There’s a wonderful scene at the beginning of the film “Before Sunset”. The hero is sitting in a bookshop in Paris, the final stop on his book tour, deflecting critics intent on plundering his secrets. “What really happened?” they ask. He tells them instead of his next book, a book enclosed within the infinitely expandable bubble of one single moment. The moment is something like this: a man watches his young daughter dancing on top of a table, torn between loving admiration and protectiveness- wanting to tell her to take care, to get down. Simultaneously he relives a moment in his past with his first love: she is on top of a car, dancing, and the air is heavy with possibility. We, the knowing audience, see the moment he is embroidering, or even remember it from “Before Sunrise”- there is no car; she is dancing in the street in the dawn half-light to the music of a basement harpsichord. It’s hard to tell who the fiction is for- himself, the critics, or the love of his life hovering unbeknownst outside the window, waiting to be rediscovered. What ‘really’ happens?
Lambent moments. Where you can’t tell if it’s poetry, art or life that is so beautiful. Where time abolishes sequence in favour of serendipity. Where ‘no’ and ‘maybe’ are powerless and a moment holds you in thrall to ‘yes’.
Preparing to start teaching a literature course at Aishalton Secondary, I read poems all afternoon. It has been a long time since I did this. The poems have a strong Caribbean bias. Some are good, many not. At 5pm, sated with issues clumsily disguised as art, I transgress and traverse off-route to Derek Walcott. It’s a poem about his father’s death and the power of words. Beginning slowly, his pellucid perfections seep into my mind, follow the heart’s arteries to the brain. I can hardly bear to continue reading, because if I do, it must end. As I finish I stumble out into the evening sun, stunned with perfection. All is quiet. A cow rips grass, an old friend of mine, sunlight gilding its ear hair. It provided the iconic image in November that I sent to all my friends announcing our move here. Curled horns, white hide, huge almond eyes. Even now, when Aishalton is unremarkable ordinary home, this beautiful cow is exotic. Everything coexists for a long breath- the hopes I had then, Derek Walcott, my father’s vividity, the beauty of equatorial evening light, the cow’s breathing, the purpose of our presence here, poetry and love, stupefaction- and then I exhale. Return to the house, dazzled, needing to cook dinner before the light fails.
Lambent moments. I guess we all have them. I guess they expire if we are too busy to notice. They might be treasure. We might be paupers without them.