They cried for a broken gourd

They cried for a broken gourd

Yet they felt the sea-wind tying them into one nation
of eyes and shadows and groans, in the one pain
that is inconsolable, the loss of one’s shore

with its crooked footpath. They had wept, not for
their wives only, their fading children, but for strange,
ordinary things. This one, who was a hunter,

wept for a sapling lance whose absent heft sang
in his palm’s hollow. One, a fisherman, for an ochre
river encircling his calves; one a weaver, for the straw

fishpot he had meant to repair, wilting in water.
They cried for the little things after the big thing.
They cried for a broken gourd. It was only later

that they talked to the gods who had not been there
when they needed them. Their whole world was moving,
or a large part of the world, and what began dissolving

was the fading sound of their tribal name for the rain,
the bright sound for the sun, a hissing noun for the river,
and always the word “never,” and never the word “again.”

from Omeros Book Three Chapter XXVIII, Part III
by Derek Walcott

Today I took the kids to the playground after they’d done their math and copywork and reading to me. While they ran around and played I sat on a bench in the shade of a tree and read Omeros. I flipped back and re-read several chapters, reading them out loud, but quietly to myself. These words demand to be read aloud and when I read the chapters before I hadn’t done so and they didn’t really sink in.

Each chapter is short, and moreover is divided into three very short sections. One chapter can easily be read in one sitting and I think that’s one of the things that makes this book feel really friendly to a slow reading project. I’m never overwhelmed. I can always read just one little section, though usually they draw me in and I want to devour more. But I make myself read no more than one new chapter at a time and do go back and re-read previous sections. The language wants to be savored, to melt slowly on the tongue.

Book Three recounts an odd vision/dream quest that Achille experiences in which he’s somehow in Africa speaking with the ghost of his father, his ancestors, and experiencing the raid that made them slaves, ripped away from their homes, their families, their languages, their continent. It’s terrible and haunting, and quite disorienting too. Part visit to the underworld, parallel to Odysseus meeting the ghost of his father. But the experience isn’t just with his own past, but the collective past of all those who were taken from Africa to the Caribbean.

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