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Derek Walcott

Rookie (23 January 1930 / Castries / St Lucia)

In The Virgins


You can't put in the ground swell of the organ
from the Christiansted, St.Croix, Anglican Church
behind the paratrooper's voice: 'Turned cop
after Vietnam. I made thirty jumps.'
Bells punish the dead street and pigeons lurch
from the stone belfry, opening their chutes,
circling until the rings of ringing stop.
'Salud!' The paratrooper's glass is raised.
The congregation rises to its feet
like a patrol, with scuffling shoes and boots,
repeating orders as the organ thumps:
'Praise Ye the Lord. The Lord's name be praised.'

You cannot hear, beyond the quiet harbor,
the breakers cannonading on the bruised
horizon, or the charter engines gunning for
Buck Island. The only war here is a war
of silence between blue sky and sea,
and just one voice, the marching choir's, is raised
to draft new conscripts with the ancient cry
of 'Onward, Christian Soldiers,' into pews
half-empty still, or like a glass, half-full.
Pinning itself to a cornice, a gull
hangs like a medal from the serge-blue sky.

Are these boats all? Is the blue water all?
The rocks surpliced with lace where they are moored,
dinghy, catamaran, and racing yawl,
nodding to the ground swell of 'Praise the Lord'?
Wesley and Watts, their evangelical light
lanced down the mine shafts to our chapel pew,
its beam gritted with motes of anthracite
that drifted on us in our chapel benches:
from God's slow-grinding mills in Lancashire,
ash on the dead mired in Flanders' trenches,
as a gray drizzle now defiles the view

of this blue harbor, framed in windows where
two yellow palm fronds, jerked by the wind's rain,
agree like horses' necks, and nodding bear,
slow as a hearse, a haze of tasseled rain,
and, as the weather changes in a child,
the paradisal day outside grows dark,
the yachts flutter like moths in a gray jar,
the martial voices fade in thunder, while
across the harbor, like a timid lure,
a rainbow casts its seven-colored arc.

Tonight, now Sunday has been put to rest.
Altar lights ride the black glass where the yachts
stiffly repeat themselves and phosphoresce
with every ripple - the wide parking-lots
of tidal affluence - and every mast
sways the night's dial as its needle veers
to find the station which is truly peace.
Like neon lasers shot across the bars
discos blast out the music of the spheres,
and, one by one, science infects the stars.

Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003
Edited: Saturday, November 19, 2011

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