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Poetry in English

Poem by Jack Hirschman

The Coumbite Arcane

(In Memory of Rachel Beauvoir-Dominique)

1.
River, how long have you spoken to her hands?
Stone, how long have you known
her bandanas? In mud we’ve danced.

Now with mud and powdered milk we feed
our starving young. O moon of black tit,
hearts swimming in it like weeping fish.

O Haiti, heavy with blood. Red dugs bursting
with sun over the Artibonite. Around the sun,
they say, they sit and pound the music out

of it, so those men are red from the flames
and black in the palm coronas, pounding,
pounding golden atoms out of the sun’s

belly to warm the bellies of the hungry, this
poor family of drums leaning against one
another, thin, unfed—O for the day they’re

big with revolt and all the hills griot again,
when you lie on your side and I feed you
and you wake with a dream of Boukman

in your gut and, though the king of Death
has fled, his prince remains, an evil junta
on our backs, so we’re a sponge drunken

with blood, as Jacques Roumain said and,
either way, it seems it’s hinghang pou
nenpot.Tikrik Tikrak.
But come, after so

many years with soley couche; male pa
janm couche,
let’s be light on our side like
“Jan Jezi ta di w nan lang ebre a

2.
It’s an ordinary fact like a coconut cracked
open and inside it there’s a squirrel and inside
the squirrel a tree and on the tree a coconut.

Knock-knock. Who’s there? Crik and Crak,
a local duet inside the coconut’s milky white meat.
Outta work in BHM, the usual irony.

We keep a surplus stillness in order that the
bee be what it be when it comes rushing with
honey justice out of the coumbite hive. There’s

a tam-tam beat for every Haitian who’s been
murdered by the Tonton Macoutes.
With Riobes reborn, our colorful Taptaps will roll

until the heads of the Macoutes do and are
covered with People’s stings. No dog-meat
anymore for bloodstreams half-vampirized

by the North. No more baskets full of bones
or the teeth of baseballs fanging.
Revolt’s the name of our flame, our rioting with rage.

Toupatou toupatou: Gonaives Port au Prince,
Bombardopolis, CapHaitien, with dusty roads
in our mouths, with our bellies the insides

of drums that must be fed human food. Not
the narco-coup pus that crushes, bashes
truth into its opposite, drinks glasses of thug.

All the hype is empty tripe. Clinton, Obama,
Trump—a dingleberry dump in the ass
of the new Planetarian class. We’ve cut the

sugarcane in chains for generations. Now
we’re cutting the chains. Without electric,
without telephones, who heard our machetes moaning?

Only the zombie makers. Only deaths—
head flags flew over our pummeled
villages, though Haiti declared war against

Nazi Germany even before the USA did.
We read—no, we can’t yet read, but will.
We write—no, we don’t write yet, but will.

We know—yes, we know the chains now
are dead snakes at our feet. And there’s
a sweetness to our skin more powerful than

Death, as if we were the sugar we worked,
as if it were ours and, deliriously fragrant,
we were cutting a field that welcomed our

hands as brothers-in arms in Abobo.
Mambo, the world responds to the horror with what
you are: Love. The eyelid of a dead child

of 9 feels your kiss. The People keep you
as a caress in the days ahead, a cargo of
joy even as Haiti’s hellish miseries continue.

3.
One day in the future these sounds are
seeds of, there will be a moment when
not even the monkeys chirp in the trees,

when burros will hold their brays, when
the coconut-milky clouds won’t stir in
the sky, when the thatch-work of huts

won’t be gossiping, and there’s no breeze
or sweat between your body and your rags.
One day when that moment lived for years,

for centuries, is here, and everything is still
like death or zombie bread holding its breath,
a drum will begin sounding, and then another

and another, multiplying, and the voices of
the simidors will be heard in every field.
and the backs, those backs with everything

written on them, which have been bent like
nails hammered into the wooden cross of
the land for ages, will plunge their arms

into the ground and pull out the weapons
they’ve planted. For the drums aren’t an
invitation to a vodou ceremony.

The lambi are growling lions of Africa.
And it isn’t the cranium of a horse hung on the wooden
cross braided with limes; it isn’t the wooden

cross at all that’s planted in the good earth of new Haiti.
On the night of that day, the taste of
a mango will be rapturous fireworks

bursting and dying into the ecstasy of the
simple truth in our mouths. Our acres will
sleep with their arms ’round each other.

The child freed from terror and death will bound
with the boundless, and the maize amaze the
sky upon waking, for as long as humanity is.

—Jack Hirschman

Poems by Danny Shaw

April 5th

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Integrity
Impenetrable.
Resist every attempt
to blunt
the sharpness of a mind
an intellect
an example.

A strategy is never based on a moral principal
but is rather the right survival tactic
given our circumstances.

April 6th

Lil’ Bobby Hutton

…Born into life
Handcuffed to death…

white supremacy blasted
but gravity grasped grace
Bleeding peace
into the concrete
breeze
memory…

April 7th1

Toussaint Louverture

Tilden High School
Flatbush, Brooklyn
214 years later

Teacher: Sit down & be quiet!
Student: Ok. No worries. On my way.
Teacher: Just do what you are told for once.
Student: As teachers, you have yet to excavate your own soul, never mind that of America. How can you teach me?
Teacher: That’s it! I’m calling security.
Student: Is it a crime to ask a question? You’re a walking cliché with an erasable marker.
Teacher: Security!
Student: No stress. I’ll walk myself out. And you wonder why my pen rebels and I wander the hallways. You are the negation of creativity.

April 8th

Leona Vicario

In the caves of Achipitlza
She conceived ocelote children2
jaguar ideas
securing the birth
of independence.

1. The day in 1803 Toussaint died from pneumonia after being betrayed, kidnapped and imprisoned by the French. The Haitian people led by Jean Jacques Dessalines, who did not trust the empire for one second, defeated and expelled the French definitively some eight months later.

2. Ocelote is the Náhuatl word for a type of jaguar indigenous to Mexico.

(From the collection 365 Days of Resistance)

—Danny Shaw

Poems by Vilvalex Calice

Armistice for Love

You must lay down your arms,
Lower your armor and please
Let’s celebrate this gesture.
Let this be sweeter than a caress.
This is not a quarrel. This is not a fight.
It is a tango between breaths and light
Where love is, in our hearts,
The sempiternal song of joy
Even when the music strikes discordant notes
And the orchestration of our emotions
Lead to serious misinterpretations.
I know. All the wrongs I’ve done you
Will forever scar me unless
My heart sings again the serenade
That used to make your feelings dance.
Somewhere in the junction of our lives
We have left behind a trail of promises,
Time-stamped, perishable promises
Leaking tincture of their rot
In our ocean of love,
Polluting our dreams.
But love can survive strife and tribulation
When we find sagacity and strength to forgive.
If a refuses all peace offerings,
Dismisses an armistice for love;
When the phoenix dies and leaves no ashes
Perhaps it’s time to say goodbye.

Forgive Me

The rain wet-kissed the ground
To file down the edge of the summer heat
Sharper than the blade of this sun,
Cutting through noon in its zenith,
Brooding pass sundown,
Nudging the night’s breeze away,
With sustained, sweltering breaths and
Threatening to hold on beyond midnight.

The light caught up in your eyes
Didn’t seem to mind its captivity.
It came from the red sun dancing
Implacably close to the water’s edge
Its rays sneaked through branches of poplars
To lick your smooth chocolate skin.

You stood across your bedroom window,
Sheltered by the umbra of an aging afternoon,
Your svelte silhouette trapped by the glass pane.
You, unknowingly, stripped me of my puerility,
Leaving me bare, erect with the coveted
Shadow in the shadow.

The air felt like concrete in the scaffolds of my lungs
When dark clouds ambushed pockets of sunlight
Offered a glance at your naked breasts
As you undressed, the breeze, the clouds
And I stared through the drapes.

Every time I see you, since,
The womb of secrecy opens old wounds
And shame continues to mow down my pride
Because I’ve seen.

Total Eclipse of a Mind

August 21 2017 was a chance of a lifetime
To see a total eclipse of the sun
From Oregon to Northern Georgia.
We were all exited to witness
This marvelous cosmic event.
Unlike the dark political times we’re facing
The solar eclipse will only last minutes
Over each of the great states on its path.
We were instructed to wear special glasses.
He too wore them to watch the sun.
I really wish he would continue
To ignore good advice and take them off.
He would, surely, complete the trinity:
Dumb, wicked and blind.

—Vilvalex Calice

Poem by Aidan Rooney

Tristes Pâques

(For Frantz Duval)

No kites ply the skies over Porte-au-Prince.
Few are the young who venture out of doors.
The dried fish street vendors feel the pinch.
Why fuss over the usual paschal chores?
No one will hold you to the weeklong fast
of cod and hard-boiled eggs, of tinned sardines,
building up to Sunday’s dinde dodue feast.
Many count themselves lucky to eat beans.
The pharmacy on the Champs de Mars
no longer sells those cut-price chocolate eggs.
It is a lot to go to every mass.
The ups and downs are hard on the old legs.
Lari pa bon, the elders say. Best wait.
Lavi a chè. Jezi ap leve. Stay put.

—Aidan Rooney

Poems by Tontongi

Three Mothers’ Death or the Beauty of a Changing Body

Many of us have lost a mother or a good mother figure. It’s to the “three mothers” that I lost that I dedicated this trilogy of poems previously published in my book “Poetica Agwe” in 2005. I republish it today in the celebration of this (US) Mother Day.

1. My Mother Waiting for Death to Happen

Years before it succumbed
to evanescence’s lore
Haiti’s sun nourished my mother’s body
immersing in its stoic fiber
carnival of senses
or corporal grandeur.
She loved the Côtes-Plage’s fresh fish
the Congo beans and the Artibonite rice;
she cooked for him again
the son presumed dead overseas
happy reunion
a resurrection.

Still the horror remained real
slow death in the Waneys
the almond threes revivifying
tender joys of past years.
I saw there the river
down the roadside’s end;
she was there
the future dead
yet I saw beauty
among the rocks
in the street-selling survival.
I saw beauty in the frailty
of what was left of the flesh.
I reminded her I was made
the spirit of the place
Ogoun and Erzulie and Legba united.

The incidence is immaterial
if it were not your own body;
the artist paints for the viewer
in no man’s land hell of a place!
What a destiny reserved to us all!
She was happy seeing me there
at point Z of her calvary
the final moment
the mother I never knew
yet I penetrated her soul.

I saw poverty in the Waneys
Anne-Marie saw transcendence in hell
I saw sorrow
she saw the day’s radiance
fading along the path of infinity.
Are we a dream or a curse
depression until final demise
or renewal toward infinite recovery?
Are we an end or a process?

Port-au-Prince, Queens, Brooklyn
bodies reaching their finitude
yet foundation for what shall be;
all three mothers shared life’s zest
dreams and love of Chinese food,
Martini, Sele-Bride and rice ’n’ beans
a shameful, furtive smoke
perhaps sexual follies!

Succumbed and yet elevated in the Waneys
mother was joined by the other mothers
on the long boulevard to Ephemera
and still reached the eternity of beauty
they all died with dignity;
their ideals redeemed even in evanescence
reinventing what could be;
one conquered Haiti and her fate
and her own cursed end-game; another
heroine of a Mille-et-une-nuit story
Andrea became Queen of Funeral Street
the other changed Brooklyn forever,
its landscape
its identity.

Before the last, final instant
I wanted to photograph her
her march toward death
preserving her odyssey for posterity,
“Would you want me to be seen this way?”
she said, weak, defenseless in life’s ending slope
I stopped and became her defender.

Death is not always the decay
nor the irreversible path to nothingness;
it’s grandmother’s passing on a sunny day
my first grasping of its principle
its law of rejuvenating sadness
its horrors
and elation
and the next day
full of joy
yet touched forever
I made my peace with it.

2. My Godmother’s Death

My godmother’s passing
at a death camp in Queens
was announced on her face
just like my mother’s death
was lurking around her eyelid
awaiting any time the moment;
she said through her gaze
“Listen, let’s say good bye by now,
the horror will have one day to stop.”
I said “I understand”
and sneaked away.

Godmother served me food
between two exploded bombs
Port-au-Prince in flames;
my mother picked me up hurriedly,
panicked citizenry
Port-au-Prince in perennial crisis.

3. La Communista in Brooklyn Heights

“Her star has fallen”
said the spirit in my dream;
the star was Rhoda’s body
still her dreams reached the cosmos.
She was not yet dead
but death was the sacred unsaid.
She loved life
a life to establish the truth
to launch the old-fashion fight
for what is right
not what might rights.

Choosing life through colors
She said “W. Bush is up to no good,
he uses terrorism for his own end.”
She paints beyond social consensus
cosmic world through colors
a night in jail protesting Reagan
and the contras and the crooks
living in Brooklyn all her life
yet escaping toward infinite horizons!

The “Blue Moon” stylish pub
as sleazy could be
tired office workers
escaping out for a night
poets traveling for family affairs
businessmen and women letting off steam
were attracted to her gate
an evening in no non-sense land
an embrace with the people
lost in the meaninglessness of destiny
and those who’re still searching clarity.
“This place will be closed on May 30, ’05.”

We all cry our dead
that’s our cosmic pursuit.
Are we our progenitors’ natural legacy?
Are we the dead-end of the road
or the beginning of a long journey?
Are we zombies in a peaceful cemetery
or rebellious souls in the State prison walls?

The offspring may throw away
in the river of predictable fate
just like we devour
—unknowingly, alas!—
our parents’ vital cells
junks testifying of a long life pursuit.
Perhaps our dead are our exchange-value
the price we pay for living in real time.

Going down the pavement
along the Hicks Street road
cloud over the city
the Promenade still sunny.
Going down the pavement
until Atlantic Avenue
Rhoda was there
at the hospital
or was it a colors-play
in a Rhoda’s painting
a metaphor
old ladies leading the battle
Lala and Rhoda
Henry Street will never be the same.

Unique she was the movement girl
nemesis of hypocrisy
compañera of thousands struggles
calling for what is real.
Sisters in pain
the body must let go
to save the soul from pain
quality of living versus hope
the elegant exit toward eternity
versus another chance
to triumph over death.

Flowers in pain
death at midday
the sun still rising
the spirit stayed alive
even against sustained pain.
Rhoda had lived life
with the freedom ceaselessly coveted
dreams pursued until the end
horizons awaiting to be explored.

Daughters saw the signs
cosmic clues amalgamed in stress
lights and colors united
sang in unison
to free death from absence;
dutiful daughter always
she chose the road to life
even when death was the only option
two dutiful sisters united
in both sides of the truth.

She fought for the masses
and for her right to be
she stayed tuned to her dreams
even when the body had failed.
A painter of stone
liberated spirit
a painter of dreams.

(2004–2005)

—Tontongi

From the left: My godmother Andréa Duperval, my mother-in-law Rhoda Netchinsky
and my mother Anne-Marie Cajuste (with me in 2001).

In this weekend of commemorations of the January 12, 2010, earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince, Jacmel, Petit-Goâve and other parts of Haiti, I regret to observe that ten years after, the opportunity to start afresh from decades of governmental neglect, corrupt and dictatorial regimes, imperialist foreign interventions and exploitative bourgeois classes, has not borne the expected fruit. It’s for a remedial solution that the Haitian people are fighting today, sometimes in the streets, often with their blood. Today more than ever, the country needs a deep structural revolution that will sweep away the debris and dirt that still clutter the capital and the State administration. Yes, we remain hopeful that Haiti will one day be freed from its shackles and calamities which are already lasting too long.

The international solidarity that the attached poem had extolled then was, unfortunately, short-lived. The poem—written the very first days after the quake—expressed my painful reaction in seeing Port-au-Prince, the capital where I was born, under such destructive onslaught by both Mother Nature’s aggressive impulses and human failure.

The Port-au-Prince I knew

It was a sonic, dreadful, shocking blow the scoop, the news that day
for them it was—alas!—reality
those seconds of horror
a terrible moment
hell on Earth magnified multiplied
the cement-brick walls protecting my refuge
against the elements and my security ceilings
suddenly have become destroyers.

Your most trusting hut or lovely home
can any moment collapse on your head
disposable cadavers you become
in those seconds when your destiny is made
amid a long desert of suffering
hell on Earth magnified
ten-times multiplied.

Hell on Earth
a sea of blood and tears
where even survivors are not safe:
“I don’t know if we can make it,”
my nephew said after surveying
the long Calvary of broken bones
human humming as a trailing pain slope.

Amid the unending real-life nightmare
daily consumption of vivid tragedy
history is remade—Did you know
people on this island always die stupid death?
Unnecessary deaths for lack of nutrients
lack of water to drink, cook or bathe
lack of medicines to sustain wellbeing
lack of everything that saves life.

My people are always dying
they die on a Monday morning
without any obvious causality
slow mass dying in silence
outside the glaring eyes of CNN News
they die outside human consciousness.

Even after deadly, repetitive tremors
Haiti has not disappeared, not ever.

The skeletal remains of the majestic Cathedral
whose spectral and eerie shadow
charmed my childhood soul
feel like slow, painful kicks on my wounds.
In my remembrance of our first encounter
she was a revelation
a discovery of a new space
joined with atemporal grace
she existed as in a dream
a furtive moment in passing.

She was the place for great Te Deums
also where things happen unexpectedly
her high silhouette seen from afar
hid unseen truth from sinners and saints
her odor of burned, wet candle
mixed with rum and sorrowful tears
conferred a peaceful, existential mystique.

Hotel Montana was destroyed
in a swirling fury just like the Cathedral
I remember going there almost every Sunday
with my sister Mimine a regular loyal fan
to hear the mini-jazz band Les Fantaisistes
and dance the melodious Compas Direct rhythm;
I remember I went there on a November 1st
a teenager in search of thrills and peer cachet
and enjoyed so much the Gede Vodou feast
that I drank myself to total oblivion
Hotel Montana was the place.

The agony of Port-au-Prince is painful
but my Port-au-Prince was already long dead
long before this extra-destructive quake;
she had become a neglected, mistreated city
a monster slum eating up the whole land
she had become a beauty turned ugly
a dirty and unsafe and toxic Port-au-Prince
a place where people die in slow but sure death;
she was no longer the Port-au-Prince I knew
she was overpopulated and dreadful
she needed a revolution or a quake.

Still I mourn sacred human bodies
suddenly violated by Nature’s madness
I mourn those innocents’ entrapment
in the great void of contingence
those who already had nothing
who now lose even that nothing
those suddenly transformed as cadavers,
human rubbish for the mass pit.

Yet I enjoy the genuine togetherness
even amid Big Brother’s reflexive antics
Somalia replay in 2010 except this time
the Haitian people will early see the light
they would remember 1791 and before
and what came after and beyond
and the people of the world will stay vigilant
to preserve centuries of valorous struggle
to gain what we have so sacrificed to gain:
real-life freedom
the dignity of being.

I would welcome our neighbor’s grace
in bringing water and firefighter
to extinguish the fire in our house;
I would welcome his goodness of heart
in providing sustenance and comfort
yet I would still resent him if he stays
against my will in my house in a guise
and tells me what to do like a master;
I welcome genuine solidarity and empathy
from those who care and share my sorrow
I welcome the helping hand
and not the holding grip.

Even from the distance of exile
I feel the unending tremors of the quake
the daily nightmares remaining reality;
in the mortal incineration of my home town
an important part of me has joined the ashes
I mourn my people’s anguish
yet my heart even in the absence of joy
is full of the hopeful wind of change
full of the creative energy even chaos
sometimes entails in its infinity
my soul takes pride in this human togetherness
and is full of hope for a better Haiti
a Haiti rebuilt on sounder and more just grounds.

Those who come from afar
and the land’s children who stay put
the survivors who endure utmost calamity
the doctors, the nurses, the vigilant reporters,
those who feel and care
those who want to continue
until human decency is achieved
I salute your great sacrifice
at the end that’s what counts
human solidarity in action
I salute you
I salute your sharing my dream.

(January 28, 2010)

—Tontongi first published in Tanbou, Winter 2010

Poems by Sahaj Sabharwal

Stay Cool (Poetic Rap)

Stay cool,
Don’t be a fool,
Just like a mule,
Are you a dull stool?

Never be in terror loon,
Or you will see an error soon.

Do something new,
Which is done by a few.

Always be in mood,
Your attitude should never be rude,
As advised by Sahaj, my dude.

Make your own rules,
Use them like necessary tools,
And consider your opponents as big fools,
Take proper rest till your mind cools.

A Day of My Life to Infinite Sky

The fabulous sky,
Which I observed with my naked eye.
Behaves so shy,
After some time tells a lie.
And shows its clever cry
Expresses over the crops which were once so dry.

Beauty which emerges from the dew drops,
Which fits itself over the surface of the dry crops.
After that, when it stops,
Started whispering from the narrow tops.
Like that of an afraid person who robs
Every outer covering out the huts and the tinned shops.

With the entry of the sun,
News when reached the hazy day taking lots of fun.
The way I saw, the way fog taking a slow run,
The clouds welcomed the sun saying, “Sir, it’s done.”
“All the mist droplets killed with our gun.”
Well done dear! and thanks a ton.

I enjoyed that view,
After long time, glimpse of moon symbolizes
the sun that less time is left and minutes are few,
And today I am new.
Hope the next morning, will see you.

Sahaj Sabharwal author of the book “Poems by Sahaj Sabharwal,” Jammu city, Jammu and Kashmir, India. © all rights reserved

Poem by Jill Netchinsky

Colón’s Anchor

(From The Jacmel shore, to the Trumped Specter)

Alex Bien-Aimé showing visitors of MUPANAH museum in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, the anchor and the bell of Christopher Columbus.

Alex Bien-Aimé showing visitors of MUPANAH museum in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, the anchor and the bell of Christopher Columbus. Attendants included Michel Télémaque (left), an unnamed French woman, Jonah Toussaint, part of John Barnes & Rocky Cotard visiting from Boston.

Part 1: Jacmel, Haiti

Beyond the wave,
        more waves.

Crest of blue green crystal
hides the earth’s turn,
horizon line unsure,
imagining, expanding view of water
until Columbia’s coast.

In the underground pantheon,
we saw Colón’s anchor,
from the storied Santa María;
It was huge and dead,
iron for Ogun,
emblem of encounter,
harbinger of conquest.

The same exhibit hall
housed the torturing chains and weights
that punished runaways,
mawon, enslaved
men and women who escaped,
caught by the same iron element
as the anchor of Columbus,
two
      iron
            pwen
in this island conundrum.

Part 2: Boston, Massachusetts

[Sung] “Vendrá la guerra, amor,”
[spoken]
The war is coming, my love;
The liberators set sail from that Jacmel coast,
their petitions for aid, for materiel granted
by the Haitian republic’s leaders on condition
that all slavery be abolished in the South
American republics they sought to birth
from colonial Spain.
More iron, now shaped
as guns, as swords, shod horses’ hooves.

Beyond the wave,
      more waves.

From these and other shores,
our ancestors crossed,
fleeing pogroms, or kidnapped by capital,
but always watching and waiting for the signal,
the light, the password,
the song, to resist—
[sung] All the pikes must be together

Whether wood or iron, words or pledges,
before the threat, against the tide, again,
ever, emerging from their grief, our shock,
back in formation, we also sing:

NO PASARÁN
The prison anchor will have no berth;
They. shall. not. pass.

—Jill Netchinsky July–November, 2016

Notes

1. Colón is the Spanish version of the name of Christopher Columbus. His original Italian name was Cristoforo Colombo; in Spanish, which was the flag he sailed under, he called himself Cristóbal Colón. A direct translation from Italian would have been “Paloma”, or “Dove”, in English—whereas Colón has echoes of colonia (colony) and colonizer.

2. Ogun (Ogún in Santería or Ogou in Vodou) is a spirit of the Yoruba religion, a warrior and a powerful spirit of metal work. He is also known as the “god of Iron”. In some traditions he is said to have cleared a path for the other gods to enter Earth, using a metal ax.

3. Pwen (“point”) is a Haitian term in music, culture, and religion, with no exact English translation. It may refer to a spoken or sung remark, a critique to be interpreted, a lyrical device that carries hidden or submerged double meanings, or a physical or performative object representing distilled concentration of spiritual force.

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