Like Peas on a Tin Plate

the poet called this line of
green and lime-
stone grown to
ornament indistinct
horizons.
More shadows offered up
than substance on the chart,
these hollows worn
by how the sea returns,
by how it rests
then presses, mesmerized
by slow accreted growth.

Find me later’, says the driver
at the meeting-tree’ -
and arriving at the village
down the white-rock road
the shade’s consumed already
by a stout woman selling
clumsy-strung mementos
from her island world.
She offers up a grin of toothless grace,
her apron hitched high
to catch her sinking bosom -
horizon likewise indistinct, I think,
and buy a hat
of densewovegrass still reeking
from the marshflats steeped in heat.

Back through the sun-struck town
I find the club where locals come
outwait the sun.
From the clock
someone has removed
the marching hand.
Island time.
No food’, says the owner,
last boat of white folks ate it all -‘
all we got’s conch fritters.
Greasy paper, piled high -
though pounded hard then fried
they still taste of salt
and muscled rubber
and I eat a bagful like I never get at home.

We pause this way,
long afternoons under rippled metal roofs
that channel down
both sun and rain
with equal disregard -
You white folks’ – offers up the owner,
movin’ like you do -‘
if this place don’t burn you, it’ll
drown you
and we nod -
that slow and steady measure
and she chuckles – heavy fists
down flat along the bar
she’d just wiped clean
with weary, patient circles.

*

[in memory of Derek Walcott (1930-2017)]

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