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The Star-Apple Kingdom

Written by: Derek Walcott | Biography
 | Quotes (4) |
 There were still shards of an ancient pastoral 
in those shires of the island where the cattle drank 
their pools of shadow from an older sky, 
surviving from when the landscape copied such objects as 
"Herefords at Sunset in the valley of the Wye." 
The mountain water that fell white from the mill wheel 
sprinkling like petals from the star-apple trees, 
and all of the windmills and sugar mills moved by mules 
on the treadmill of Monday to Monday, would repeat 
in tongues of water and wind and fire, in tongues 
of Mission School pickaninnies, like rivers remembering 
their source, Parish Trelawny, Parish St David, Parish 
St Andrew, the names afflicting the pastures, 
the lime groves and fences of marl stone and the cattle 
with a docile longing, an epochal content. 
And there were, like old wedding lace in an attic, 
among the boas and parasols and the tea-colored 
daguerreotypes, hints of an epochal happiness 
as ordered and infinite to the child 
as the great house road to the Great House 
down a perspective of casuarinas plunging green manes 
in time to the horses, an orderly life 
reduced by lorgnettes day and night, one disc the sun, 
the other the moon, reduced into a pier glass: 
nannies diminished to dolls, mahogany stairways 
no larger than those of an album in which 
the flash of cutlery yellows, as gamboge as 
the piled cakes of teatime on that latticed 
bougainvillea verandah that looked down toward 
a prospect of Cuyp-like Herefords under a sky 
lurid as a porcelain souvenir with these words: 
"Herefords at Sunset in the Valley of the Wye." 

Strange, that the rancor of hatred hid in that dream 
of slow rivers and lily-like parasols, in snaps 
of fine old colonial families, curled at the edge 
not from age of from fire or the chemicals, no, not at all, 
but because, off at its edges, innocently excluded 
stood the groom, the cattle boy, the housemaid, the gardeners, 
the tenants, the good Negroes down in the village, 
their mouth in the locked jaw of a silent scream. 
A scream which would open the doors to swing wildly 
all night, that was bringing in heavier clouds, 
more black smoke than cloud, frightening the cattle 
in whose bulging eyes the Great House diminished; 
a scorching wind of a scream 
that began to extinguish the fireflies, 
that dried the water mill creaking to a stop 
as it was about to pronounce Parish Trelawny 
all over, in the ancient pastoral voice, 
a wind that blew all without bending anything, 
neither the leaves of the album nor the lime groves; 
blew Nanny floating back in white from a feather 
to a chimerical, chemical pin speck that shrank 
the drinking Herefords to brown porcelain cows 
on a mantelpiece, Trelawny trembling with dusk, 
the scorched pastures of the old benign Custos; blew 
far the decent servants and the lifelong cook, 
and shriveled to a shard that ancient pastoral 
of dusk in a gilt-edged frame now catching the evening sun 
in Jamaica, making both epochs one. 

He looked out from the Great House windows on 
clouds that still held the fragrance of fire, 
he saw the Botanical Gardens officially drown 
in a formal dusk, where governors had strolled 
and black gardeners had smiled over glinting shears 
at the lilies of parasols on the floating lawns, 
the flame trees obeyed his will and lowered their wicks, 
the flowers tightened their fists in the name of thrift, 
the porcelain lamps of ripe cocoa, the magnolia's jet 
dimmed on the one circuit with the ginger lilies 
and left a lonely bulb on the verandah, 
and, had his mandate extended to that ceiling 
of star-apple candelabra, he would have ordered 
the sky to sleep, saying, I'm tired, 
save the starlight for victories, we can't afford it, 
leave the moon on for one more hour,and that's it. 
But though his power, the given mandate, extended 
from tangerine daybreaks to star-apple dusks, 
his hand could not dam that ceaseless torrent of dust 
that carried the shacks of the poor, to their root-rock music, 
down the gullies of Yallahs and August Town, 
to lodge them on thorns of maca, with their rags 
crucified by cactus, tins, old tires, cartons; 
from the black Warieka Hills the sky glowed fierce as 
the dials of a million radios, 
a throbbing sunset that glowed like a grid 
where the dread beat rose from the jukebox of Kingston. 
He saw the fountains dried of quadrilles, the water-music 
of the country dancers, the fiddlers like fifes 
put aside. He had to heal 
this malarial island in its bath of bay leaves, 
its forests tossing with fever, the dry cattle 
groaning like winches, the grass that kept shaking 
its head to remember its name. No vowels left 
in the mill wheel, the river. Rock stone. Rock stone. 

The mountains rolled like whales through phosphorous stars, 
as he swayed like a stone down fathoms into sleep, 
drawn by that magnet which pulls down half the world 
between a star and a star, by that black power 
that has the assassin dreaming of snow, 
that poleaxes the tyrant to a sleeping child. 
The house is rocking at anchor, but as he falls 
his mind is a mill wheel in moonlight, 
and he hears, in the sleep of his moonlight, the drowned 
bell of Port Royal's cathedral, sees the copper pennies 
of bubbles rising from the empty eye-pockets 
of green buccaneers, the parrot fish floating 
from the frayed shoulders of pirates, sea horses 
drawing gowned ladies in their liquid promenade 
across the moss-green meadows of the sea; 
he heard the drowned choirs under Palisadoes, 
a hymn ascending to earth from a heaven inverted 
by water, a crab climbing the steeple, 
and he climbed from that submarine kingdom 
as the evening lights came on in the institute, 
the scholars lamplit in their own aquarium, 
he saw them mouthing like parrot fish, as he passed 
upward from that baptism, their history lessons, 
the bubbles like ideas which he could not break: 
Jamaica was captured by Penn and Venables, 
Port Royal perished in a cataclysmic earthquake. 

Before the coruscating façades of cathedrals 
from Santiago to Caracas, where penitential archbishops 
washed the feet of paupers (a parenthetical moment 
that made the Caribbean a baptismal font, 
turned butterflies to stone, and whitened like doves 
the buzzards circling municipal garbage), 
the Caribbean was borne like an elliptical basin 
in the hands of acolytes, and a people were absolved 
of a history which they did not commit; 
the slave pardoned his whip, and the dispossessed 
said the rosary of islands for three hundred years, 
a hymn that resounded like the hum of the sea 
inside a sea cave, as their knees turned to stone, 
while the bodies of patriots were melting down walls 
still crusted with mute outcries of La Revolucion! 
"San Salvador, pray for us,St. Thomas, San Domingo, 
ora pro nobis, intercede for us, Sancta Lucia 
of no eyes," and when the circular chaplet 
reached the last black bead of Sancta Trinidad 
they began again, their knees drilled into stone, 
where Colon had begun, with San Salvador's bead, 
beads of black colonies round the necks of Indians. 
And while they prayed for an economic miracle, 
ulcers formed on the municipal portraits, 
the hotels went up, and the casinos and brothels, 
and the empires of tobacco, sugar, and bananas, 
until a black woman, shawled like a buzzard, 
climbed up the stairs and knocked at the door 
of his dream, whispering in the ear of the keyhole: 
"Let me in, I'm finished with praying, I'm the Revolution. 
I am the darker, the older America." 

She was as beautiful as a stone in the sunrise, 
her voice had the gutturals of machine guns 
across khaki deserts where the cactus flower 
detonates like grenades, her sex was the slit throat 
of an Indian, her hair had the blue-black sheen of the crow. 
She was a black umbrella blown inside out 
by the wind of revolution, La Madre Dolorosa, 
a black rose of sorrow, a black mine of silence, 
raped wife, empty mother, Aztec virgin 
transfixed by arrows from a thousand guitars, 
a stone full of silence, which, if it gave tongue 
to the tortures done in the name of the Father, 
would curdle the blood of the marauding wolf, 
the fountain of generals, poets, and cripples 
who danced without moving over their graves 
with each revolution; her Caesarean was stitched 
by the teeth of machine guns,and every sunset 
she carried the Caribbean's elliptical basin 
as she had once carried the penitential napkins 
to be the footbath of dictators, Trujillo, Machado, 
and those whose faces had yellowed like posters 
on municipal walls. Now she stroked his hair 
until it turned white, but she would not understand 
that he wanted no other power but peace, 
that he wanted a revolution without any bloodshed, 
he wanted a history without any memory, 
streets without statues, 
and a geography without myth. He wanted no armies 
but those regiments of bananas, thick lances of cane, 
and he sobbed,"I am powerless, except for love." 
She faded from him, because he could not kill; 
she shrunk to a bat that hung day and night 
in the back of his brain. He rose in his dream. 
(to be continued)



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