Derek Walcott

A Letter from Brooklyn

An old lady writes me in a spidery style,
Each character trembling, and I see a veined hand
Pellucid as paper, travelling on a skein
Of such frail thoughts its thread is often broken;
Or else the filament from which a phrase is hung
Dims to my sense, but caught, it shines like steel,
As touch a line, and the whole web will feel.
She describes my father, yet I forget her face
More easily than my father’s yearly dying;
Of her I remember small, buttoned boots and the place
She kept in our wooden church on those Sundays
Whenever her strength allowed;
Gray haired, thin voiced, perpetually bowed.

‘I am Mable Rawlins,’ she writes, ‘and know both your parents’:
He is dead, Miss Rawlins, but God bless your tense:
‘Your father was a dutiful, honest,
Faithful and useful person.’
For such plain praise what fame is recompense?
‘A horn-painter, he painted delicately on horn,
He used to sit around the table and paint pictures.’
The peace of God needs nothing to adorn
It, nor glory nor ambition.
‘He is twenty-eight years buried,’ she writes, ‘he was called home,
And is, I am sure, doing greater work.’

The strength of one frail hand in a dim room
Somewhere in Brooklyn, patient and assured,
Restores my sacred duty to the Word.
‘Home, home,’ she can write, with such short time to live,
Alone as she spins the blessings of her years;
Not withered of beauty if she can bring such tears,
Nor withdrawn from the world that breaks its lovers so;
Heaven is to her the place where painters go,
All who bring beauty on frail shell or horn,
There was all made, thence their lux-mundi drawn,
Drawn, drawn, till the thread is resilient steel,
Lost though it seems in darkening periods,
And there they return to do work that is God’s.

So this old lady writes, and again I believe,
I believe it all, and for no man’s death I grieve.


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