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Fall, gentle rain

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
Posted: June 18, 2004

Dis damn nuisance had to interrupt my sleep to tell me about dem Indian people again. Ah swear to ma self if he tell me one more word about dem ah go go stark raving mad. There I was, trying to recuperate from the previous week when everybody was calling up ma name in dey mouth but that was not good enough for Roy. He needed ole talk and he had to be slick about it.

"Prof," he said kinda cooingly, "how yo' going dis morning?"

I was tempted to say, "I ent going; and I ent coming," but civility prevailed. He was only trying to offer salutations of the day so I responded, "Ah all right, man!"

But he was sounding too nice and smooth dis morning. He had to have something up his sleeves.

"How yo' lecturers and dem going at the library?"

Just as ah went to castigate de man and thought that he was going to tell me about de Indian and dem he change he tune. Or, so I thought.

The man surprised me. I didn't know he knew that I was giving a lecture series at the Public Library. But den again, Roy always boast dat he does read. Fo' close to two hundred years de country producing litriture but nobody ah care about dat. All dey want to learn is about Shakespeare and Wordsworth and we here writing we tail off and nobody want to take notice.

So I must confess that I felt a bit happy when he made his inquiry. I said:

"De lectures ent' going so good."

"But why should dey want to take notice of some poetry. You car eat dat, you know?"

Dere he gone again wid he ignorant self but ah had to be nice because ah know everybody can't appreciate the beauty of versifying and he just inquiring.

"But Roy, writing an' taking about 'litriture is a good ting. It could help us to understand about weself."

"Understand about weself," he mused. "If we eh' know about weself by now, how can we understand weself better?"

"But Roy poetry doesn't have to be something as hifalutin as de kinda ting Shakespeare and dem does write you know. It could be inspiring; uplifting, fulfilling, funny and it could make sense."

"Tell me one writer you know who does make sense when he write poetry? All ah dem does have dey nose in de air. Dey highbrow!"

It was a definitive statement.

"Well, ah could tell yo' a few nice lines from Walcott yo' go like."

"Walcott, not me an he nah. He too high falutin for me and he eh like black people too much."

"But Roy, he black like you and me an' he win de Noble Prize!"

"Yo' mean de Nobel Prize in Litriture."

There he gone and catch me again. I trying to be folksy but he correcting me like I don't know de difference between de two words.

"Tell me one poem dat Walcott write dat make sense?"

"How about de 'Schooner Flight?' It remind me about we little village around here and how we does behave."

"How it goes?"

Ah start:

"I pass by me dry neighbour sweeping she yard
as I went downhill, and I nearly said:
'Sweep soft, you witch, 'cause she don't sleep hard.'
But de bitch look through me like I was dead.
A route taxi pull up, park-lights still on.
The driver size up my bags with a grin:
'This time, Shabine, like you really gone!"
I ain't answer the ass, I simply pile in
the back seat and watch the sky burn
above Laventille pink as the gown
in which the woman I left was sleeping,
and I look in the rear view mirror and see a man
exactly like me, and the man was weeping
for de house, the streets, that whole f--king island.

"But dat can't be real poetry with a man cussing like dat, talking 'bout how he weeping for de whole island. Yo' ever hear Shakespeare cuss so? Walcott remind me about Miss Manda, de soucouyant who use to live up Richard Street in Tacapuna. Every night after midnight, she would turn into a soucouyant and come and suck we blood. Everybody in de village did 'faid she."

"How come you believe in so much chupidness yoself? How a woman could come and suck people blood?"

"Well, you never live here and yo' never had boy days. Dem soucouyant use to come in de night like a red ball of fire and suck yo' blood. De only way you could catch she-only woman was soucouyant-- was to put a cross make up of salt in front of yo' door. Before she leave yo' house it had to eat every grain ah salt. If she leave after de sun start to come up in de morning she easy to ketch because she can't eat all dat salt!"

"But what does soucouyant have to do with poetry and Derek Walcott and lecture series?"

De man was really trying ma patience. As a schoolteacher he does read and ting. But why does he have to try ma soul every morning God send.

He eyeing me. He want to say something. Ah keep silent deliberately.

"Dey say yo' making plenty money doing dem lectures and yo' only trying to lick up people with yo' smartness."

He sounded so much like dem other people who does talk about culture and race and discrimination. Sometimes when ah hear Sat and dem talking all de nonsense about culture, and money and freedom of information I does call on Jah to save us from dem vagabond imposters. Dey ent know nothing 'bout culture or de arts but boy, dey could talk about it.

But ah had to answer Roy. He seem to be genuinely interested. So, ah tell him:

"Roy, I ent' getting no money from de library to give dem lectures."

"Yo' lie," he tell me straight so.

"How yo' mean a lie?"

"Yo't lie."

Dis man was really getting on ma last nerve, fus' ah getting mad.

"Well, if yo' don't believe me why yo' don't use de Freedom of Information Act to find out."

"You tink I is Sat and the Maha Sabha?"

"I ent tink dat you is Sat and de Maha Sabha, but if yo' fast like dem and yo' ent believe dat a doing de lectures for free yo' could go an find out!"

"Mister man, I do not want to know yo' business," he was getting mad. "All ah interesting in is finding out if you taking care of yoself?"

"Taking care of ma self," I had to repeat Roy now. "How come we see everything in this country under de lenses of money. If decide I want to do something for ma country and offer some education to dem everybody feel dat ah have to be making all kinds a money."

"Not me, brother," he sounded offended. "I don't care what yo' make or what yo' do not make, it is none of my business. But ah know dat some people in dis country just like soucouyant. They will suck every last drop of blood in you to make some money. So I ent saying yo' greedy. Ah only saying dat n… people like allyo to damn stupid, offering you expertise for free."

"Offering yo' expertise for free?" Again, I reechoed Roy.

I don't know where Roy pull dat word from but it was sounding so nice that I could only think of de benediction in de 'Schooner's Flight.' It said:

"Fall gentle, rain, on the sea's upturned face
like a girl showering; make these islands fresh
as Shabine once knew them! Let every trace,
every hot road, smell like clothes she just press
and sprinkle with drizzle.

And there was the rub. I became expansive. I told Roy:

"We need to get back to the simplicity of the imaginary/imagery that we find in Walcott; the sweetness of language that purifies everything. We must vacuum-up vacuous words dat have a hard crust that only serves to obscure the real meaning of what we try to say and what we really mean. Sometimes I feel we should banish all of Best elephant words, exorcise Baldeosingh acid cynicism; puke-out all of Meighoo's pretentious posturing and opt for clean, clear words dat offer up their cadences softly as the morning dew on the soft fragrance of flowering tree in the Caura valley.

"Ah mean, yo' ever see a flowering tree against the white moonlight at four o'clock in de morning up by de three-mile post on de Caura Road. Talk about beauty and majesty bereft of all those false sentiments that are encased in elephant and mal joux words all of dem does use."

"Aye," he interrupted, "ah tink yo' getting carried away with yoself. Why yo' just doh leave dem people alone."

"Sometimes it hard. Sometimes every body in dis island seem so mean dat dey does prevent yo' from ever becoming yo' best. Somehow, dey can't see generosity when it is offered; dey don't know intelligence even when it reveals itself; dey don't know patriot sentiment when it on display itself…"

"So what de hell we know?"

"We know mauvias langue. We know bad mind. We know picong. We eh know plain human decency and dat does kill everything."

I don't know if I touch Roy better feelings or his first nerve but, as he drifted away from de yard, I though I sense some shame and some pain. At that moment, I could only think of Morley's beckoning his sister not to cry, the imperative that we "push on through," and the reminder that "in this great future, we can't forget the past/ So dry your eyes, I say."

I would have reminded Roy about what Marley say but just den a soft gentle drizzle began to fall almost seem as tough it wanted to wash away all of our pain and our sorrow. By then, Roy had gone out of the gate and was heading straight for school.

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