This morning I began my 70th year of breathing and as it's inevitably another year closer to the cessation of that respiration, I like to acknowledge both disturbing facts by beginning something new. I bought a new motorcycle and coincidental to February being Black History Month as well as the month of my birth, I began to read a new poet: Derek Walcott.
Of course I mean new to me. I've never been without a motorcycle for almost 50 years and Walcott won the Nobel Prize for literature over 20 years ago and is hardly new to anyone literate. But a personal discovery, a new love, is a rejuvenating thing even if others discovered the same thing long ago.
Old men do look backward as they have less to look forward to. I remember the first time I heard "Chicago" blues on a street corner along Maxwell Street on Chicago's South side. To a kid brought up on classical music it was a revelation from which I was swiftly whisked away, but firmly imprinted is the vision of three black men dressed in black, with electrified instruments, black with mother of pearl and white smiles and eyes remarking on who that boy was, looking at them as though they were the most amazing thing I had ever heard. Maxwell street was a black man's world in the 1950's. So was the Caribbean when I 'discovered' it a few years later, so inviting, so mysterious and wonderful yet, like a parallel universe removed and inaccessible. Even now I go back as often as I can.
It's 1955. You can stand on the corner listening, you can tune into WVON in Chicago on that homemade radio and hear Buddy Guy and Bo Diddley. WJJD might play some white guys playing more or less sanitized versions they had begun to call Rock & Roll. I could wander in December around still British Nassau, much farther than from the cold and grimy North than it is now, but always it was looking through the knothole at the 'real' world and never having a ticket to the game.
Caribbean born Derek Walcott, Poet, playwright and painter is no less a porthole but also a door into a wider world for me, if sadly a reminder of my own inescapable mediocrity and it's a world wider than his native St Lucia where the sun always shines and the iceman ventureth not and where the impossibly blue water crackles in the wind and washes my childhood like waves on the sand.
One step over the low wall, if you should care to,
recaptures a childhood whose vines fasten your foot.
And this is the lot of all wanderers, this is their fate,
that the more they wander, the more the world grows wide.
Indeed it does.