read by:

Derek Walcott reads at NYPL.org

“Hemingway and the Caribbean”

“Here at sunrise on the island fifty years ago, I imagined thoughts of my first love, Anna,

awaking. When the oil-green water flows but doesn’t catch, only its burnish, something

wakes me early, draws me out breezily to the pebbly shelf of shallows, where the water

chuckles and the ribbed boats sleep like children, buoyed on their creases. I have nothing

to do. The burnished kettle is already polished to see my own blush burn, and the last

thing the breeze needs is my exhilaration.

I shall make coffee.

The light, like a fiercer dawn,

will singe the downy edges of my hair,

and the heat will plate my forehead till it shines.

Its sweat will share the excitement of my cunning.


Mother, I am in love.


Harbour, I am waking.


I know the pain in your budding, nippled limes,

I know why your limbs shake, windless, pliant trees.

I shall grow gray as this light.

The first flush will pass.

But there will always be morning,

and I shall have this fever waken me

whoever I lie to, lying close to, sleeping

like a ribbed boat in the last shallows of light.

“Let’s go for a little walk,” she said, one afternoon. “I’m in a walking mood.” Near the

lagoon, dark waters’ lens had made the trees one wood, arranged to frame this pair whose

pace unknowingly measured the loss. Each face was set towards its character. Where they

now stood, others before had stood. Same lens, island, the repeated wood, then each one

the self-delighting self-transfiguring stone stare of the demigod. Stunned by their images

they strolled on, content that the black film of water kept the print of their locked images

when they passed on.

Which of them in time would be betrayed was never questioned by that poetry which

breathed within the evening naturally, but by the noble treachery of art that looks for fear

when it is least afraid, that cordially takes the pulse-beat of the heart in happiness but

praises the need to die to the bright candor of the evening sky that preferred love to

immortality. So every step increased that subtlety which hoped that their two bodies

could be made one body of immortal metaphor. The hand she held already had betrayed

them both by its longing for describing her.

Here is Anna, recently, after a visit. Sixty years after. In my wheelchair in the Virgin

lounge in Beaufort, I saw her sitting in her own wheelchair, her beauty hunched like a

crumpled flower, the one who I thought was the fire of my young life would do her duty

to be golden and beautiful and young forever even as I aged. She was treble-chinned, old,

her devastating smile was netted in wrinkles, but I felt the fever briefly returning as we

sat there, crippled, bearing time and the life of general pleasantries. Small waves still

break against a small stone pier where a boatman left me in the orange diesel dusk a halfcentury

ago. Maybe happier being erect, she like a deer in her shyness, I stalking her an

impossible consummation. Those who knew us knew we would never be together, at

least not walking.

With the silent knives from the intercom went through me. Over the years as I traveled, I

found myself confirming cities and places that I had read in Hemingway, Miami, Venice,

Key West, Bimini, Madrid, Pamplona. Doing things that were in the books such as eating

lamb ribs barbequed on pine branches in an awful place with a noise and a river like a

dam, not in the spirit of literary pilgrimage, but every city authenticated his prose. Here is

Barcelona, which I came to late, its roofs and streets rhyming with its name.

There was a roar outside like a rocket arching over the roofs this morning. Then under the

black iron balconies, a brass band marching, detonated for some saint or labor union,

defending Catalonia with civic thunder. You smiled down at them with their banners and

sashes, but all you did in Barcelona was cough like one of those veterans with mournful

moustaches left over from the civil war. That is not enough for such a great city, but you

take time in portions, one cough at a time, your personal thunder that turns compassionate

heads. What I had waited for was for the name to be a banner over every street,

crucifixions and velvets, candles and purple crepe, for the crowd in the plaza to leap to its

feet and the flourish and trembling stasis of the matador’s cape. I could never join in the

parade, I can’t walk fast. Such is time’s ordinance. Lungs rattle, eyes that run, now

Barcelona is part of my past.

We know Hemingway’s reputation was that of a writer in exile. The setting of most of his

fiction had been in Europe, in Spain and Italy, now he showed that he could write about

our country to which his prose belonged. To Have and Have Not was political and leftist,

his piratical hero was a loner and apart from the rich in the marinas of Key West and

Miami. Harry Morgan, his parallel in another aspect of the book was Richard Gordon,

also a writer, the Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, who is now morally impotent

despite his big-game hunting. Richard Gordon’s wife abuses him in the same terms as his

wife does Macomber. The rich in their yachts and the maritime in their marinas rock in

their wealth.

Richard Gordon says, “You’re married to me.” “Not really, not in the church, you

wouldn’t marry me in the church and it broke my poor mother’s heart, as you well know.

I was so sentimental about you. I would break anyone’s heart for you. My, I was a damn

fool. I broke my own heart too. It’s broken and gone. Everything I believed in and

everything I cared about I left for you because you were so wonderful and you loved me

so much that love was all that mattered. Love was the greatest thing, wasn’t it? Love was

what we had that no one else had or could ever have and you were a genius and I was

your whole life. I was your partner and your little black flower. Slop. Love is just another

dirty lie. Love is ergoapiol pills to make me come around because you were afraid to

have a baby. Love is quinine and quinine and quinine until I’m deaf with it. Love is that

dirty aborting horror that you took me to. Love is my insides all messed up. It’s half

catheters and half whirling douches. I know about love. Love always hangs behind the

bathroom door. It smells like Lysol. To hell with love. Love is you making me happy and

then going off to sleep with your mouth open while I lie awake all night afraid to say my

prayers even because I know I have no right to any more. Love is all the dirty little tricks

you taught me that you probably got out of some book. All right. I’m through with you

and I’m through with love. Your kind of pick-nose love. You writer.”



“Write hard and clear about what hurts.”


“Forget your personal tragedy. We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to be hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt use it–don’t cheat with it. Be as faithful to it as a scientist–but don’t think anything is of any importance because it happens to you or anyone belonging to you.”

“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.”

-Papa Hemingway


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