St Lucia Poems

 Aruba’s Chickens

Aruba is keeper of Derek Walcott Square,

which means he keeps everyone

off the grass. Everyone but Marcus,

Linda and Judith, his chickens,

which he won’t call chickens

“because someone might want to eat them.” 

Aruba tells us he was named for an island, 

“And I’m proud of it. If you want

to take my picture, you have to ask me,” 

and I do. Then he offers to take

a great picture of me, which means 

walking on the grass under his guidance.

At my back, the enormous simaan tree, 

which he says is 500 years old.

I see the grass is worn at the spot

where he has me stand. The picture

that shows on the screen after is exactly right, 

Aruba has put the tourist in perspective.

17 Chausée Road

The great poet’s birthplace, 

a little gabled cottage,

is in the careless care

of the government.

Derelict, one symbolic pane

of glass missing, it bears

the graffiti of a band: Hyena’s Crew 

and Hyena’s Bad Everywhere.

Off Becune Point

The big rock has always been called

“The Barrel of Beef.” And the small flat one? 

My wife named it in honour of chipped beef 

on toast: “Shit on a Shingle.”

I wanted to see the legendary green ray 

at sunset, the moment when the sun 

dips into the water, but at Becune Point 

the sun sets behind Pigeon Island.

At night we saw a waxing crescent moon. 

I had never expected

the tropical moon to rest on its back,

a dipper full of darkness darker than the sky.

Fruits of Paradise

In a house where I was served 

green fig-and-saltfish salad, 

plantain, love apples,

sweet sop and breadfruit,

I was surprised to find a lone can 

of Hereford Brand Corned Beef, 

with the traditional key to open it. 

It was the comfort food

of last month’s guest,

Ireland’s most famous poet.

Plas Kassav / Cassava Factory

A factory of one room, 

with a screw press

to squeeze out the poison 

from the cassava roots,

an enormous grater to shred them,

a basin for parching the flour,

and another basin

for cooking the bread, 

flavoured with fruit or fish, 

on banana leaves.

If I grind and squeeze 

the toxins from life, 

I might have a residue 

of poetry in the basin 

to mix with sweet or savoury.

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