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From “Schooner in Flight”

March 20, 2017

Christ have mercy on all sleeping things!
From that dog rotting down Wrightson Road
to when I was a dog on these streets;
if loving these islands must be my load,
out of corruption my soul takes wings.
But they had started to poison my soul
with their big house, big car, big-time bohbohl,
coolie, nigger, Syrian, and French Creole,
so I leave it for them and their carnival—
I taking a sea bath, I gone down the road.
I know these islands from Monos to Nassau,
a rusty head sailor with sea-green eyes
that they nickname Shabine, the patois for
any red nigger, and I, Shabine, saw
when these slums of empire was paradise.
I’m just a red nigger who love the sea,
I had a sound colonial education,
I have Dutch, nigger, and English in me,
and either I’m nobody, or I’m a nation.

Derek Walcott, 1986


Derek Walcott, the most famous poet of my ancestral homeland, Trinidad, passed away this week. Though I’ve found his poems difficult to swallow whole (so many colliding elements), I like him in spare lines, and find him to be, on an image by image, sound by sound, basis, a powerful master. In this excerpt from the long poem “Schooner in Flight” he builds out of oblique, grubby details the portrait of “Shabine”–half Caribean island Everyman and half Walcott himself. The themes that absorbed Walcott throughout his career–the sea, racial marginalization, the sea, colonialism, the sea–are arrayed in a brisk, marching rodomontade, building up to an epitaph which beautifully merges the trifling and the transcendent.

One Comment
  1. The rhyming of Nassau and saw is pretty good too.

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