Once branching light startles the hair of the coconuts,
and on the villas’ asphalt roofs, rain
resonates like pebbles in a pan,
and only the skirts of surf
waltz round the abandoned bandstand,
and we hear the telephone cables
hallooing like fingers tapped over an Indian’s mouth,
once the zinc roofs begin wrenching their nails
like freight uncrated with a crowbar,
we remember you as the possible
deity of the whistling marsh-canes,
we doubt that you were ever slain
by the steel Castilian lances
of a thousand horizons,
deity of the yellow-skinned ones
who thatched your temple with plantains.

When the power-station’s blackout
grows frightening as amnesia,
and the luxury resorts
return to the spear-tips of candles,
and the swimming-pools in their marsh-light
multiply with hysterical lilies
like the beaks of fledglings uttering your name,
when lightning fizzles out
in the wireless, we can see and hear
the streaming black locks of clouds,
flesh the gamboge of lightning,
and the epicanthic, almond-shaped eye
of the whirling cyclops,
runner through the cloud-smoke,
our ocean’s marathon strider,
the only survivor
of their massacred deities.

Whose temples change
like the clouds over Yucatan,
in the copper twilight over Ecuador,
runner who can grip the mares’ tails
of galloping cirrus,
vaulting the dead conquistadors of the helmeted palms.
You’d never reply
to the name of the northern messenger
whose zig-zagging trident
pitchforks the oaks like straw,
nor to the thunderous tambours
of Shango, you rage
till we get your name right,
till the surf and the bent palms dance
to your tune, even if, at your entrance
clouds plod the horizon like caparisoned camels,
and the wind begins to unwhirl
like a burnoose, you abhor
all other parallels
but our own,
You scream like a man whose wife is dead,
like a god who has lost his race,
you yank the electric wires with wet hands.

Then we think of a different name
than the cute ones christened by radar,
in the sludge that sways
next day by the greased pier-heads
where a rowboat still rocks in fear,
and Florida now flares to your flashbulb
and the map of Texas rattles,
and we lie awake in the dark
by the dripping stelae of candles,
our heads gigantified on the walls
and think of you, still running
with tendons feathered with lightning
water-worrier, whom the chained trees
strain to follow,
havoc, reminder, ancestor,
and, when morning enters, pale
as an insurance-broker,


The sea-almond’s dress
is drenched in the morning,
the leaves drip on their clotheslines
like wax-drops from candles,
the pent waves circle their fences
like witless sheep.
A freighter is parked
on the coastal road to the airport,
and the birds won’t be back
for some time. The chairs
around the bandstand are heaped up
like the morning after your dance,
and the worms we have buried underground
spark and stutter again. Roofs
are scattered all over the hillsides
like cards dropped during a shoot-out,
and the sea starts the pompous thunder
of a military funeral
as spray shoots up round the kiosk
where the Police Band played.

We return the pieces of fear
to their proper place—
the shelf at the back of the mind,
the artifacts, the Carib arrowheads,
the pin-pierced amulets,
with that force whose weathervanes
are the pin-specks of frigate-birds,
your name fades again in the grounded
flights, where in dark hangars
with the mineral patience of cattle,
a cold sweat slides down the silver
hides of the empty planes.

This Issue

December 4, 1980