The Little Review (littlereview) wrote,
The Little Review
littlereview

Poem for Tuesday


From 'The Prodigal'
By Derek Walcott


I

Chasms and fissures of the vertiginous Alps
through the plane window, meadows of snow
on powdery precipices, the cantons of cumuli
grumbling or closing, gasping falls of light
a steady and serene white-knuckled horror
of speckled white serrations, inconceivable
in repetition, spumy avalanches
of forgetting cloud, in the wrong heaven-a
paradise of ice and camouflage
of speeding seraphs' shadows down its slopes
under the metal, featherless wings, the noise
a violation of that pre-primal silence
white and without thought, my fear was white
and my belief obliterated-a black stroke
on a primed canvas, everything was white,
white was the colour of nothing, not the night,
my faith was strapped in. It could go no higher.
I doubted that there would be a blest descent
braking like threshing seraph's wings, to spire
and sun-shot field, wide, innocent.

The worst fear widened, to ask of the infinite:
How many more cathedral-spires? How many more
peaks of these ice-seized mountains, and towns
locked in by avalanches with their yellow lights
inside on their brilliant goods, with the clappers
of bells frozen by silence? How many small crows
like commas punctuating the drifts?
Infinite and repetitive as the ridges
patterned like okapi or jaguar, their white forests
are an opposite absolute world, a different life,
but more like a different death. The wanderer's cry
forms an O of terror but muted by the slanted snow
and a fear that is farther than panic. This,
whatever its lesson, is the tacit chorus
of the screaming mountains, the feathering alp,
the frozen ocean of oceanic roofs
above which hangs the white ogling horn-skeletal
tusk of a mastodon above white inns.

II

A small room, brown and dark, its linen
white as the white spur of the Matterhorn
above the balcony and the dark inns in snow,
and, incredibly on the scars of the crevasses,
a train crawling up the mountain. Orange lights
and brighter in the muffled streets of Zermatt,
what element more absolute as itself
than the death-hush of the snow, the voiceless blizzard,
between the brilliant windows of the stores?

He stood outside bright windows filled with music,
faint conversation through the mullioned panes
and crab-clenched chandeliers with pointed flames
above the animate and inanimate faces
of apparitions whose features matched their names,
all gentlemen with some big-buttressed dames,
a fiction in a fiction. The door could open,
he would be more than welcome. The lights were squared
on the lawn's edges. A conspiring pen
had brought him thus far. All that he had dared
lay in elegant ambush whose bright noise
was like the starlit surf whose voice had reared
him. But this was a different climate,
a different country. Now both lives had met
in this achievement. He turned his head
away this time, and walked back towards the road.
The scene was just like something he had read.
Something in boyhood, before he went abroad.
But cowardice called to him. He went back inside;
secure and rigid in their printed places
all of the dancers in that frozen ballroom.

III

As with snow, to feel the air changing,
the heart darken and in the clarity of sunshine-the
clarity of ice, as in the islands,
all spring, all summer, it was the one world
till autumn marshalled its divisions, its flags,
and deer marched with agreeing nodding antlers
into another fiction while we remained
in immortal cobalt, unchanging viridian;
and what was altered was something more profound
than geography, it was the self. It was vocabulary.
Now it was time for the white poem of winter,
when icicles lock the great bronze horse's teeth.
The streets were white. No sidewalks in the streets
and the short snowy distances between the shops
brilliant with winter gear and above the streets
full of skiers with their poles on their shoulders
the chalets, snow-roofed, with peaks like Christmas cards.
From a climate without wolves, what if I dreamt
a white wolf trotted and stood in my path,
there, in the early lights of the busy streets
thickened to silence, coal-eyed, its tongue
a panting flame, snow swarming my eyes.
Then, like a match struck with light! A different glow
than the windows of the hotels, the stores, the inns.
Her hair above the crisp snow of table linen
was like a flare, it led him, stumbling, inane.

He went down early to the lounge. Repeat:
He went down early to the lounge and waited.
The street lights were still on. Then they went out.
Eventually she came and when she came,
she brought the mountain with her into the big room
with her cold cheeks, snow smudged with strawberries,
her body steaming with hues of a banked hearth,
her eyes the blue-green of its dying coals,
and her hair, once it was shaken from its cap
leapt like new fire. Ilse, perhaps, brought in
the muddy tracks between the inns, dark pines,
the unicorn shaft or the priapic horn
of the white mountain, as famous as its stamp,
she brought in echoes of hunted stags folding
from a shot's ricochet through a crevasse
in the warmth of the body which she now unsheathed,
shaking the dust of snow from fur and leather
and hanging her ski-coat on a rack of antlers,
with a glance that pierced him like an icicle,
flashing the blizzard of white teeth, then tousling
the wet hair at the nape of her neck, she stood
for a moment in a blizzard of linen
and the far-lightning flash of cutlery
over the chalets and lodges of Zermatt.

IV

As far as secular angels go there is always one,
in Venice, in Milan, hardening that horn
of ageing desire and its devastations,
while skiers plunge and slide soundlessly
past crevasses, invisible as thoughts,
like the waitress buttoning her uniform
already pronged by an invisible horn
and lids that sometimes closed as if her form
slept in the white peace after an avalanche.
He looked out through the window at white air,
and there, crawling impossibly like an insect
across the drifts, a train, distinct, impossible.
Now with more promise than he could expect.

Her speech was crisp, and as for the flushed face,
was it a patronizing kindness? Who could tell?
Auf Wiedersehen to the pines and the peaked chalets
to the inns looking like toys behind the car
and the waitresses and Ilse, indifferently
going about their business with the lamps
of the Alpine dusk, and the beds freshly made
as the new snow that blurred the villages
and the lights from the stores on the banked street
and the receding shore of our hotel.
Again, how many farewells and greetings
on cheeks that change their name, how many kisses
near tinkling earrings that fade like carriage bells.

--------

I had a quiet morning playing with photos and a fun evening with dementordelta, who was passing by my house on her way home from Pittsburgh Comicon and agreed to subject herself to my entire family, including Daniel in full sulk mode because he has just been banned from video games until his chemistry grade comes up. Once he finished reporting us to the child abuse society for this act of cruelty, we went to California Tortilla, where Delta and I tried to discuss fannish matters in between bouts of Adam talking about roller coasters he wants to ride, having gone on one yesterday with the Hebrew school youth group that pleased him greatly. I know I am still boring but I am only having coughing fits once or twice an hour now, so this is progress!


The electric cars were rock stars at Rockville Science Day.


This one powers its batteries with solar panels and can go longer distances.


Whereas this one must be charged at night...


...which requires a trunk full of batteries...


...as well as a hood with more batteries and a converter.


The Discover Genomics mobile lab bus visited the science expo as well.


And Reptile Wonders drove a vehicle with advertising on top.
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Watched Doctor Who's "The Sontaran Stratagem," not one of my favorites of modern Who (it might help if I had watched the Tom Baker Sontarans in something resembling order, as opposed to whatever random sequence we get on late night PBS), but I continue to adore Donna and Donna and Martha together are almost as much fun as Rose and Sarah Jane together were. Yay, Martha has a new boyfriend! Not soon enough, sadly, but she deserves so much better than mooning over the Doctor. And I snickered at Donna saying that if you hug the Doctor you'll get a paper cut. Though my favorite bit is Donna telling off the general! Not a fan of the murderous boy genius, it's too much of a sci-fi type, but I am amused that this time it's our GPS systems that will bring about the end of the world. I didn't realize those were as prevalent in the UK, where I couldn't even get mobile service in some of the remoter parts of Wales.

Now I'm trying to pay attention to basketball playoffs but am having trouble staying awake again. Oh well, good thing I don't really care!
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