Where are your monuments, your battles, martyrs?Where is your tribal memory? Sirs,in that gray vault. The sea. The seahas locked them up. The sea is History.First, there was the heaving oil,heavy as chaos;then, likea light at the end of a tunnel,the lantern of a caravel,and that was Genesis.Then there were the packed cries,the shit, the moaning:Exodus.Bone soldered by coral to bone,mosaicsmantled by the benediction of the shark's shadow,that was the Ark of the Covenant.Then came from the plucked wiresof sunlight on the sea floorthe plangent harp of the Babylonian bondage,as the white cowries clustered like manacleson the drowned women,and those were the ivory braceletsof the Song of Solomon,but the ocean kept turning blank pageslooking for History.Then came the men with eyes heavy as anchorswho sank without tombs,brigands who barbecued cattle,leaving their charred ribs like palm leaves on the shore,then the foaming, rabid mawof the tidal wave swallowing Port Royal,and that was Jonah,but where is your Renaissance?Sir, it is locked in them sea sandsout there past the reef's moiling shelf,where the men-o'-war floated down;strop on these goggles, I'll guide you there myself.It's all subtle and submarine,through colonnades of coral,past the gothic windows of sea fansto where the crusty grouper, onyx-eyed,blinks, weighted by its jewels, like a bald queen;and these groined caves with barnaclespitted like stoneare our cathedrals,and the furnace before the hurricanes:Gomorrah. Bones ground by windmillsinto marl and cornmeal,and that was Lamentations - that was just Lamentations,it was not History; then came, like scum on the river's drying lip,the brown reeds of villagesmantling and congealing into towns,and at evening, the midges' choirs, and above them, the spireslancing the side of Godas His son set, and that was the New Testament.Then came the white sisters clappingto the waves' progress,and that was Emancipation - jubilation, O jubilation - vanishing swiftlyas the sea's lace dries in the sun,but that was not History,that was only faith,and then each rock broke into its own nation;then came the synod of flies,then came the secretarial heron,then came the bullfrog bellowing for a vote,fireflies with bright ideasand bats like jetting ambassadorsand the mantis, like khaki police,and the furred caterpillars of judgesexamining each case closely,and then in the dark ears of fernsand in the salt chuckle of rockswith their sea pools, there was the soundlike a rumour without any echoof History, really beginning.
A Far Cry From Africa A wind is ruffling the tawny peltOf Africa. Kikuyu, quick as flies,Batten upon the bloodstreams of the veldt.Corpses are scattered through a paradise.Only the worm, colonel of carrion, cries:“Waste no compassion on these separate dead!”Statistics justify and scholars seizeThe salients of colonial policy.What is that to the white child hacked in bed?To savages, expendable as Jews?Threshed out by beaters, the long rushes breakIn a white dust of ibises whose criesHave wheeled since civilization’s dawnFrom the parched river or beast-teeming plain.The violence of beast on beast is readAs natural law, but upright manSeeks his divinity by inflicting pain.Delirious as these worried beasts, his warsDance to the tightened carcass of a drum,While he calls courage still that native dreadOf the white peace contracted by the dead.Again brutish necessity wipes its handsUpon the napkin of a dirty cause, againA waste of our compassion, as with Spain,The gorilla wrestles with the superman.I who am poisoned with the blood of both,Where shall I turn, divided to the vein?I who have cursedThe drunken officer of British rule, how chooseBetween this Africa and the English tongue I love?Betray them both, or give back what they give?How can I face such slaughter and be cool?How can I turn from Africa and live?
To set out for rehearsals in that quivering quarter-hour is to engage conclusions, not beginnings, for one walks past the guilded hallucinations of poverty with a corrupt resignation touched by details, as if the destitute, in their orange-tinted back yards, under their dusty trees, or climbing into their favelas, were all natural scene designers and poverty were not a condition but an art. Deprivation is made lyrical, and twilight, with the patience of alchemy, almost transmutes despair into virtue. In the tropics nothing is lovelier than the allotments of the poor, no theater is as vivid, voluble, and cheap.
But drunkenly, or secretly, we swore,Disciples of that astigmatic saint,That we would never leave the islandUntil we had put down, in paint, in words,As palmists learn the network of a hand,All of its sunken, leaf-choked ravines,Every neglected, self-pitying inletMuttering in brackish dialect, the ropes of mangrovesFrom which old soldier crabs slippedSurrendering to slush,Each ochre track seeking some hilltop andLosing itself in an unfinished phrase,Under sand shipyards where the burnt-out palmsInverted the design of unrigged schooners,Entering forests, boiling with life,Goyave, corrosol, bois-canot, sapotille.Days!The sun drumming, drumming,Past the defeated pennons of the palms,Roads limp from sunstroke,Past green flutes of the grassThe ocean cannonading, come!Wonder that opened like the fanOf the dividing frondsOn some noon-struck sahara,Where my heart from its rib cage yelped like a pupAfter clouds of sanderlings rustily wheelingThe world on its ancient,Invisible axis,The breakers slow-dolphining over more breakers,To swivel our easels down, as firmAs conquerors who had discovered home.