The Reading

by Tom Pow

The Reading
          Granada, Nicaragua
i.m. Derek Walcott

The old master swivels his prize
winning head round the audience
with the authority of an owl.

Some avert his gaze,
while others occupy the aisles,
capturing him on their phones.

He introduces a poem
about the father he never knew;
at its core what a woman

had once written to him,
a full twenty eight years
after his father’s death. The poem

will describe the old woman,
her skin paper thin, forming
her letters as, in her last days,

she carries out this office
of kindness. Walcott tells us
a lion’s pride in this

as in everything he does
that the old woman used four
adjectives to describe his father:

that he was dutiful, honest,
faithful and useful. Walcott gives
each word its proper weight

lays them before us like well
worn tools. ‘But she was not
an educated woman and she spoke

about my father in the present
tense: he is dutiful, he is honest,
he is faithful, he is useful.’

It was this simple tense change,
Walcott says, that altered
memories of his father forever

and brought tears to his eyes.
I have looked for the poem
but never found it and I wonder

whether its lattices of language
could match the memory I keep
of a great poet talking simply

of what he held close to his heart.