Early evening: I climb the steps of Xavier Redchoose’s “Torn Poem” restaurant, at the top of a cliff, on the fictional archipelago of Popisho. The sea sings behind me and there is honeysuckle on the hot wind. I smile: Xavier’s gift is to feed you exactly the meal you need, ambiance and all, and honeysuckle is my happiest childhood scent.
On the veranda, someone is plucking a guitar. Xavier, a character from my book This day of heaven, will serve us here, under thousands of stars cutting through the deep sky. I barely time the musician; I can’t wait to see the chef in action. He perfumes food to the touch alone, the herbs and spices pouring out from his palms.
As I gaze out the window, he looks up, gesturing to the thin, sure music playing behind me.
Prince, I realize, came early, in a pointy scarlet suit, arms around his Flame Maple Telecaster. He smiles, nods at my dress with a mango-lime lollipop, then puts it back in his mouth. Xavier made him a bowl. I remember sucking one off on her at the 1995 American Music Awards instead of lip-syncing with “We Are the World.”
Novelist and activist James baldwin next comes, natty and big smile. He’s the only guest I’ve never met in my days as a journalist, and I’m glad Xavier’s instinct helps me greet him. The chef sends a trio of ceviche – teal snapper, sweet white octopus, oysters.
James sits on a cushion to eat with his hands, admiring the colors, listening to Prince perform his ballad “Old Friends 4 Sale”. It is so good to be with these black men in peace, their bodies so fluid and so sure. I ask Baldwin to read aloud my copy of Fire next time, so Xavier can hear.
The atmosphere changes with the arrival of the writers Audre Lorde and Toni Morrison. We hear them laughing out loud on the pink sand below. Dancing barefoot on the veranda, they swing another woman between them, telling us about the mischievous tide. “See how the water took us! Audre said, presenting soaked shoes. “Leone, where did you find this excellent woman?” ”
It refers to the Trinidadian poet Shivanee Ramlochan, who apparently saved them from the playful seas – she’s shy but clearly excited to connect.
Prince and James greet the women, hugging body to body. Morrison’s royal dreads are studded with opals, the hem of her dress wet. “Magnificent!” she sings when I refer to the Ramlochan collection Everybody knows I’m a haunt. “Not a word out of place.” Shivanee beams. A platter of fried eggplant with cornmeal arrives, encrusted with chili peppers, roasted onions and pepper pickle. Audre licks the paprika oil stains off her wrist.
Toni walks over to the kitchen window, curious. When I join her to pay homage, she hums softly with pleasure. We watch Xavier sift the flour for the Southern cookies, stroke the fat, salt, check. . . “Checking for mites in flour,” agrees Morrison, touched, thinking about this moment in her novel. Beloved.
Supper arrives: a tureen of sticky pork stew stuffed with red beans, caramelized garlic and coconut milk for the few carnivores here; a pumpkin curry bursting with five kinds of mushrooms and miniature corn that makes everyone moan with joy; a mac and cheese almost as long as the table; spinach, kale, halved and limed avocados, all fresh from the garden; mounds of nuts, toastfruit, and golden fried plantain. the Beloved the cookies arrive hot right out of the oven, running in goat’s milk butter.
James wants rum; Toni wants rum; Shivanee pours black rum. Prince warns against excess alcohol. Audre says, “Boy, get the mango seed out of your butt!” He gives her pieces of fennel seed sourdough to apologize. We all overeat happily and to excess. Prince’s fingers wave: Popisho inspires him to play, even more than usual.
A bowl overflowing with electric blue fruit arrives from Xavier’s “Torn Poem” tree – inedible, but each contains a beautiful fragment of text within its belly. Toni and Baldwin break the fruit, shouting absurd words at Prince; he wraps them up in new songs that make Shivanee and Audre dance together on the squeaky boards. Vegan cakes appear, kiwi and pomegranate, caramel and peach, like bridal flower arrangements. They trigger a chorus of memories of bittersweet wedding guests. Who would have thought that marital affairs would unite us like this?
Xavier finally got out, quietly passing around a tray of dark chocolate globes. We put them in our whole mouths, bite them, our tongues flooded with tamarind and chilli juice. Baldwin hits the table and sings in admiration: “The point at the end of the last sentence!”
We all agree: poets, publishers, lyricists, writers all, then start a happy debate to know if the expression “full stop” is better. The surf pants and the hits. I’m sleepy, curled up in a hammock, I watch. The lamps melt them into a soft ball of sound and joy. Lime-green moths flutter against the walls and fireflies sputter.
Leone Ross is the author of ‘This One Sky Day’ (Faber)
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