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Derek Walcott – In Amsterdam

In Amsterdam


The cruise-boats keep gliding along the brown canal
as quiet as prayer, the leaves are packed with peace,
the elegant house-fronts, repetitive and banal
as the hotel brochure, are still as an altarpiece.
We cruised it with Rufus Collins once, a white macaw
on his piratical shoulder. Rufus is gone.
Canals spread reflection, with calm at the core.
I reflect quietly on how soon I will be going.
I want the year 2009 to be as angled with light
as a Dutch interior or an alley by Vermeer,
to accept my enemy’s atrabilious spite,
to paint and write well in what could be my last year.


Silly to think of a heritage when there isn’t much,
though my mother whose surname was Marlin or Van der Mont
took pride in an ancestry she claimed was Dutch.
Now here in Amsterdam, her claim starts to mount.
Legitimate, illegitimate, I want to repaint
these rubicund Flemish faces, even if it’s been done
by Frans Hals, by Rubens, by Rembrandt,
the clear grey eyes of Renée, the tree-shade on this side,
the chestnuts that glitter from the breakfast window,
why should I not claim them as fervently as
the pride of Alix Marlin an early widow,
as a creek in the Congo, if her joy was such?
I feel something ending here and something begun
the light strong leaves, the water muttering in Dutch,
the girls going by on bicycles in the sun.

[From White Egrets (Faber & Faber 2010-11), pp. 66-67, 33.]

Derek Walcott

Derek Walcott in Amsterdam, voor de eerste Cola Debrotlezing, 2008. Foto © Bert Nienhuis

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