Thursday, April 10, 2014

I does miss dem bad bad

Quentin, boy, I wish you was there last night so we coulda brace Mr. Walcott and tell him you was Ismond's favorite. Kayrein, girl, I did miss all yuh bad bad last night. I think about Pat and how she did talk about Walcott like she siddong right dere next to the man while he writing. I could still hear she say "Maria Concepcion" in that way she had. St Lucians living in and loving Trinidad.

I wish I coulda tell him about dis Indian chick who thought she was Shabine and she red fren buss out a stupid-ass laugh. I coulda taste the Doshman curry and feel Skinny head on my shoulder telling me how she still hungry even though she pack 2 pot spoonful a rice and peas for she lunch. I did know den I was happy.

But, wha ha' happen was...

Last night (4/9/14), John and I went to see and hear Derek Walcott read his own work at the 92nd Street Y. There was zero information about the program itself so it is only when we got there that we found out who would be introducing him and reading with him. Some Brit poet whose name I cannot remember and never heard of, who say he was a student of Walcott at Boston University in the early 80s, did the introduction. He and Caryl "Caz" Phillips read with Walcott.

I met Caz Phillips in the late 90s, I think. Time plays funny tricks with me these days. It was definitely after 1996, when I graduated, and before "The Mystic Masseur" came out in 2001. Anyhoo, the point is that he was adapting Naipaul's novel for the big screen. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala had been first touted to write the screenplay. Merchant-Ivory Productions was behind the flick, and had worked with Jhabvala through 3 Academy Award Nominations and 2 wins, including "Howards End," one my favorite movies.

But, I digress. Back to Bom.

So Ruth (cuz we is pardners now, ent?) felt she couldn't do the screenplay justice and suggested Caz because he from St Kitts and know Trinidad and whatnot. At the time, I was working full time at the Guardian and part-time with the Prof. Prof convinced me to take a day off work to go on what essentially became a lime by car.

By whatever machinations that make these things happen, Caz and Ismail Merchant came to Prof's house and he was to take them on a little road trip so Merchant could scout for locations to shoot the movie. I nearly die dead when I realize it is Ismail Merchant. I nearly die deader when I laid eyes on Caz. How I kept it in my pants was only out of respect for the Prof, who already thought I was a 'ho!

So, the 3 a we jump in the Prof's car and head into Central, where we stop at the worst hole in the wall bar and drink what was possibly the best Shandy of my life. I was having a quasi beer with Ismail Merchant and this incredibly hot man!!! I did not know what to do with myself, I tell you. We spent the day driving all over the place and even went down to La Brea to see the pitch lake, which was the first and onliest time I ever see it. It was breathtaking.

All of this flooded back as soon as read in the program that Caryl Phillips would be introducing Derek Walcott. I wanted to find a way to talk to him, to remind him of one of the best days of my life, an unforgettable experience for a chick like me. I had not actually thought about that day in any kind of serious way since Merchant passed away in May 2005. I was preparing to move to NY, so he didn't get that much play. I did grieve for a man I met, so full of life and film and everything. 

But yesterday, so much more came back. Before law school, the three best years of my life were the ones I spent at UWI. I made great friends and met amazing people and developed a lifelong love for West Indian literature, particularly Naipaul, Sevlon, and Walcott. Even poetry, my nemesis. I wasn't a lover but I took every single poetry class the faculty had on offer to try to kick it. I think it worked. A little. I discovered Mikey Smith, Martin Carter, and practically all of "Voiceprint!"

So this Brit tells some funny stories about being a lazy git and being lured to BU because they "had Derek Walcott." He said he didn't know who that was so he went to the library and got a book and that was the end of that.

He introduced Walcott and my heart broke to see Caz push him out in a wheelchair. That was quite a blow. He is not a l'il fella! He looked so frail and he shook. But, as John pointed out, when he began to read, he was so strong and fierce.

He read "The Schooner Flight," one of my favorites. It tells the story of Shabine, who becomes tired of Trinidad because it is becoming corrupt, so he leaves on a schooner to see if he can recover from his disillusionment. Walcott said that the committed a little "thievery" by fashioning the opening lines of "Flight" from the opening lines of William Langland's medieval poem,"Piers Plowman." 

That little confession took me back to Dr. Patricia Ismond's class at UWI. I think she did the Walcott portion of a class I was taking with Dr. Gordon Rohlehr, on three major West Indian poets. I never forgot that she said that Walcott used the language of the colonial masters, almost mimicking them and abandoning the Creole, to craft his own work about Caribbean struggles. And he take real pong for dat!

But I didn't intend this to be an essay on Walcott's poetry. It's just that seeing him last night brought back so much that I am not sure I have room to feel all of it. He read more of his work, and Caz and the Brit did too. It was funny to hear the Brit say "macauel" and "kaiso." I wanted to run up on the stage and say, "Let me read one, nah man!"

I did really want meh UWI posse to be dere with me. I wanted we to go up to de man and tell him how we know Gordon and Pat and Ken and they helped we to see de place for what it was. Is. Is not like anything change since 1993, or 1973, or 1953. Ah did just want dem to be dere with me. Is 20 years now we leave de people university but it just take reading one man name on a piece a paper to bring it back like we did never leave. Like I is still 20, with legs up to meh throat in the blue short pants. Like Quentin's pelau, and Kayrein's fried chicken, and the curry I does still dream about. And my tiny Indian Shabine, who does love me like I love she.

We discovered something together and I wanted us to see it again, 20 years later, so we could go in a bar and drink some beers and talk about what we used to talk about. I can't re-discover Walcott, or Naipaul, or Carter, but I could re-live when I did, with the people who were right there with me.

I wish dey was dere.