Sitting in a hotel room with the TV on—I realize suddenly that I don’t understand. I don’t understand what’s going on. Is the purpose of these ceaseless reams of stimuli to dislodge the whole idea of meaning? None of those old coherent (weren’t they?) narratives, the simple stories I used to follow, hunkered down over a Stouffer’s French bread pizza after school.
But dislocated signifiers are nothing new. We took the boat over to St. John recently, and picked up a mooring in Hawsknest Bay—forest green, azure, pale yellow—the perfect image of the Caribbean, gentle—now—hospitable. Shards of pottery, here and there, the only sign of slavery—smashed to bits long ago. The slave revolt of 1733 ended in flames and dismemberment. And the cane kept growing. I watched some people on the beach. Women carrying wooden frames. A small group of people clumped together, some in beach chairs. The women setting up a frame that looked like monkey bars from a school playground, hanging a towel on it, walking away. People, vaguely visible, coming and going at the far end of the beach—never appearing, their shadows passing through a building, maybe a house, maybe not. My mind idly felt around for meaning, came up with nothing, and, because of the sound of the breaking waves, the hypnotic curve of the surf rolling over the reef, let it go.
Tallulah and I swam to shore, lifted by the swelling water. And there, right in front of us, was an old plantation house made of stone from the hillside. Stone urns from which flowering vines sprung, and women’s clothes hanging on a line to dry. Papaya and coconut, shorthand for abundance. Here was order—perfect in its proportions. A blind, insistent order, as if stone and perfect symmetry could force harmony out of a world that had never yet made sense.