Thursday, January 14, 2010

Above a small island

This is from my friend Wendy. It was written this morning from a sentence-prompt in a Graham Greene novel "The Power and the Glory," chosen because of his 1966 novel "The Comedians" which was partly inspired by the Olafson Hotel in Port Au Prince, damaged in the Haiti earthquake. (Click here for a piece from the Times on Greene and the tragedy of Haiti). I asked her permission to put it up on the blog this morning:

The glittering worlds lay there in space like a promise. From this high all things looked like they were just so much green jewelry in the safe blue skin of the ocean. From this high, if it were God just taking a wide sweep with his grey eyes at the end of the seventh day, he would close them briefly knowing that “all was good”. Because from this high, all was.  Reefs poked out of the water at respectable distances from the shore, strips of pale sand curved in some places and were replaced by cliffs in others. There were rivers that could be seen undulating and losing their form as they ran into the sea or were caught into a harbour on the way there.

But there is only so high you can be before you see the fields carved haphazardly into forests, before you see the borders of silt that follow every turn of the river, before you see the buildings clustered together calling themselves towns, before you see buildings, on their own, skewed somehow, calling themselves homes; before you see the squares of concrete calling them the necessities of living in a glittering world –- the barracks, the schools, the factories, the squat tenements.

People dip into paradise. They sit on the other side of the plane, with another sort of sunglasses that can see the golf courses and the marinas with the clinking masts of white sailing boats. They see the open doors of taxis and the chopped papaya on the breakfast buffet. It’s not wrong. It’s all in the promise.

Every man or woman who holds a cardboard sign telling you they are a vet or that they will work for food or that they are hungry or to smile with a dollar sign. Every one came out of some woman’s body, opened its eyes, took its first breath.  Maybe not all of them were held and given the breast. Maybe not all of them had ten fingers and toes. Or good lungs or both kidneys. Certainly not all of them had the same opportunity. But everyone had promise. The world, however glittering, is not the universe. There were no pacts with the devil. Those words were spoken by someone whose sunglasses let in no light at all.

This was a jewel, cut in all the wrong ways, hacked into small pieces, people hanging onto the shards of gems as the ship was going down.

There is a big net; it is made of modern fibre. It is too late. But it comes on the back of other poorly made nets, too heavy to carry, too small to do any good, too badly woven to keep anything in.  Maybe, the net will hold, maybe good men will rise. Maybe the good in men will rise. Maybe the promise will hold. Maybe.

Girl walking through a Haitian slum -- Alice Smeets
(UNICEF photo of the year 2008)

1 comment:

the Inveterate Optimist said...

Beautiful and thought-provoking. I love reading your blog, Miss W. tIO x