R.T.S.L. (1917-1977)

Rating: 3.0

As for that other thing
which comes when the eyelid is glazed
and the wax gleam
from the unwrinkled forehead
asks no more questions
of the dry mouth,

whether they open the heart like a shirt
to release a rage of swallows,
whether the brain
is a library for worms,
on the instant of that knowledge
of the moment
when everything became so stiff,

so formal with ironical adieux,
organ and choir,
and I must borrow a black tie,
and at what moment in the oration
shall I break down and weep -
there was the startle of wings
breaking from the closing cage
of your body, your fist unclenching
these pigeons circling serenely
over the page,

and,
as the parentheses lock like a gate
1917 to 1977,
the semicircles close to form a face,
a world, a wholeness,
an unbreakable O,
and something that once had a fearful name
walks from the thing that used to wear its name,
transparent, exact representative,
so that we can see through it
churches, cars, sunlight,
and the Boston Common,
not needing any book.

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COMMENTS OF THE POEM
Michael Walker 18 December 2019

I find here an individualist look at the scene when someone has died, aged sixty. 'The glazed eyelid', 'the wax gleam', 'the unwrinkled forehead'-this is what I recall from visiting a morgue where a parent's body lay. Still the same body but somehow artificial now after the embalming by the mortician. Derek Walcott tells it like it is; the emotional touch 'break down and weep' is like an afterthought. Sheer artistry in an unforgettable poem.

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