Big Wheels Keep on Turnin' : Calabash 09 (Part 2)
I was as nervous as one of the blue herons I’d seen on our Black River Safari. The moment was here and I still didn’t know which story I was going to read. I’d narrowed down the choice to two stories: “The Day Jesus Christ Came to Mount Airy” or “Cry to Me” from Who’s Your Daddy? : And Other Stories. It was going to be a difficult choice between stories which confront two important issues in Jamaican life: spirituality and fatherhood.
“Cry to Me” seemed an obvious choice because throughout the festival, the theme of fatherhood was a subtext in many of the readings. I was also moved by the sight of so many fathers and their children in the audience: sitting on the grass, cradling their children in their arms and one father watching attentively while his partner went to get a drink and the baby slept soundly in a makeshift crib. It was a beautiful sight to witness the protective side of Jamaican fathers, which is a theme in “Cry to Me”—a portrait of a Jamaican man who will do anything to safeguard his child.
On the other hand, “The Day Jesus Christ Came to Mount Airy” deals with fatherhood and spirituality, but in a more humorous way. It also incorporates something that I had learned from Rastafari, but has not been fully articulated in Jamaican fiction: the Divine moves in and through us. That despite the hardships and circumstances, faith and hope abide with us. It is part of our liberation. For if we can begin to think of ourselves and Jamaica as part of the Divine continuum, then we could see progressive changes in how we treat ourselves, others, and the environment. And considering the audience reaction to writers such as Anthony Winkler, whose story had what some considered “racy” content, I realized something essential in the Jamaican character: we love to laugh. And this, perhaps, is why the audience reacted favorably to Winkler even though he did use some “bad words” in his story.
So, I made a compromise. I used the hastily written introduction for “Cry to Me” as a preamble for my reading, and it worked. My wife, who was in the audience and watched me nervously as I stepped on the stage, told me that many of the fathers in the audience perked up when I livicated the reading to them.
I could feel it.
It made me more confident as I read about Macky’s adventure with a Jamaican Jesus in Westmoreland. The audience loved the idea and I was greeted by several roars of laughter and thunderous applause as I left the stage.
Later that night, after listening to readings by Terese Svoboda and Xu Xi and then to the sound clash of Colin Channer and Mutabaruka, my wife and I strolled down to the bonfires on the beach--the dull thud of the bass rivaling the incessant throb of the sea.
Thirty years before, I would have been alone at a dance like this and worrying if I would ever publish a book or a book of poems. Now I was with my wife, who has been with me from my first public readings in Miami and the publication of nine books, dancing under the stars that winked through the sea grapes.
Calabash had provided me opportunity and I give thanks I-tinually for this. The reading, judging by some of the shouts as we headed back to Jake’s, was a success: “Jesus Christ, good story!”
Full circle and more.
My doubts had been erased. My promise had been kept.
Related Post: Big Wheels Keep on Turnin': Calabash 09 (Part One)
Friday, June 5, 2009: Calabash 09: Reflections
This post has been included in Middle Zone Musings: What I Learned from a Mountaintop Experience.