I get the same feeling from libraries I get from being in a cold country. A deep and life-long aversion to anything wintery drives me like a cornered thing towards warmth; I look for shelter and heat and a very, very small place. A screen of frosted windows and a stark, shining silence will be the last things I understand before going in. In into my bearskin of papers and books, pencils and light hands.
Special collections are even better. Snow banks all around and black, brave trees. Here is focus and clarity because in the absence of beauty and desire you build your own. It is here I find use for a magnifying glass, a few blades of grass and a sliver of light. That’s the kind of concentration that comes in these spaces. (This is in no way meant to suggest biblio-arson as a pastime.)
Eric Morton Roach (it’s ‘Morton’ that appears in the paperwork, not ‘Merton”) does not really sound like a man you’d be terribly interested in meeting. There’s little to charm: no hilarious anecdotes, no thrilling romantic diversions, no mystery, no drama, nothing particularly quirky. But as a friend, which is how I’ve come to see myself, I think he’s one of those people you have to get to know to appreciate.
All two boxes that represent the archives of Eric Roach (1 linear foot in total) were given by his widow, Iris, to The Alma Jordan Library at UWI, St Augustine. It rests in the care of the Special Collections division of West Indiana. This is his address now, not Jasper Avenue in Diamond Vale, Trinidad. I suspect it’s a better fit than the Vale because I simply cannot imagine him in any kind of comfort in such suffocating suburbia.
He’s alright here. Untethered. Here it’s only on paper: a teacher on paper, a well-respected military man on paper. A husband, father, son. A playwright, novelist, journalist, critic, all simply a matter of documentation. If we never see a performance of the marvelous one-act play, Letter from Leonora, that’s ok. Isn’t it better to have missed a potentially poor interpretation of what is so alive on the page, than to go through life without knowing that the sketch for the character Sheila describes her as “a hot looking sort of tart at the village level”? That lepidopterist’s pin, never out of reach.
I said I think of him as a friend—and I’m not retracting that position—but I know myself, and I would the worst kind of disingenuous if I didn’t admit to falling a bit in love. This is not extraordinary. I have a great passion for the dead. They are so exquisitely far away. Kafka is, of course, perfect for such feelings because you know all that he could be to anyone when he was alive is perfected in his not-aliveness. He loved, he wanted, he demanded. He did make some efforts to live but he was not very good at it. George Eliot was, in her own mild, homespun way, very successful at living, she just didn’t want to live publicly. Ignore the accounts that turn up in once in while about the oddness of her life and what a repressive society she lived in. I’m convinced it served her quite well. These are the sort of people I fall in love with: dedicated craftsmen who were never really cut out for ‘world’.
“I’m going for about 800 words,” I said to someone about this essay.
“Of course,” he said, “Because words are so very precious to you. Far be it from anyone’s right to think to ask for a thousand.”
They are. You never know when you’ll be stranded without the right one because you used it too recently or cavalierly.
That brings Eric and my love for him back on track. Eric was a diabolical self-editor. Forget his atrocious penmanship, even typed pages are challenging. There’s so much crossing out, writing in, shuffling around, really, it becomes a thing you can read in a hundred and three different ways. You must believe everything took forever to write. No word can be taken lightly. Yes, Eric, each one is precious. As a mostly-full-time editor of other people’s work, I know this pain. As an absolutely full-time editor of my own work, I know this torture.
Poet and playwright Eric Roach is the editor in me and the editor I wish I had.
In a notebook that seems to contain some part of a work-in-progress, I rejoice and despair in equal measure. Eric, my Eric, writes about leaving a cold place to return to Tobago. Part of the reason is a longing for love. He does not, he writes, “want a snow woman”. Not a woman who can only give an Arctic sort of love. He wants a woman of his own kind.
I hear you. And I’m here. I’m right here.
Damn, I have to cut 31 words.
14 April 2018
Anu Lakhan will write many things and edit everything. She lives in Trinidad and Tobago with an increasing number of animals who allow her less and less time to fret over food, critical thinking and definitions of soca–all things that once preoccupied her. Her poetry, short fiction and book reviews have appeared in Bomb Magazine, Caribbean Beat, The Caribbean Review of Books, SX Salon, Wasafiri, among others.