I have been re-editing my documentary Derek Walcott as Poet and Seer and rereading this poet laureate’s last poems, which speak of the slow and encroaching decay of the body and the departure of friends.
I am therefore contemplating the idea of death.
Not in a way that is morbid, but simply meditating on two facts: that as we get older our worlds become smaller, since so many people that we know exit our lives through death. But also, as the threat of war hangs over us in the insistent and petulant show of strength by forces such as North Korea and America who face off each other, and the reports that Russia has begun “war games,” that there is a sense that we do not know what might happen next.
Yet, despite this, the world continues its wayward way. Relationships simmer in the slow burn of petulance and selfishness. This selfishness is there even in relation to the earth. Despite the increase in hurricanes, and the destruction left in their wake, our care of the earth does not get any better.
Money interests continue to dictate how the world’s natural resources and its very existence are maintained or destroyed. This is happening even as the EU lectures Trinidad about sustainable energy and the need to remove subsidies on oil and electricity.
It would be good to see a real commitment to renewable energy in Trinidad and Tobago, in particular if, as reported, it would lead to cheaper energy production. However, we also need to remember that one of the benefits in living in this country is that electricity and petrol remain at a relatively low cost. Rising food prices and the cost of living make this an important fact.
However, renewable energy is not the only matter that should concern us.
We need also to look at the protection of our waters and our habitats, which over the years have been affected by pollution and the indiscriminate proliferation of quarries. This is in addition to the pollution and poisoning that occurs through the dumping of waste.
Thinking about death forces us to see the world in a new light and to wonder at both its beauty and its vulnerability. We need to start recognising that the earth is something that is in itself endangered, and in need of extraordinary efforts to protect it.
Part of this protection would entail encouraging citizens to use the land for food, as another step in ensuring a lower cost of living and that would lead to a greater value being attached to the earth. One of the most distressing things in Trinidad and even now in Tobago is the low level of farming that occurs. Most of us do not maintain vegetable gardens and we are not remotely self-sufficient.
However, in order to encourage this, our leaders need also to build good roads, complete them and maintain them, to give access to areas that are farmed. There is always so much talk about building roads to remote areas, but somehow we never seem to see their completion. In addition, there is the problem of a reliable supply of water.
Encouraging farming means ensuring protection from thieves and predators.
It also entails getting rid of the idea that the labour of tilling and sowing is somehow associated with servitude.
It is not too extraordinary to think in the current climate that our very existence may depend in the not too distant future, if there is a continuation of current hostilities, on the food we produce ourselves. This may indeed make the difference between life and death.
A weekly column by Jean Antoine-Dunne.