Ann LAurA StoLEr
“The Rot Remains”
From Ruins to Ruination
a green lawn, broken by low walls of stone,
Dipped to the rivulet, and pacing, I thought next
of men like Hawkins, Walter raleigh, Drake,
ancestral murderers and poets, more perplexed
In memory now by every ulcerous crime.
the world’s green age then was a rotting lime
Whose stench became the charnel galleon’s text.
the rot remains with us, the men are gone.
but, as dead ash is lifted in a wind
that fans the blackening ember of the mind,
my eyes burned from the ashen prose of Donne.
—Derek Walcott,
“ruins of a great House,”
Collected Poems 1948–1984
Derek Walcott’s searing eulogy to empire and its aftermath as an “ulcer-
ous crime” captures something that seems to elude colonial histories of the
present again and again. His verbs shift between multiple tenses. If the in-
sistence is on a set of brutal finite acts in the distant slave- trading past, the
process of decay is ongoing, acts of the past blacken the senses, their effects
without clear termination. These crimes have been named and indicted
across the globe, but the eating away of less visible elements of soil and soul
more often has not. Walcott’s caustic metaphors slip and mix, juxtaposing
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