was one of those weeks in the early dry season when the wind blew gustily,
shifting shadows of leaves, changing patterns of light and shade on
verandahs and grass, scattering pink poui on pavements, lifting bright
kites into the clouds.
I saw and heard was our Caribbean version of spring, when we allow
ourselves to lose our guard, cautiously open out to the world and, finding
it beautiful, are surprised at our own happiness. It wasn’t just the
weather. It was the people too: a woman driver, her windows rolled up,
singing on the top of her voice. A young man sitting quietly smoking a
cigarette around the Savannah, gazing up at a tree. Two women in bank
uniforms laughing uproariously at some in-joke.
also saw a group of children, together yet separate, in the absolute world
of imagination which seems to be the gift of childhood. Then a couple,
swinging a child between them. Then a man jogger, sweat sliding off him
like a waterfall, smiling a beatific smile. Then, an old woman, half deaf
and blind, remembering in the twilight her honeymoon, when her handsome
husband taught her to play chess on a steamer bound for England.
a true awakening, early morning could have been anytime between 2 or 4 am,
hearing a man whistle an old love song on the street.
Almost everyone I met unexpectedly spoke about the weather. “Did
you see the way that yellow poui flares on the green hills?” Or “I
love the rain that goes on and on at night, hammering on the roof,
dripping from the eves.” Or simply, brushing the hair out of their face
saying, “breeze boy.”
made me think again of that old theme. Our public selves which by and
large conform to norms, and aspire to similar mundane but necessary ideals
of house and job, car and cash, and our private, secret selves. The way we
sometimes open up our private selves to one another. I don’t mean secret
in its sordid sense, necessarily illicit, or shameful. I mean a world of
the imagination. Children mostly inhabit it. It’s what turns sunny
pebbles in a shallow river into magical gems; it’s the imaginary best
friend who is talked to, and taken for walks and always believes you when
no one else will; it’s the one hundred and one little acts of faith and
superstition: “If two cars come down the road by the time I count ten, I
will do well in test”. “If I keep my eyes shut for ten seconds,
grandma will know I am unhappy and will come for a visit”.
about a belief in an enchanted ring where you are safe and happy, where
anything is possible. We throw cold water at this nonsense most of the
time: “Grow up”, “You wish”, “Stop dreaming”. But in the faces
of the men and women I saw this last week, I caught glimpses of that
secret world. Those images were more real to me than any fact I read in
the newspaper. They warmed me and stayed with me for a long time.
must have been thinking of it because I sent a poem about a woman with a
secret world on to a few friends on the e-mail. It was a gift, and I
needed to share it.
woman of true royalty owns
secret land more real to her
this pale outer world
midnight when the house falls quiet
lays aside needle or book
visits there unseen
her eyes, she improvises
five-barred gate among tall birches,
over, takes possession
runs, or flies, or mounts a horse
horse will canter up to greet her)
travels where she will;
make grass grow, coax lilies up
bud to blossom as she watches,
fish eat from her palm;
founded villages, planted groves,
hollowed valleys for brooks running
to a land-locked bay.
never dared question my love
the government of her queendom
followed her between those birches,
one leg astride the gate,
into the mist.
she has pledged me when I die,
lodge beneath her private palace
a level clearing of the wood
gentians grow with gillyflowers
sometimes we may meet.
of my friends replied, “The poem is all very well but why should women
be compelled to have a secret world.” That’s because my dear friend,
most of the magic of the “real world” is rubbed out in the low fever
of domesticity, in every-day frustrations, in troubled relationships. Most
women have secret worlds, which they slip into whenever they have a
chance. We have since time immemorial seen a beloved face in the soapsuds,
and castles in the air in tea leaves, a dancing companion in the
broomstick. But I am convinced men do too. They just don’t admit it as
readily. It’s just the old dry season coming on to the rainy season
magic. Believe in it, but not too much. Real life may not match up to it,
but this magic ring, a private space and time to stare up at the sky, or
whistle, gives you the rare hope that God’s in his heaven and all’s
well with the world. And that is a Caribbean spring.