The world recognises a nation of the imagination: Derek Walcott

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The Independent Online
Derek Walcott, who has described himself as 'a colonial upstart at the end of an empire', a man with 'no nation now but the imagination', had the world at his feet yesterday after winning this year's Nobel Prize for literature. Walcott, 62, was born in St Lucia and is the first writer from the Caribbean to win the prize. He spends his time in Trinidad, Britain and the US. 'Port of Spain', from The Fortunate Traveller (1982), sums up his ambiguous relations with his islands.

Port of Spain

Midsummer stretches before me with a cat's yawn.

Trees with dust on their lips, cars melting down

in a furnace. Heat staggers the drifting mongrels.

The capitol has been repainted rose, the rails

round the parks the colour of rusting blood;

Junta and coup d'etat, the newest Latino mood,

broods on the balcony. Monotonous lurid bushes

brush the damp air with the ideograms of buzzards

over the Chinese groceries. The oven alleys stifle

where mournful tailors peer over old machines

stitching June and July together seamlessly,

and one waits for lightning as the armed sentry

hopes in boredom for the crack of a rifle -

but I feed on its dust, its ordinariness,

on the inertia that fills its exiles with horror,

on the dust over the hills with their orange lights,

even on the pilot light in the reeking harbour

that turns like a police car's. The terror

is local, at least. Like the magnolia's whorish whiff.

And the dog barks of the revolution crying wolf.

The moon shines like a lost button;

the black water stinks under the sodium lights on

the wharf. The night is turned on as firmly

as a switch, dishes clatter behind bright windows,

I walk along the walls with occasional shadows

that say nothing. Sometimes, in narrow doors

there are old men playing the same quiet games -

cards, draughts, dominoes. I give them names.

The night is companionable, the day is as fierce as

our human future anywhere. I can understand

Borges's blind love of Buenos Aires,

how a man feels the veins of a city swell in his hand.

(Photograph omitted)