It must be especially difficult saying good-bye to someone whose existence had never quite registered on your consciousness. At any rate, that was my thinking as I sat alone in my living room last Saturday afternoon taking in the televised show starring the corpse of the prophet Derek Walcott. There were at the venue several politicians, local as well as one or two from other parts of the region, but then what local funeral is ever without politicians? They may secretly be wishing their House opposition would all drop dead in their pews, but count on them to attend united the send-offs of folks with whom they had never exchanged a word but who have relatives, some old enough to vote, others fast approaching 18.
Also in attendance as mourners and as performers were local poets and press-neglected friends of the deceased Nobel winner who shortly before he succumbed to various ailments—including a shattered heart—had by accident discovered yet another hotel development was slated to go up near the Pitons. His resistance to similar adventures back in the early nineties—when as now the “arguments of whores” dominated the atmosphere—is a tale sad enough to bleed hearts of stone! Concern weighing heavily on his legendary poet’s tongue, Walcott had questioned his questioning reporter: “What are they doing now? Who is allowing this to happen? This government? I didn’t know that but it’s very bad news to me. That’s terrible news and the messenger should be shot!”
He didn’t stop there: “How can they find the place to build a hotel at the foot of the Pitons yet cannot find a spot to build a museum? That’s the rage I have, the anger that I have. When I see something like that happening in comparison to what is not happening, and the excuses given . . . My brother died working for the arts in Saint Lucia. He never saw a museum go up or a theater go up. I suppose I, too, will die and not see it happen either; it is shameful!”
Score one for the prophet Walcott!
Additionally: “It speaks to our disregard of our natural heritage. Where is this hotel going to be located? Have they begun yet? When are they starting? And exactly where is this place? Will you see it in the projection of Petit Piton? And nobody objected to it? They have not objected to it in parliament? This deal, has it been approved by the government? I am ashamed of my country because that’s whoring, and you can quote me on that. If you are telling me right, that there is going to be a hotel at the base of Petit Piton, visible as a hotel, then that is whoring. And I am ashamed of my country. There can still be time for protest but what can you say when a country approves of its own disfigurement?”
What indeed? For the record: Derek and Roddy’s twin-dream, that so often solemnly promised home for the arts, is listed now with the countless other unfulfilled pledges by successive governments—pledges heard only at election time.
At the Castries cathedral it was only hardly SRO; perhaps thousands of other appreciators of the deceased had decided to participate in last Saturday’s televised event in the solitude of their living rooms, as did I. I imagine many clutched their bibles and hymnals as they prayed and sang in harmony with the normally divisive politicians and other congregants. I chose instead to read from time to time my favorite lines from White Egrets, What the Twilight Says and Morning Paramin—even as I prayed the maker of all things, as he welcomes home the poet from his assignments, will finally deliver to Derek and his brother Roddy rejoined what the makers of nothing could only promise.
RIP, my friend and inspiration; already you are missed more than I am equipped to say—by even those who know not that they know nought!