I was reciting poetry long before I could read or write. As the 6th of the 7 children my parents had together I learned a lot from the homework my older siblings brought home long before I went to pre-school. What I took to most was the poems they had to memorize. I got to parrot after them. Later, I went to secondary (high) schools near the rural village where I grew up. My two brothers closest in age went to a school in the capital, Castries. They continued the habit of reciting poems they had learned at school and I continued memorizing from hearing them. That’s how I first got introduced to the poetry of Derek Walcott – my older brother would often recite one of Walcott’s early poems, A City’s Death By Fire, from Walcott’s first published chapbook, 25 Poems. I will be peeking at Walcott’s work this coming week for writing inspiration. I just read that poem tonight (based on an actual fire that destroyed Castries) to get me warmed up.
A City’s Death by Fire
by Derek Walcott
After that hot gospeller has levelled all but the churched sky,
I wrote the tale by tallow of a city’s death by fire;
Under a candle’s eye, that smoked in tears, I
Wanted to tell, in more than wax, of faiths that were snapped like wire.
All day I walked abroad among the rubbled tales,
Shocked at each wall that stood on the street like a liar;
Loud was the bird-rocked sky, and all the clouds were bales
Torn open by looting, and white, in spite of the fire.
By the smoking sea, where Christ walked, I asked, why
Should a man wax tears, when his wooden world fails?
In town, leaves were paper, but the hills were a flock of faiths;
To a boy who walked all day, each leaf was a green breath
Rebuilding a love I thought was dead as nails,
Blessing the death and the baptism by fire.