On this tenth anniversary of 9-11, I post a poem by Derek Walcott that was written in response to a fire that leveled the town of Castries in Walcott’’s home island of Saint Lucia. The 1948 disaster left 2000 people homeless.
Like 9-11, the Castries fire challenged people’s faith (the poet says that faiths “were snapped like wire”). But as the speaker walks “among the rubbled tales–each burned home as a story to tell–” he also looks out at the surrounding hills, which are “a flock of faiths.” “Why should a man wax tears when his wooden world fails?” he asks as he walks “by the smoking sea, where Christ walked.” After all, each leaf in those surrounds hills is a “green breath rebuilding a love I thought was dead as nails.”
Death and destruction, as awful as they are, hold open the possibility of baptismal renewal. May we all remember this as we commemorate those who died and think of those who loved them.
A City’s Death By Fire
By Derek Walcott
After that hot gospeller has levelled all but the churched sky,
I wrote the tale by tallow of a city’s death by fire;
Under a candle’s eye, that smoked in tears, I
Wanted to tell, in more than wax, of faiths that were snapped like wire.
All day I walked abroad among the rubbled tales,
Shocked at each wall that stood on the street like a liar;
Loud was the bird-rocked sky, and all the clouds were bales
Torn open by looting, and white, in spite of the fire.
By the smoking sea, where Christ walked, I asked, wh
Should a man wax tears, when his wooden world fails?
In town, leaves were paper, but the hills were a flock of faiths;
To a boy who walked all day, each leaf was a green breath
Rebuilding a love I thought was dead as nails,
Blessing the death and the baptism by fire.
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