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by Derek Walcott

                                                    for Robert Fitzgerald

Those grooves in that forehead of sand-coloured flesh
were cut by declining keels, and the crow’s foot
that prints an asterisk by unburied men
remind him how many more by the Scamander’s
gravel fell, and lie waiting for their second fate.
Who next should pull his sword free of its mesh
of weeds and hammer at the shield
of language till the wound and the word fit.
A whole war is fought backwards to its cause.
Last night, the Trojan and the Greek commanders
stood up like dogs when his strange-smelling shadow
hung loitering round their tents. Now, at sunrise,
the dead begin to cough, each crab-wise hand
feels for its lance, and pincers it like his pen.
A helmsman drowns in an ink-blot, an old man wanders
a pine-gripped islet where his wound was made
by a rusty nib, its shade soothes his gangrene.
Entering a door-huge dictionary, he finds that clause
that stopped the war yesterday, his wrists starts the gavel
of hexametrical time, the V of each lifted blade
pulls from the shallows of Connecticut, like a piano
hammering without the sound, as the wake over gravel
recites in American: ’Arma virumque cano. . .’


Derek Walcott’s three poems are from his new book Midsummer, forthcoming from Farrar, Straus & Giroux later this year. Among his other books are The Fortunate Traveller, Sea Grapes, The Star-Apple Kingdom and Another Life. (1983)

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