Mud. Clods. The sucking heel of the rain-flinger.
The gusts of rain kept veering like the sails
of dragon-beaked vessels twining to Avalon
and mist. Four hours, driving along
the dazzling ridges of Wales, I carried the figure
of Langland’s ploughman on the rain-seeded glass,
matching the tires with hill-striding heels,
while the sheared puddles dripped from the roadside grass.
Once, in the drizzle, a crouched, clay-covered ghost
rose, and shook words from their roots, their syllables dew,
firm in his pivot, while the turning disc of the fields
and the ploughed stanzas sang of the freshness lost.
Villages began. We had crossed into England,
the fields, not their names were the same. We found a caff
parked in a thin drizzle, then crammed into a pew
of red leatherette. Chrome coffee-or-tea machines
and wet roads steaming outside, with thumb and finger
a careful sun was picking the lint from things.
The sun came out like a sign, the ploughman was gone
with the cairns, the castled hillocks, the stiff kings
scabbarded in sleep, but what right made me think
that the crash of chivalry in a kitchen sink
was my own dispossession? I still sensed from calf
to flinging wrist my veins ache with a knot.
There was a mist on the window. I rubbed it and looked out
on the hoods of wet cars in the parking lot.
Derek Walcott (1930–2017), awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992, published more than forty plays and poetry collections in his lifetime, including White Egrets (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2010) and Selected Poems (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2007). For twenty-seven years he was a member of AGNI ’s Advisory Board.
Order AGNI’s limited-edition broadside of Walcott’s “A Sea-Change.” The poem was first published in AGNI 67 and later reprinted in Harper’s and The Best American Poetry 2009.