NYU Black Renaissance Noire Winter 2014 - Page 22

By DEREK WALCOTT The Spectre of Empire I Down the Conradian docks of the rusted port, by gnarled sea grapes whose plates are caked with grime, to a salvo of flame trees from the old English fort, he waits, the white spectre of another time, or stands, propping the entrance of some hovel of rumshop, to slip into the streets like the bookmark in a nineteenth-century novel, scuttering from contact as a crab retreats. He strolls along the waterfront’s old stench to the balcony shade of a store in Soufrière for the vantage-point of a municipal bench in the volcanic furnace of its town square. I just missed him as he darted the other way in the bobbing crowd disgorging from the ferry in Capri, just as he had fled the bay of equally blue Campeche and rose-walled Cartagena, his still elusive silence growing more scary with every shouted question, because so many were hurled at him, fleeing last century’s crime. II 20 Walking the drenched ramparts, tugging his hat-brim, maintaining his distance on the deaf page, he cannot hear the insults hurled at him, bracing for the sputtering brine. An image more than a man. this white-drill figure is smoke from a candle stick or incense or a mosquito coil, his fame is bigger than his empire’s now, its slow-burning conscience. Smoke is the guilt of fire, so where he strolls in Soufrière, in Sumatra, by any clogged basin where hulks have foundered and garbage-smoke scrolls its flag, he travels with its sin, its collapsed mines, its fortunes sieved through bets. He crosses a cricket field, overrun with stubble launching a fleet of white, immaculate egrets.