to the wind; the vigorous trade
that every morning would begin afresh
by revving up green water round the pierhead
heading for where the banks of silver thresh.
Poem to Kristina
Remembering a time, on sandy wheel tracks,
amongst all that sharp hot machinery, the bush. —
Your flouncing, tired walk;
Coming back, feet puffing up the dust,
carrying your sandals;
petulant, grizzling, and laughing with me about it,
but still close to anger,
and knowing that I knew.
I can see myself trying to be humorous for you.
Amongst the rocks, I broke open
and persuaded you about your first oyster,
also. Talking like a cage full of birds, and
posing, gesturing, like a samurai,
to get your courage, you swallowed it
and with a scream leapt up
onto the sudden bracket of my arms,
and clung there wriggling your legs, and squealing,
and laughing out something. You liked it.
Your face, so often, ready to take offence;
defensive, hurt, if my eyes flickered
away while you talked all your unsure rush of talk.
Or else, you presented it with those hours of
barely any make-up. Posed, as playful and artificial
as photos of Marilyn. Which made me feel
your human ‘mirror
mirror on the wall’ — a responsive mirror
of flesh, for you to confirm, with my startled look,
what you’d found in the glass one.
At night, you wouldn’t use the outdoor lavatory
last thing, for fear of spiders. And for fear
of the dark, you made me come outside
so you could pee. You bared your cream cheese
behind, beneath the clothes-line, and would remark
about all the tree of stars,
with your brown thighs splayed apart, like Havana cigars.
On grey days, out the kitchen window,
we watched the grey water moving by in the lake —
a crowd through turnstiles. Mooching about,
listening to our few records over and over;
in the half-light of the house, their combed Valentino
Making sandwiches at the sink, and putting on,
after enquiry, the Tim Buckley, or an Otis Redding, or Van Morrison.
And sitting there, leaned together,
like two horses out in the yard in the rain.
Now I sit and look back. And we write sometimes;
we keep in touch, as they say.
I remember those times when I was happy
and didn’t think I was. Strange, the way
only now I recognize it
as happiness. That that should be what happiness is like.
Too late, as people say.
It’s true. — The worst is, you begin to suspect
there’s to be realized, in life,
a homily as often
as we did not believe.
Cut grass lies frail;
Brief is the breath
Mown stalks exhale.
Long, long the death
It dies in the white hours
Of young-leafed June
With chestnut flowers,
With hedges snowlike strewn,
White lilac bowed,
Lost lanes of Queen Anne’s lace,
And that high-builded cloud
Moving at summer’s pace.
Derek Walcott West Indian poet. Born in St Lucia in 1930 he has lived much of his life in Trinidad. Awarded Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992.
Robert Gray Australian poet. Born 1945; lives in Sydney. Writer-in-residence at Meiji University in Tokyo and at several Australian universities.
Philip Larkin English poet, 1922–1985.Spent much of his working life as a university librarian in Hull. Offered Poet Laureateship, but declined the post.