In the late 1990s and early 2000s, my family was fortunate enough to enjoy vacations on the island of St. Lucia in the West Indies for several years in a row. We stayed at a resort called The Windjammer on Labrelotte Bay, between Castries and Gros Islet on the northwest coast. In the George Charles Airport in Castries a pair of portraits are displayed prominently, those of two St. Lucia natives who are Nobel Laureates: Sir Arthur Lewis (Economics, 1979) and Derek Walcott (Literature, 1992). I read more of Walcott's poems after visiting St. Lucia and learning more about him. I always brought a stack of books to read in the sun, often including one of Walcott's. The vacations were also a time for me to write. Following is a poem from the winter of 2001. I'm posting it today as a small tribute to Derek Walcott, who died this week.
St. Lucia, St. Lulu, blue-green and green-blue---there's an ooh in the blue air, in the o-round mouth on the white deck of the cruise liner chasing a tank ship bound for the oil farm at Castries. Dark parts of the seascape like indigo ink slurred through turquoise fields in the bay. Jet-lets of spume way off shore---the dip boat, no banana boat, shipped out. Each villa boasts a few conch shells, T-Rex of seashells, grail we never find up north, bony case with smooth pink lining. Each villa is a conch of white walls, terra-cotta floors. With its owner away, we snowbirds claim the showy chassis for a couple of hot weeks. Julia, at the front desk, thirty years old this month, says Nelson Mandela said if he had to choose a place to live outside of South Africa, it would be St. Lucia, where he could sleep with doors open. It's so calm, she says. When I tell her I admire Derek Walcott's poems, she says his birthday is January 26th (which is mine, too, I say) and that he'll be home next month for the island's Independence Day party. He may write something special. When I mention his teaching in Boston, she nods, "Yes, the Nobel Laureate." Julia asks if my hometown is "cool," calm, she explains, not too busy like New York City.