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The Star-Apple Kingdom Analysis

Author: poem of Derek Walcott Type: poem Views: 14

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There were still shards of an ancient pastoral

in those shires of the island where the cattle drank

their pools of shadow from an older sky,

surviving from when the landscape copied such objects as

"Herefords at Sunset in the valley of the Wye."

The mountain water that fell white from the mill wheel

sprinkling like petals from the star-apple trees,

and all of the windmills and sugar mills moved by mules

on the treadmill of Monday to Monday, would repeat

in tongues of water and wind and fire, in tongues

of Mission School pickaninnies, like rivers remembering

their source, Parish Trelawny, Parish St David, Parish

St Andrew, the names afflicting the pastures,

the lime groves and fences of marl stone and the cattle

with a docile longing, an epochal content.

And there were, like old wedding lace in an attic,

among the boas and parasols and the tea-colored

daguerreotypes, hints of an epochal happiness

as ordered and infinite to the child

as the great house road to the Great House

down a perspective of casuarinas plunging green manes

in time to the horses, an orderly life

reduced by lorgnettes day and night, one disc the sun,

the other the moon, reduced into a pier glass:

nannies diminished to dolls, mahogany stairways

no larger than those of an album in which

the flash of cutlery yellows, as gamboge as

the piled cakes of teatime on that latticed

bougainvillea verandah that looked down toward

a prospect of Cuyp-like Herefords under a sky

lurid as a porcelain souvenir with these words:

"Herefords at Sunset in the Valley of the Wye."

Strange, that the rancor of hatred hid in that dream

of slow rivers and lily-like parasols, in snaps

of fine old colonial families, curled at the edge

not from age of from fire or the chemicals, no, not at all,

but because, off at its edges, innocently excluded

stood the groom, the cattle boy, the housemaid, the gardeners,

the tenants, the good Negroes down in the village,

their mouth in the locked jaw of a silent scream.

A scream which would open the doors to swing wildly

all night, that was bringing in heavier clouds,

more black smoke than cloud, frightening the cattle

in whose bulging eyes the Great House diminished;

a scorching wind of a scream

that began to extinguish the fireflies,

that dried the water mill creaking to a stop

as it was about to pronounce Parish Trelawny

all over, in the ancient pastoral voice,

a wind that blew all without bending anything,

neither the leaves of the album nor the lime groves;

blew Nanny floating back in white from a feather

to a chimerical, chemical pin speck that shrank

the drinking Herefords to brown porcelain cows

on a mantelpiece, Trelawny trembling with dusk,

the scorched pastures of the old benign Custos; blew

far the decent servants and the lifelong cook,

and shriveled to a shard that ancient pastoral

of dusk in a gilt-edged frame now catching the evening sun

in Jamaica, making both epochs one.

He looked out from the Great House windows on

clouds that still held the fragrance of fire,

he saw the Botanical Gardens officially drown

in a formal dusk, where governors had strolled

and black gardeners had smiled over glinting shears

at the lilies of parasols on the floating lawns,

the flame trees obeyed his will and lowered their wicks,

the flowers tightened their fists in the name of thrift,

the porcelain lamps of ripe cocoa, the magnolia's jet

dimmed on the one circuit with the ginger lilies

and left a lonely bulb on the verandah,

and, had his mandate extended to that ceiling

of star-apple candelabra, he would have ordered

the sky to sleep, saying, I'm tired,

save the starlight for victories, we can't afford it,

leave the moon on for one more hour,and that's it.

But though his power, the given mandate, extended

from tangerine daybreaks to star-apple dusks,

his hand could not dam that ceaseless torrent of dust

that carried the shacks of the poor, to their root-rock music,

down the gullies of Yallahs and August Town,

to lodge them on thorns of maca, with their rags

crucified by cactus, tins, old tires, cartons;

from the black Warieka Hills the sky glowed fierce as

the dials of a million radios,

a throbbing sunset that glowed like a grid

where the dread beat rose from the jukebox of Kingston.

He saw the fountains dried of quadrilles, the water-music

of the country dancers, the fiddlers like fifes

put aside. He had to heal

this malarial island in its bath of bay leaves,

its forests tossing with fever, the dry cattle

groaning like winches, the grass that kept shaking

its head to remember its name. No vowels left

in the mill wheel, the river. Rock stone. Rock stone.

The mountains rolled like whales through phosphorous stars,

as he swayed like a stone down fathoms into sleep,

drawn by that magnet which pulls down half the world

between a star and a star, by that black power

that has the assassin dreaming of snow,

that poleaxes the tyrant to a sleeping child.

The house is rocking at anchor, but as he falls

his mind is a mill wheel in moonlight,

and he hears, in the sleep of his moonlight, the drowned

bell of Port Royal's cathedral, sees the copper pennies

of bubbles rising from the empty eye-pockets

of green buccaneers, the parrot fish floating

from the frayed shoulders of pirates, sea horses

drawing gowned ladies in their liquid promenade

across the moss-green meadows of the sea;

he heard the drowned choirs under Palisadoes,

a hymn ascending to earth from a heaven inverted

by water, a crab climbing the steeple,

and he climbed from that submarine kingdom

as the evening lights came on in the institute,

the scholars lamplit in their own aquarium,

he saw them mouthing like parrot fish, as he passed

upward from that baptism, their history lessons,

the bubbles like ideas which he could not break:

Jamaica was captured by Penn and Venables,

Port Royal perished in a cataclysmic earthquake.

Before the coruscating fa├žades of cathedrals

from Santiago to Caracas, where penitential archbishops

washed the feet of paupers (a parenthetical moment

that made the Caribbean a baptismal font,

turned butterflies to stone, and whitened like doves

the buzzards circling municipal garbage),

the Caribbean was borne like an elliptical basin

in the hands of acolytes, and a people were absolved

of a history which they did not commit;

the slave pardoned his whip, and the dispossessed

said the rosary of islands for three hundred years,

a hymn that resounded like the hum of the sea

inside a sea cave, as their knees turned to stone,

while the bodies of patriots were melting down walls

still crusted with mute outcries of La Revolucion!

"San Salvador, pray for us,St. Thomas, San Domingo,

ora pro nobis, intercede for us, Sancta Lucia

of no eyes," and when the circular chaplet

reached the last black bead of Sancta Trinidad

they began again, their knees drilled into stone,

where Colon had begun, with San Salvador's bead,

beads of black colonies round the necks of Indians.

And while they prayed for an economic miracle,

ulcers formed on the municipal portraits,

the hotels went up, and the casinos and brothels,

and the empires of tobacco, sugar, and bananas,

until a black woman, shawled like a buzzard,

climbed up the stairs and knocked at the door

of his dream, whispering in the ear of the keyhole:

"Let me in, I'm finished with praying, I'm the Revolution.

I am the darker, the older America."

She was as beautiful as a stone in the sunrise,

her voice had the gutturals of machine guns

across khaki deserts where the cactus flower

detonates like grenades, her sex was the slit throat

of an Indian, her hair had the blue-black sheen of the crow.

She was a black umbrella blown inside out

by the wind of revolution, La Madre Dolorosa,

a black rose of sorrow, a black mine of silence,

raped wife, empty mother, Aztec virgin

transfixed by arrows from a thousand guitars,

a stone full of silence, which, if it gave tongue

to the tortures done in the name of the Father,

would curdle the blood of the marauding wolf,

the fountain of generals, poets, and cripples

who danced without moving over their graves

with each revolution; her Caesarean was stitched

by the teeth of machine guns,and every sunset

she carried the Caribbean's elliptical basin

as she had once carried the penitential napkins

to be the footbath of dictators, Trujillo, Machado,

and those whose faces had yellowed like posters

on municipal walls. Now she stroked his hair

until it turned white, but she would not understand

that he wanted no other power but peace,

that he wanted a revolution without any bloodshed,

he wanted a history without any memory,

streets without statues,

and a geography without myth. He wanted no armies

but those regiments of bananas, thick lances of cane,

and he sobbed,"I am powerless, except for love."

She faded from him, because he could not kill;

she shrunk to a bat that hung day and night

in the back of his brain. He rose in his dream.

(to be continued)

Anonymous submission.


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