Enjoying a Caribbean Spring

 

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Category: Reflections Date: 25 Mar 99


It 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.

 

What 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.

 

I 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.

 

Then, 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.”

 

It 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”.

 

It’s 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.

 

I 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.

 

The Secret Land

by Robert Graves

 

Every woman of true royalty owns

A secret land more real to her

Than this pale outer world

At midnight when the house falls quiet

She lays aside needle or book

And visits there unseen

Shutting her eyes, she improvises

A five-barred gate among tall birches,

Vaults over, takes possession

Then runs, or flies, or mounts a horse

(A horse will canter up to greet her)

And travels where she will;

Can make grass grow, coax lilies up

From bud to blossom as she watches,

Lets fish eat from her palm;

Has founded villages, planted groves,

And hollowed valleys for brooks running

Cool to a land-locked bay.

I never dared question my love

About the government of her queendom

Or its geography.

Nor followed her between those birches,

Setting one leg astride the gate,

Spying into the mist.

Yet she has pledged me when I die,

To lodge beneath her private palace

In a level clearing of the wood

Where gentians grow with gillyflowers

And sometimes we may meet.

 

One 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.

 

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur