Happy Birthday, Derek Walcott



And I answer, Anna,
twenty years after,
a man lives half of life,
the second half I memory,

the first half, hesitation
for what should have happened,
but could not, or

what happened with others
when it should not.

~ Another Life

I first heard that fragment from Another Life when I was living in Jamaica. It was on a radio show produced by John Figueroa. Every Sunday afternoon, I would wait by my mother’s transistor radio to listen to the work of a leading Caribbean writer. When I heard Derek Walcott, I was twenty-one and in love. I also wanted to be a writer.

I scribbled down the name of the book and all the information I could gather. The next day, I went to the UWI bookstore and bought my cop of Another Life on January 15, 1979.

After reading Another Life cover to cover several times, Walcott became the model for my verse. Through his poetry, I saw the Caribbean in a new way: its landscape, people, and Light. I also learned that love changes us by awakening us to the details of our lives: “At the touch of love, everyone becomes a poet.” And despite the terrible price of heartbreak, the bounty from paying attention to the texture of experience, yields the inestimable reward of a life well-lived.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Walcott!

 ***


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