Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Nandina domestica

The shape of the leaves on the branches of this plant is very pleasing to me. It is budding now; these blooms are not showy, but the berries are very pretty. I just read the article in Wikipedia and found out that it is toxic to cats and--if birds overdo the quantity--to some birds, like cedar waxwings, which come in flocks to strip plants of berries in late winter. This is one plant we see on our Daily Walks, in front of a weathered wooden fence. I love the textures: leaves against wood grain.

The other day I was reading about Derek Walcott (I think it was in the Paris Review, but now  not sure) and the excellence of his long poem, Tiepolo's Hound, Farrar Strauss Giroux, 1999. was mentioned. I have most of his other books and have been a fan of his work since he read in San Jose in the early 1980s, and I first heard his astonishing work and his powerful, cultured voice. So I ordered a copy quickly, and it is indeed a very fine poem, and the almost-square book is illustrated with many of his own paintings. He is a master of the English Language, in the way that seems almost lost to us.

This is a YouTube video of Walcott reading from Tiepolo's Hound. It comes with some advertising and the sound at the beginning (sh0ame on you, University of California Television!) is quite poor. The first four or five minutes is his introduction to the reading, while he jokes with the audience and introduces the work. But then he begins to read and what gorgeous stuff it is!

Because of the Daily Walk, I have chosen the very first section for tonight. Page 3.

from Tiepolo's Hound by Derek Walcott


They stroll on Sundays down Dronningens Street,
passing the bank and the small island shops

quiet as drawings, keeping from the heat
through Danish arches until the street stops

at the blue, gusting harbor, where like commas
in a shop ledger gulls tick the lined waves.

Sea-light on the cod barrels writes: St. Thomas,
the salt breeze brings the sound of Mission slaves

chanting deliverance from all their sins
in tidal couplets of lament and answer,

the horizon underlines the origins---
Pisarros from the ghetto of Braganza

who fled the white hoods of the Inquisition
for the bay's whitecaps, for the folding cross

of a white herring gull over the Mission
droning its passages from Exodus.

Before the family warehouse, near the Customs,
his uncle jerks the locks, rattling their chains,

and lifts his beard to where morning comes
across wide water to the Gentile mountains.

Out of the cobalt bay, her blunt bow cleaving
the rising swell that racing bitterns skip,

the mail boat moans. They fell their bodies
leaving the gliding island, not the blowing ship.

A mongrel follows them, black as its shadow,
nosing their shadows, scuttling when the bells

exult with pardon. Young Camille Pissarro
studies the schooner in their stagnant smells.

He and his starched Sephardic family,
followed from a fixed distance by the hound,

retrace their stroll through Charlotte Amalie
in silence as its Christian bells resound,

sprinkling the cobbles of Dronningens Gade
the shops whose jalousies in blessing close,

through repetitions of the oval shade
of Danish arches to their high wooden house.

The Synagogue of Blessing and Peace and Loving Deeds
is shut for this Sabbath. The mongrel cowers

through a park's railing. The bells recede.
The afternoon is marked by cedar flowers.

Their street of letters fades, this page of print
on the bleached light of last century recalls

with the sharp memory of a mezzotint:
days of cane carts, the palms high parasols.

It's all here, the island and its history, art, the sea and the harbor, the gulls. . . Flexible and resonant language sets it all before the reader. Come with me!

One is carried along by the flexible five-stress lines, using only a little punctuation as necessary. I love the specificity of the language, the colors, the sights and sounds. I recommend this book!

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