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Day 1: Midsummer by Derek Walcott

Yesterday began the #BedtimePoems experiment, with a lovely conversation with Brian, a friend from college. Despite keeping up with one another via Facebook and the occasional email, it’s actually been probably eight or so years since we spoke in real-time!

We caught up briefly on life transitions and then turned our conversation to poetry. Brian dutifully answered some questions I prepared about his relationship to poetry, and gave me some good ideas for other data points I should ask for the project. He also made me laugh when he told me, “honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone on Facebook say anything about poetry, and I thought ‘that’s something I want to be part of!'”

Then, as I sat on a park bench at the edge of Central Park West & Columbus Circle, I read him the below poem, Midsummer, by the St. Lucian poet Derek Walcott. I chose it for simple reasons … how I hoped it might sound over the phone, the mark of the season, the way he describes “nouns that find their branches as simply as birds.”


The jet bores like a silverfish through volumes of cloud –
clouds that will keep no record of where we have passed,
nor the sea’s mirror, nor the coral busy with its own
culture; they aren’t doors of dissolving stone,
but pages in a damp culture that come apart.
So a hole in their parchment opens, and suddenly, in a vast
dereliction of sunlight, there’s that island known
to the traveller Trollope, and the fellow traveller Froude,
for making nothing. Not even a people. The jet’s shadow
ripples over green jungles as steadily as a minnow
through seaweed. Our sunlight is shared by Rome
and your white paper, Joseph. Here, as everywhere else,
it is the same age. In cities, in settlements of mud,
light has never had epochs. Near the rusty harbor
around Port of Spain bright suburbs fade into words –
Maraval, Diego Martin – the highways long as regrets,
and steeples so tiny you couldn’t hear their bells,
nor the sharp exclamation of whitewashed minarets
from green villages. The lowering window resounds
over pages of earth, the canefields set in stanzas.
Skimming over an ocher swamp like a fast cloud of egrets
are nouns that find their branches as simply as birds.
It comes too fast, this shelving sense of home –
canes rushing the wing, a fence; a world that still stands as
the trundling tires keep shaking and shaking the heart.

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