Looking at Antigua and Finding She is the City
I decided I’d go pray at a church on Antigua. I wasn't planning on praying. Just sight-seeing. I saw the white steeple on the high hill as I left the ship. I set the steeple as my marker.
Eyes fixed on that coruscated cross, my feet on streets beyond the ship’s harbor full of tourists in shops. They hardly leave the bay unless it’s by bus. They get duty-free shirts that say Antigua. This is their piece of Antigua. They present it to themselves. They explore jewels and watches. They say many things about brilliancy. But they don’t use that word. They use the word currency. They use coarse and quaint words. How nice. How pleasant. What friendly people. What prices.
Their eyes are not on God. Their eyes are on another God, The God of glimmer and Creator of cash. They take God's picture with their cell phones and send it home. God is forgot.
God is lost and found in funny places.
Tourists take advantage of Antigua's charm.
They’re taken on tours, straight through the city of St. John without their sneakers ever hitting street. They stare out the window at what people here do, what they’re like, where they live. They ask. The tour-guide says the same thing he’s said a thousand times for ten years.
The tourists have trepidatious toes in the tide. They wait. They wade in on floaters with air conditioners and cold margaritas. They wait without the city on beaches and beer. They float on inflatable tires. They are swept to the shore. They sleep under umbrellas from the sun. They wear suntan. They shine. They burn. Their bodies burn bright but only for a brief moment.
And I can see her there on Saint Phillip’s beach. She swims with dolphins. Her bikini is bright yellow. I imagine lapping through the waves. We dive into the water. We exchange exploratory glances. We dive with dolphins.
I needed to pray.
I needed to find my fascination with her wasn’t mere lust. My fascination wasn’t a mere fling. Sky, sea, and land, those were the things I felt fuller when I found her.
But what could I expect?
Love made her colors brighter. She dulled all else.
Her absence made Antigua dull. She was a star, and I was under the sun. Her warmth was what I wanted instead. I wanted to wade in the water with her once more on Antigua's shores. But no more. That opportunity was lost.
So what if I wasn’t meant to plant myself by her wading in the water today? She would be gone before long. She would be swept away by the same seas as me to New Jersey, because she was from New Jersey, Noelle. Noelle Laplace.
Her absence made me say her name with a sigh.
She was under the same sun, but under a different shade.
We were on a different beach in similar skin the other day. The sun has yet to tan us. We shine. She is on the beach. She searches for seashells, her swimsuit white. She stands when I call her name, Noelle. She waves. We smile. We explore for seashells together. That was yesterday.
Today she was in the waves with dolphins. I was standing in the city in red Converse shoes, a white shirt, Blue Jeans, and wearing my Coyote-tooth necklace.
I am from Cooley.
We come from different places.
We meet for a time, we take the opportunity, and then we are swept away in the waves, strung on shores like seashells shining in the sun. There is an emptiness. I wonder whether she...
We attempt to plant roots. I attempted to put my roots by her feet. We lay under the sun. And now…
And now, since then, often I think God lays paths and people all around us. I thank that. We come from different places. But we are, then, in that, the same. Whether we are to be an archipelago or island we are not alone. Stranded, I will still hold her hand in my mind. I was a rock, now I am one amidst the flock.
Coincidence. Yes. Certain things we choose.
I came upon a bench for the city bus. It said: Life is made of choices- the one you choose, you have to live with.
I woke up late. That was why I was without her this morning. She was with her family. I missed our morning.
I wonder: was that it, our last separation?
Beyond poetic purpose, insecurities shallows, and creative non-fiction, I cannot create the conditions for a future we share. We head home tomorrow.
She is from New Jersey. I am from Cooley.
And we will return to where we’re from.
My pen presents a reality. Even now I don’t wish to believe it. So I decide to go to the church to pray.
Hey, what can it hurt?
But what right do I have to write love into my life? Because of a few looks, a few embraces, a few kisses?
Maybe my friends back home are right. I fall in love or lust with the first woman who looks my way. Is that pathetic or romantic? Those aren’t so different.
Yet in this I am certain: I shall not be moved to forget her. My mind will keep her smile. If I write it, it will be so. It will be easier to remember and reflect on the force of her shining smile. She will be a substance for me. An energy given not lost in my pathetic, romantic representation. Not created or destroyed, transformed.
Another awesome idiom: knowledge to have, wishing to lack, is like a man riding on a jackass’ back.
There were many things I knew and felt, which I wished I were lacking. Love amongst them. I am a jackass.
But I’m trying to change that. I didn’t choose to be a jackass. I just make jackass choices.
I come to the church. It is closed. The churchwarden asked me where I’m from. He says not many people come to the church anymore. It is under construction.
I tell him some small details of my history, my name and city and state and country and planet. Cricket of Cooley of Texas of The United States of Earth
We say what a wonderful day it is, isn’t it? The leaves lay windless, and the trees send sweet smells, and the sun is still lying low behind the buildings of the city and the streets are cool and create breath. I breathe it in. There are gravestones. I search the names, and states, and countries. This tells me nothing I wish to know.
I decide to find a diner or bar and write for only a little while over beer and cigarettes.
I find a corner café near the harbor. HEMINGWAYS: How absolutely serendipitous. No one has heard of Hemingway here. I’m not surprised. He stopped visiting long ago.
I take a seat over the city streets of Antigua’s capital city St. John and consider female fish in the sea. A man must make a larger net; his net-worth will draw in more fish, an exploratory pallet, will allow more plentiful waves of women.
Did I mention I am a Pisces?
I watch from the window.
Sitting, standing, walking, running, smiling, sleeping, I love it when women do it, but especially when they walk.
I see a woman with braided hair, a black woman, wearing a business suit. 20 years ago she would’ve been succulent. She, did not, want, for anything. She was sweet. She was ripe. She was appropriate still. I imagine the lines of age leaving her face, replaced by tough youth.
Laughter loves me.
She laughs, yes! She has all her teeth. By God, that was the smile that brought Hemingway here. She shines such perfect teeth. She shines. I can’t stop smiling.
Laughter loves me.
A man must meld into the city. He must sit and soak in it like a mud bath. The city should swallow him as Jonah’s whale. Amongst the buildings become a tireless tongue. Be a sponge. Sop up the city. Release it. Hold it as long as you may. Let someone else experience your breath and your brilliance, and you theirs. Walk. The world is not so large.
Love is in shoes.
A man sold his shoes for smokes.
I smoke with a barefoot black man by the bar. Here at Hemingway’s they don’t have the no shirt no shoes no pants policy. And besides he’s got one out of three.
He tells me: “my friend” after we’ve just met, “St. John is a beautiful black city. It smells bigger than it is boy. This island” he exhales, “vibrant” I agree, variegated trains running on the same tracks in different directions.
Laughter is in his smoke.
“And boy! The women!” He winks, and raises an A-Okay.
We smile. We walk to the veranda. We drink rum together. He tells me wonderful things of his city.
We look down at the street. He wonders why I wear these sunglasses. I think he wishes to see if there is honesty behind them. He wishes I wouldn’t hide so.
Tourists stick out like sore blisters, me included, because a man tries to sell me a reggae cd, and another man a taxi, and another some bongos, BONGOS, what would I want with Bongos buddy? “To play, to play, the women, they love the music, my man, you want weed? You want a taxi?”
I tell the entrepreneurs I run, I have my own wheels.
“Where’re you from boy?”
“The world man, same as you.”
The bellowing laugh, laughter is love. “Okay man you have good day eh?” He’s still laughing when I leave.
Characters the world over, swaggers, tale-tellers, Joe DiMaggio, junkies, Marilyn Monroe, JFK, fighting flies swatting their Rasta-hair, Mark Twain, beautiful black girl in a striped pantsuit walks on tiptoes across the street, bright red heels, wicked hour-glass figure we’d all like to drink to make her stop, and a Caribbean hustler singing after her “aye baby” in Creole. But she, cannot, be stopped. She, cannot, be swallowed. She is the city. She, cannot, be tamed. She is the moon, like the moon, she, cannot, be tamed. She controls the waves.
You might see a man eating out of a trashcan in Antigua, out of a Styrofoam container, beans and bread on a heaped stoop. You might see someone eating seafood with hands, at some local joint, by the bay. The bay says remain querulous tourists, remain in confinement in sweet shops, search for jewels amongst the hawks, the Taxi-men with talons, the Owlish Map-men, the snake salesman, hippo historian, history contained behind the windows of a bus, LO! Oh brother… the real Antigua lies out… here.
My name is ___ this place.
We don’t hear.
We don’t see.
We don’t travel.
We avoid the town for the beach. We let waters waylay us from this, this human beauty. It is nature too. It sits outside us and within in us. Humanity is beautiful.
Humanity is the city. Humanity is an ocean city.
This life is so strange. And isn’t that wonderful?
"A man must meld into the city. He must sit and soak in it like a mud bath."
Colors create the city, cherry, lemon, mango, and ocean smells of the city. Salt and gasoline grow in the salty sewers like a moving root. Who knows whence and where progress will spring from the rain gutter? These people, Good God, they made me.
I go to shuttered churches, running, stopping, smiling at anyone who gives my shade a strange stare. How can I care? I care. They are lovely to me. Even the inspector, I would suspect no less of being a lovely human being.
I decided to dine at Hemingway’s right outside the bay to write. And I’d met a woman. Her name was Pearl. She was nice. She brought me my rum on rocks. Her voice was singsong. She smelled like lavender. She knew the barefoot black man with the wide grin and the A-Okay.
Should I summon something of Ernest for her? I try to be earnest.
This land and people are ripe. They walk like beautiful black birds. They stretch when they stride. They are lovely people. She agrees.
There is boring talk behind me about Technology.
“How much does who have?”
The working vacationers I won’t watch. They come to a magnificent mango of an island. Their plump Asses and minds are on planes already with feet on the ground. With plans and plain polo shirts. Over the serene sea they say, “I find that ___ multi-tiered, with diverse applications, email cuts the junk correctly, hate junk, mail, service time is impeccable, here look.”
Why don’t they look at the sea or city?
Why don’t they throw the phone from the balcony?
Why don’t I?
Posing as Hemingway, tight, resolute, yet smiling, scouring sublime streets for the long-legged loins of life. Yes, I’m a tourist, but that misses my point.
I know I’m no Hemingway. Shit. I know that.
My purpose, my point: understand the self as an oddity and own it like coal turning to diamond. Deny the commonplace of duty-free consumerism. Spend some money and smiles on the city. You owe it that. You owe Antigua nothing and it owes you nothing. You owe it your smile.
Antigua, Antigua, is a woman I want. Her taste is sweet summer salt. Her body is porous rock. Her mind has no end even unto the ocean. She resplendently shimmers. Her waves are underfoot. You have only to follow. You have only to float.
Antigua is the mistress you love. She is a wonderful distraction from the woman, the woman, you want. She is a siren. She says one rock, one ocean, and one soul.
Damn, think I ripped off Bob Marley. He'll be feelin' all right about it.
I return to the refuge of the ship at sundown. It is six, and already a long summer’s day away from her.
I will tell Noelle of my day tonight over dinner. And I hope she hears to see by feeling the feeling I felt. I will touch her arm and tell her of Antigua, my mistress, and assure her, she is the city for me. We still have to-night. And I will give her my small piece of this city, as she gave me a seashell.