Haiti Adrift

This is my country decked in prongs and spikes
barbed-wired from top to bottom, a world black
with the fury and bitter laughter of Haitians.
Haiti without Sunday, at the end of its rope,
a beast of misery to be tamed, a sleeping volcano
without a foreboding alarm to rouse it from the ashes!

— René Depestre
(Trans. by Anita Sagástegui)

Hàïti a la dérive

Voici mon pays garni de dents et de pointes
pays barbelé de pied en cap, monde noir
de la rage et du rire amer des Haïtiens.
Haïti sans dimanche au bout de ses peines,
le grand malheur à dompter, volcan endormi
sans réveil prévu à l’horloge de ses cendres !


Eldzier Cortor, “L’Abbatoire No. III,” c. 1967
Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, LLC, New York, NY

Haitian poet René Depestre published his first book of poems when he was nineteen. After he followed up this success with the publication of an anti-colonial, revolutionary journal, he was imprisoned by the state and subsequently exiled. He moved from country to country for several years, stopping in Paris, Prague, Argentina, and Chile (where he met Pablo Neruda) before returning to Haiti. He hoped to contribute to the nation-building project led by his childhood friend, François Duvalier, but soon distanced himself from Duvalier’s dictatorship. He was forced to again leave Haiti. He moved to Cuba where he had friends in the Communist Party. In 1978, disillusioned with Castro’s state, Depestre left Cuba for France.

quaking conversation

i want to talk about haiti.
how the earth had to break
the island’s spine to wake
the world up to her screaming.

how this post-earthquake crisis
is not natural
or supernatural.
i want to talk about disasters.

how men make them
with embargoes, exploitation,
stigma, sabotage, scalding
debt and cold shoulders.

talk centuries
of political corruption
so commonplace
it’s lukewarm, tap.

talk january 1, 1804
and how it shed life.
talk 1937
and how it bled death.

talk 1964. 1986. 1991. 2004. 2008.
how history is the word
that makes today
uneven, possible.

talk new orleans,
palestine, sri lanka,
the bronx and other points
of connection.

talk resilience and miracles.
how haitian elders sing in time
to their grumbling bellies
and stubborn hearts.

how after weeks under the rubble,
a baby is pulled out,
awake, dehydrated, adorable, telling
stories with old-soul eyes.

how many more are still
buried, breathing, praying and waiting?
intact despite the veil of fear and dust
coating their bruised faces?

i want to talk about our irreversible dead.
the artists, the activists, the spiritual leaders,
the family members, the friends, the merchants
the outcasts, the cons.

all of them, my newest ancestors,
all of them, hovering now,
watching our collective response,
keeping score, making bets.

i want to talk about money.
how one man’s recession might be
another man’s unachievable reality.
how unfair that is.

how i see a haitian woman’s face
every time i look down at a hot meal,
slip into my bed, take a sip of water,
show mercy to a mirror.

how if my parents had made different
decisions three decades ago,
it could have been my arm
sticking out of a mass grave

i want to talk about gratitude.
i want to talk about compassion.
i want to talk about respect.
how even the desperate deserve it.

how haitians sometimes greet each other
with the two words “honor”
and “respect.”
how we all should follow suit.

try every time you hear the word “victim,”
you think “honor.”
try every time you hear the tag “john doe,”
you shout “respect!”

because my people have names.
because my people have nerve.
because my people are
your people in disguise

i want to talk about haiti.
i always talk about haiti.
my mouth quaking with her love,
complexity, honor and respect.

come sit, come stand, come
cry with me. talk.
there’s much to say.
walk. much more to do.

— Lenelle Moïse

haitiPoet and playwright Lenelle Moïse was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and raised in the greater Boston area. She earned an M.F.A. in playwriting from Smith College. She is currently the Lucille Geier Lakes Writer-in-Residence at Smith College.

[Research note: Lenelle Moïse, Haiti Glass (San Franciso: City Light Publishers, 2014), p. 34; Lenelle Moïse website]