The sun has fired my face to terra-cotta.
I wear this cast from his kiln all over the house.
But I cherish its cracks like those of blue, wrinkled water.
A furnace has curled the knives of the oleander,
gnats drill little holes around a saw-toothed cactus,
and a branch of the logwood blurs with wild characters.
A small stone house waits on the steps. Its white porch blazes.
I will write down a secret being passed to me by the surf:
You shall see transparent Helen pass like a candle
flame in sunlight, weightless as woodsmoke that hazes
the sand with no shadow, if you wait long enough.
The skin that peels from my knuckles is like the scurf
on dry shoal, my palms have been sliced by the twine
of the lines I have pulled at for more than forty years.
My Ionia is the smell of burnt grass, the scorched handle
of a cistern in August squeaking to rusty islands,
the lines I love now have all their knots left in.
I leave my house open to a wind that has no shoes.
Through the stunned afternoon, when it’s too hot to think,
and the muse of this inland ocean still waits for a name,
from the salt, dark room, the tight horizon-line
catches nothing. I wait. Chairs sweat. Paper crumples the floor.
A lizard gasps on the wall. The sea glares like zinc.
Then, in the door light, not Nike loosening her sandal,
a girl slapping sand from her foot, one hand on the frame.


A wind-scraped headland, a sludgy, dishwater sea,
another storm-darkened village with fences of crucified tin.
Give it up to a goat in the rain, whose iron muzzle
can take anything, or to those hopping buzzards
trailing their torn umbrellas in a silvery drizzle
that slimes everything, their beaks like questions picking
and picking on the same old midden; on the horizon,
the sea’s silver language shines like another era,
and, seasick of poverty, my mind is out there.
A storm has wrecked the island, the beach is a mess,
a bent man, crouching, crosses it, cuffed by the wind;
from that gap of blue, with seraphic highmindedness,
the frigate birds are crying that foul weather lifts the soul,
and the sodden red rag of the heart, when it has dried,
will flutter like a lifeguard’s flag on its bamboo pole.
Tears run down the grape leaves’ cheeks with the same old story,
the twigs of branches are broken up like pens.
The sun will come out, and warm up my right hand
like that old crab flexing its fingers outside its hole.
Though I curse the recurrence of each shining omen,
frail from damp holes, the courageous, pale bestiary
of the sand seethes, the goat nuzzles, head bent
among flashing tins, and the light’s flood tide
stutters up to a sand bar in the estuary,
where, making the most of its Egyptian moment,
the heron halts its abrupt, exalted stride—
then a slow frieze of sunlit pelicans.

Copyright © 1983 by Derek Walcott

This Issue

November 10, 1983