“Poetry,” says Senya Darklight, “comes in the rustle of leaves, the whistle of birds and the sound of the sea.  It also comes in silence – between gaps of conversation. Footprints on the sand, shells on the beach, stones – all poetry.  And poetry, he adds, is “life in its totality and has no beginning or end.” 

Spring of 1987 found me in the rainforest of St. Croix with Senya Darklight.  I was a reporter for the St. Croix Avis, and Senya was a rising poet.  Like many, I was drawn to Senya Darklight. Perhaps it was the voice, or the soulful way he wrapped his being into each moment. When the opportunity arose to do a story about him, I seized it. 

But finding him would be a challenge.  I climbed into my tattered Honda, and drove until I neared the outskirts of the rainforest.  There, at a small house near the roadside, I asked a kind, dreadlocked sister if she knew where the poet lived.  She did and offered to lead the way. Together, we made our way down a steep ravine, crossed a stream and climbed upwards again. 

Giant mahogany trees shielded us from the sweltering heat.  We trudged onward for several minutes.  Then, my guide gave me directions for continuing on alone and departed. I came upon Senya’s abode shortly after.  It was a tent – it was faded and brown and old, but apparently in very good condition.  Nothing stirred.  “Senya,” I called out. 

He emerged shirtless, smiling broadly. I caught his smile and returned one of my own.  We sat on a thin blanket on the ground; it was uncomfortable, and I longed for a chair but there were none.  Clothes were hung neatly in one corner, home made cooking utensils rested near a coal pot, and there was a sleeping bag near Senya’s feet.  

Every now and again, a tuft of wind would rustle the trees and the chimes that were strung up in the branches.  Senya played along, improvising with his flute.  A mountain dove cooed.  Senya giggled and recited one of his poem: “Music is a message that can set us free/ Music can take us all from where we are to where we all should be/ Listen to the music, let it liberate your mind/ Journey with the music beyond space and time/ Life and sound wrapped in one.”  Senya paused and began a short monologue about poets and poetry in ancient times and the present.  In the past, he said, people were better listeners; they were more attentive, and hence, had sharper memories.  I nodded my head in agreement, and the conversation shifted to stories of his childhood. 

Senya was born in the island of Trinidad, amidst poverty in a family of ten.  At the age of 20, he moved to the United States with his mother and other family members, in search of a brighter future.  In Washington, D.C., he performed odd jobs and later joined the Marines for a two-year hitch.  Then, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and successfully completed two more years of service. 

But as Senya matured, the plight of his family disturbed him profoundly.  He saw how poverty crushed people, communities and nations. It forced him to make decisions about how he would live and what his values would be.  “I didn’t feel much to be a part of the role that everybody else played in the world.  My mind was to live a quiet life, to seek knowledge of myself so that I could understand why all this madness was going on,” he told me. 

“I got to really see how people could get stuck in a little groove that feels comfortable to them and spend the rest of their lives doing it.  They stop growing.”  Senya paused momentarily, curled a lock of hair between his fingers and continued.  “I don’t see life in a possessive way.  I’m not looking to get a piece of the rock or a piece of the earth. Every moment is precious; every instant is special.  Why get caught up in superficial meaningless interaction? Why not really appreciate life and do the things that make sense.” 

The rainforest of St. Croix granted him the serenity to reflect on life and to work on his poetry.  In Companion to Senya, a book by Marty Campbell, a close friend of Senya’s and a fellow poet, Senya says: “You know, not long ago I offered up a portion of my poems that I had written down to the whole world.  I gathered them together on various papers.  I offered them up in a great fire.  The smoke was tremendous.  It went straight up, through the trees and mixed into the atmosphere.  It is sure that the ashes have settled in many places all over the earth, and people have been touched by my poems who would never otherwise have had the chance.” 

As I sat with Senya, I felt overwhelmed by his spirit.  I also felt unclean and unworthy -- like I didn’t measure up.  Here was a man who was attempting to live by his convictions, I thought.  And although he had few possessions and no steady source of income, he exuded a richness that few people have. “It’s good to be alive on the earth,” he said. “I know that my needs will be met as long as I keep doing works that are acceptable to God.  I know that I’ll have sustenance for my body and a place to rest my head.” 

As I arose to leave, Senya recited another poem and gave me a gift – a wooden flute. I thought about Senya as I drove home and for a long time after that.  My spirit soared.  But six months later, I received a devastating phone call from Marty Campbell. There had been a terrible accident, I was told, and Senya was no longer among us. 

Senya and Marty had been traveling across the U.S., visiting friends and performing at poetry readings.  The accident occurred while the two men were hiking in the Canadian Rockies.  In Companion to Senya, Marty describes what happened like this. 

“We could not see each other, though we were less than 20 feet apart.  We were talking easily to each other. He (Senya) said there was a loose rock on the ledge, but he felt he could make it.  There was quiet for 5 or 10 minutes.  Then I heard a small bunch of rocks fall, then another.  I heard nothing else. No voice, no cry.  I was concerned and did not know what to do.  Silence.  I then called out, then yelled, then whistled very loud.  Nothing but echoes replied.  Something was definitely wrong.” 

Marty found Senya the following morning.  “He lay in a tossed position on his right side, as if he had just fallen.  I went to feel his pulse and found his limbs hard like the branch of a tree and very cold.  His head was on a stone with blood beneath.  Though his face had minor cuts, one could easily see his eternal hint of a smile ready to bloom.  Flutes, kalimba and a tape laid on the rocks, 10 and 20 feet from him.  He had fallen over 60 feet.  In my judgment, a rock must have given out underneath him, and he must have died instantly.” 

As Marty Campbell broke the news to me, waves of sadness cascaded over me and images of Senya flashed before me.  He had once told a friend that his thigh bone should be made into a flute, upon his death. I also thought about the last time I had seen him alive.  We were both traveling in cars, and we waved at each other. But we were going in opposite directions. Our paths would never cross again.

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