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Poetry in English

Poems by Marie Ketsia Theodore

The Spirits to rest

Holding you as they have been
since Africa that is.
Coming out of the water
out of their disposed bodies
throwned overboard.

our flesh became fish
our natural heat risen
until finding its living flesh
in the form of me,
you shackled,
our skin marred,
art of warped minds.

It was tit sœur who found out
that the spirits want to rest.
She was dropped.
Dropped when a certain Bonaparte
Pastor by day, einglendo by night
of her own room house.
He was not the first to have come.

At 12, Christophe had come.
He left behind the little boy
lying in his vomit—hiding it
from the rats, calling it breakfast
lunch and dinner.
The spirits had been there
they had fought, but alas!
they were defeated.
It might have been the sound of
Manzèl’s head being cut off by Christophe
machete that drained the spirits so.

As Bonaparte crawled through the window
Manzèl Tit sœur’s mother, now only a spirit
watching was wondering to herself:
who in Anse-à-galets will hear
of her daughter
being delivered by a certain Bonaparte?


Burning deep down
in my throat is a world of words,
of tongue set afire
like the great library at Alexandria.

The stories inside
are mapped out on my skin
I am the world
looking at my scars.

Torched is the poem of love I wrote you
where the words,
the screams from slaps,
punches are gurgled,
where the ripped silk drawls,
flowing in my veins
gushes out
burning on paper.

Burning. But not like the brand
received so long ago yesterday—
four hundred and fifty years of yesterdays.

like giving life
already cold and blue.

Like Dessalines
when he realized despite his good intentions,
the devils he had tried to force out of
beloved Ayiti, had run right into his heart.
like Dessalines.

My dreams

My dreams, they too
roll down my cheeks.
One by one
That’s what my dreams become.
I would be wrong
to say not to dream
but I will be wrong
to dream with hope.

Who will I be?
Who can I be?
but a dreamer with
wet cheeks

Midnight Lover

upon my pillow,
tear drops
by three drops
conjure you:
you are here
in shadow,
you are here
in my tears
but never in flesh,
my midnight lover.

Blue Horizon—For Jazz

Take me away
to where blue black flesh
forms a binding horror zone
for watching eyes.
I plead.
Before I know it
My skin is under the blue light
Of your deep black skin.

Ebony and Indigo
in a river of tears.

Hot Hot Hot!
he gives in to me just a bit.
He takes back his notes.
The melody has stopped.
“Not yet baby”, he whispers.
“Not yet! I am going to explode
let me hear that sound again
and again.”

The juice flows on deep
deep from his heart
into mine
I was in love again.
I never knew that the trombone too
had the blue
or was it just his lips.

As he had come with in the blink of an eye
he walked right back to the moon
to his blue horizon.

—Marie Ketsia Theodore

Poems by Jack Hirschman

About the poet (from “The Xibalba Arcane”, Azul Editions, 1994):

Jack Hirschman has worked for two decades as a revolutionary poet, translator, agit-propagandist and painter for the struggles of the poor, the homeless, the marginalized and the culturally exploited. He has been a member of the Coalition of Writers’ Organization and a correspondent for The People’s Tribune. In the ’80s, he helped found the Union of Left Writers and the Jacques Roumain Cultural Brigade. The body of Hirschman’s writings consists of 74 books of poetry and translations. He has lived in North Beach, San Francisco, since 1973.

Jack Hirschman ekri 74 liv powèm ak tradiksyon, de nan dènye yo se “The Graffiti Arcane” e “The Xibalba Arcane”, de liv powezi modèn kote otè a itilize libète atistik ansanm ak bèlte powetik pou li dekri santiman l ak obsèvasyon li sou anviwonnman sosyopolitik la—avèk yon metriz nèg maton lang angle a. Pòl Larak rele Hirschman «youn nan pi gran powèt ameriken vivan». Misye abite nan Sanfransisko, e li se redaktè revi “Left Curve” («Koub Goch»).

Lèt J. Hirschman

September 1994

Dear TontonGuy,

The latest Tanbou, which Paul Laraque sent me, is very good. I wish it well. I’ve been translating Paul’s poems—especially from Haitian—for the past few years; indeed I am enclosing one dedicated I believe to you, which I might add I read (Bernard Midy read the original Haitian) at a rally in San Francisco yesterday.

I know you don’t publish translations, but send it simply so that you have it along with the original, which I’m certain Paul’s sent. Note that I speak of the language as “Haitian” rather than “Creole.” It’s I believe about time that shift is made. “Creole still has the quality of a pidgin language, and one that is a “dialect” and “second class.” Haitian in fact is the language the majority of Haitians speak. I’ve published the enclosed, as well as a poem by Aleksand Akao which I published in a literary journal and I used the expression “Translated from Haitian…”

I’m suggesting this shift because I believe it is both culturally and politically important for the future.

Otherwise I’d like to enclose a small piece I wrote, and which you’re welcome to use in Tanbou. Or if not, that you simply enjoy it. Best wishes,

For the New Haiti, —Jack Hirschman

Haitian Song

We gather the stillness to us
in the same breath as earth.

The seven rainbows ’round our
eyelids are gates to bliss.

We tell your mouth our secret
ink, the river we adore.

In a drum there is a belly
to be fed.

The Salt Point Arcane

(for TontonGuy)

We’ve waited at the end to tell the day
it can rest in our dark arms.
Now we have all night
to change skins,
to put the slices together
until the wild cock-crows.

For it’s the darkness
with the sun of being
this presence that pulls me
out of my own mouth.

In the eyes
of my fingers,

In the leaves
of my palms,

In the twin
caves of the ears
I’ve heard
half the heart’s red,
the other half black.

In the belly
of the hungry child,
the eyes rattling, rattling.
In the black is the blue, in the red is the end of blood.

Tonight is both flight and welcome
of prison. Because one goes
and one stays. Poisons of misery
have been deported. Potions of
cheap chocolate are having
their day.

Haiti pulled up by the root is swaying.

She’s removing the small black coffin from her head
as one removes a faded hat.

Our night thick with bloodclots remembers
face-down puddles
from the murders in moonlight
studded with bullets on Avenue John Brown
two of us our hands tied behind our back
while a third had been decapitated
all reported disappeared,
or nightstick-beaten
or shot dead for uttering the word Lavalas
accused of composing subversive songs
raped by four and then they sliced off
her breast with a machete skewered her eyes
mouth oozing blood still she shrieked, ABA! FRAPH!
and was arrested for listening to the radio
had to pay 1500 gourdes ($100) to be released
her brother named Diaspora burned on hands
arms face and neck by zenglendo cicarette lighter
for supporting father Aristide.
The mango crushed and crushed again
or slices of it bitter on the tongue,
and the three buzzed, sawn and chopped down,

but still our hands in circles carry
our giant tears to the sun
passing open graves and nails crossroads and scrawny cows
en route to the rainbow.

We have all
The woman in red with the small black coffin
balanced on her head like a faded hat
is removing it.

We come from the heels,
we’re going into the toes,
seven cracks, seven changes,
we don’t arrive, are already there,
we’re stars, we work
at night but touch everything.

Fall and kiss the bruising ground,
blue wisteria, and think nothing
of it at all.

The tall Big Book
of Drum is spilling
all the keys to the jails,
opening all the cells,
vevers of hallelujahs
up and running through hell
playing all the bears, singing

and dancing, Puppet, dance to the bones.
The stinking strings extend from
It’s the new Loa
and Odor. The blue
lights are ours now,
the blue lights flaring
and soon our speeding doors will swing open, your waist
will be grabbed but with happy sorcery
with ooga ooga sounds
and the writing in grounds of the bones of moonlight
will get up off the ground
and skin on sking of the drum
babata babatamboo,
the Hand is the lakou of bones.
Dance to. We are nothing more
than the physical magic
of this
language we love so,
for there is in jazz
a concentrate of free,
to hear it
to listen up to it all the way to its origin
is to see,
across inner hills and broken landscaped of pain
and permutation like skipjumping or leapflying
and laughing at the ubu of deep appeal,
expression as
Afric in America,
which be

We’re opening everything.
Warehouse where they stored their steal
when they fattened themselves
while Cité Soleil lay writing in eclipse.

We’re opening the throat
of the secret cock and looking
into the belly of the goat
and don’t forget the dear
flat-chested madivinèz
we’ll put gourds where their titties are
and shake and rattle
and wallow in sweet dust
and open the treasury
they made off with everything,
and open the recret societies
because Bread Bread
Pen Pen
In any tongue it’s a hungry people’s verb.

If you don’t understand
these scrawls and signs
the gibberish at times,
return this new passport
to the next level of light:
there’s a meeting he must attend,
of human flame.

Khaki puddles and around
have replaced the bloody
but our songs’s still
really unsung.

Those who’ve murdered so many,
who’ve been so unspeakably monstrous,
wait in their snarling liberty…

And our embodiment hasn’t, not yet, but surely
will change its skin into the ordinary
pantheon of that poverty where
fore-finger and thumb lift the snake by the jaws,
hold it fecundantly forward like no puppet,
like a day in the week, one of seven serpents,
but rooted in the deep blue and red depths
of the waters of the night, in the purpling
and darkening folds of the waves of the night
where the voices of the heart of new Haiti are stirring.

Comes the dawn of the Day of the Dead.
Out you go, cock-crow.
On you go, drop of salt on the tongue of soul.
Up you go, Mama Fury,
Brother Rage,
Sister Righteous,

Between A Rock And A Hard Place
but not for long.

Have a mouth
and then some
sound pouring and wild
drawing on our skin
great big drumboats,
bigger than you, my hand,
feeding light
through light
through the nipples
of Ezili’s dawing body,
her thatched head
shaking all get-out
like newborn all ages immediately running widespread

—Jack Hirschman San Francisco, 1995

The Liberty Drum

—by Paul Laraque

for Tonton Guy

our hands are beating the drum
our hands are striking the drum
our fingers the sticks
each drumbeat a spark
the wind gusting
thunder rumbling
each drumbeat’s a lighting-flash

from Afrika
to Saint-Domingue
from Saint-Domingue
to Haiti
from Haiti
to Cuba
kata rhythms drumming

from Kaonabo
all the way to Toussain Louverture
from Dessalines
all the way to Peralte
from Akao
all the way to Castro
the thunder-drum’s rumbling

all the Maroons are up
all the brave women are dancing
this drum’s
a fire in the canefield
this drums’s
revolution’s drum
the liberty drum

—translated from Haitian
by Jack Hirchman

Poem by Vonel Lamour

I am who I am

I am who I am and that is Afro-American,
at least that is what is what I am categorized as.
But is that who I am?
My parents were born and raised in Haiti,
but I was born in Boston.
So what does that make me?
My passport says I’m American, because I was born here.
Is that true?
Does my birth place verify who I am?
It shouldn’t
I have many cultures in me,
not only American and Haitian.
I have some Latino blood in me,
not because someone in my family was,
or because I speak a little Spanish, but because
I have grown up with some.
I feel Jewish because of holidays I’ve celebrated
with Jewish friends I have,
thanks to Graham and Parks School.
I know many people who were born here.
They are all similar in some ways.
They celebrate some of the same holidays,
They go to the same school and learn the same things,
but some things are different.
It’s their morals, what they are taught at home.
If people that were born here are different,
why are they all categorized as one thing “American?”
I don’t think that’s right.
But what would people be called?
That’s probably why everyone born here
are just called American.
Or there would be people called something like
“American born, half Haitian, half Puerto Rican,
has a Bostonian accent, celebrates Christmas,
but not Easter, speak English, etc.”
Even though many cultures are in me,
I’ll never forget where my family comes from.
And I will never forget who I really am;
I’m nothing more than or less Vonel.

—Vonel Lamour 14

Poems by Anna Wexler

Operation Support Democracy

Their mouths are filled
with the recipes for peace.
They float over the slums
in golden parachutes
advertising Caribbean vacations.
The people must remain calm
while the shock troops of democracy
slide into the lush embrace
of the waiting generals
you have kissed my ring.
You have fondled my military honor.
The most intimate and devastating acts
performed under cover of darkness.
This is not war. Long after
trailing jet streams fade
the perfume of the general’s wife
lingers. Her brief hysteria
is soothed by whispered promises
to keep her drug lord liquid
in his stiffly starched uniform.
The longed for climax
is thoroughly diplomatic.
Bloodshed has been avoided
but the bodies lying in Ti Tanyen
complain of being raped
by talking helicopters.

The Warning

“Animals fed on the body during the night”
You wrote under the photograph
of a man dumped on the airport road.
He wears a shoe but no flesh
over his perfectly articulated ribs
where the dogs feasted. Nobody
covers him. He mus be seen
to remind you to live in terror,
to run from death with the glaze
of vomit on your tongue, to forget
his fingers once played in your hair,
his missing fingers. How can you say
he is a stranger when the moon
rose in your belly every time
he pushed the door open where you hid
your mind. Your mind? Nobody else
taught you the algebra of death—
for each one of us there is another
who has fallen through the night sky
across the brilliant cycles of resistance,
maybe a bullet to the head, the same way
you will go, wheeling between unmapped
constellations, she went before you
through the lost days when you will hide
your body from the sun and your hunger
from your mind and when they finally come
for you she will be there
to hold you when your breath shatters
in the mirror of your world and your blood
flies in the face of death.
In this system we are numberless.
My body when you frame it
On the airport road
is infinity:
the waring sign.

The Precise Location

There is one mother. She combs the day
out of her hair while her children sleep.
From here the island is barely visible,
a silver shadow under the sea,
the memory of an image in its negative,
a scale of darkness where the light once played.
She left the comb for me
thinking I woul find it. On the windward
side where the canebrake glisters.
I saw it there and said it wasn’t mine.
Spirits were listening, they flocked
on the shorn branches cawing.
I wouldn’t name them, they were too beautiful.
Her hair is black, pointing in all directions.
I found the charms there which they choose
to commemorate my childwood: a pinwheel,
a telephone, and the park bench: hold me
. What else is hidden in the perfect braids
radiating from her skull? There is one man
whom the spirits tore into many.
He alone can tell you. It is late.
I still make my way aimlessly
while the path shatters. He explains
the scar on his neck, the one
she told me was the jewel
he would be wearing. The boy wanted
to be ordinary, but they rode him
mercilessly, into the light.
I showed him the silver bracelets. There
is one charm which has been forgotten.
You paid for it between the child’s legs
exploding flowers, streaked in blood.
I pull the last strands from its ivory teeth,
the familiar luxury of magic.

Bath of Flowers

Cinammon and nutmeg and ashes
swirling in hot milk.
Your psalm is burning. Lord,
You were my shepherd,
but since the death camps
and the streets where corpses
without faces cast no shadow
I walk alone
where memory fails one peole
and mocks another.
The oungan works around
the circle of disbelief
shredding pink and yellow carnations
at our kitchen table.
A voice reports: rape is the chosen
method of repression in Belair
where his daughters wait.
The epicenter of catastrophe
is always quiet. A crown
of petals wreaths the cooling milk.
There are no Jews walking to the river
now, only a thirst too terrible
to remember water. I bless the bath
which will cling to you all day,
ash of psalms, debris of flowers.
The oungan works inside
the spine of history
crossing the fibers
where Mèt Kalfou is watching.
He draws the vèvè in three powders
and annoints your head
this time
with dry champagne.

—Anna Wexler 1995

Poems by Brenda Walcott, 1995

Thank the gods

Thank the gods
for the child
who is alive in me
thank the gods
for this old romantic
not becoming a cynic
thank the gods
for the chills the marching
of a million black men gave me
and a million thanks
for the lives of my children
chosing me
from which to spring
eternal gratitude
for jazz (the voice of my people)
thank the gods
for nice highs
thanks and thanks again
for good sex
and i thank the gods
when i can slumber
like a baby

A Time To Reap

I won’t
I refuse
To write
Any more sad love poems
I’ve admitted to the world
That I was often stunned and confused
By romantic growing pains
But these are the ledgers
Of a greening woman/child
I must also speak of ma gratitude
My mother’s pride at having sown
So many seeds of lifegiving love
My astonishment that
There is still so much laughter in me
That some little thing
Will cause it to come rushing up
Full loud and summer hot
A deep husky Black woman’s laugh
That fills the room and flies
out of the window
Causing the fallen leave of
To jump up and perform a brilliant
dance of harvest

—Brenda Walcott Cambridge, 1995

Poems by Gary Hicks

Gary Hicks is an African-American poet and activist who has sacrificed his adult life to a personal regimen of rebellion and repudiation against the powers that be. At age seventeen in the sixties he was already actively involved in the general civil rights movement that was boiling in the US. This ultimately landed him in jail for refusing the Vietnam draft. He said later he “couldn’t bear to fight for the imperialist war of the same racist Establishment that is oppressing my people.” Since then, he has made himself a constant available presence to the multiple struggles for justice and human rights in the US.

Gary Hicks, Boston, 1995

Gary Hicks, Boston. —photo by Tambour, 1995

Gary now works as a substitute teacher for the Boston public school system and he is a member of the leadership of the Church of the United Community in Roxbury, Massachusetts. He has also been involved for a great number of years in the homeless advocacy movement, including Jobs for Peace and the journal Spare Change, both homeless empowerment organizations advocating the abolishment of military spending and its conversion to projects benefiting human needs. He has just completed a masters degree program at the University of Massachusetts, which he intends to use, in addition to poetry, to “give hell to the Establishment” and “for the benefit of people’s struggle.” Deeply impressed and inspired by the victory of Harold Washington in the Chicago’s 1983 mayoral election, he said he just “put a whole bunch of words to paper and, much to my surprise, it looked like poetry.” He’s been for the last few years reading poetry in various cultural venues, including “poetry slams” in the Cambridge and Boston area. Gary has also co-authored with TontonGuy a poetry book, The Dream of Being, that they depict as opposing the “ossification of human aspirations,” calling it a “powerful challenge to failure in this dispirited [world’s] jungle” and an appeal to all of us to live with our conscience, our feelings and our dreams.”

to a poet who teaches art for her day job

i am sitting here
at a poetry reading.
you are sitting
across from me on
the other side
of the table, respectful
of the goings on
around us. occasionally
we wince at each
other, sometimes a
reaction to the work
being recited or
performed, other times
reacting to the
situation in which
we find ourselves
in this moment of
our existence. and
yet again we look
at each other
just to be sure
we’re o.k

we are colleagues
after all. we are
poets and we write
of our times in
all their goodness
and beauty. this
often is a brief
task. our writing
of the madness
incoherence and
criminality often
takes too long.
above all we write
out of our senses
of engulfment, out
of a quilty knowledge
that we swim through
these realities
all too well, have
indeed drowned
in them only to
have been resuscitated
too many times to
remember or count.

we look at the
behavior or those who
shape our age. we
for a poet

cry out our love
and our hatred of
things beyond our
grasp, our control
even as we resign
ourselves to
the upheavals of our
days. and we share
that love, that
hatred through
our work of words:
efforts which we hope
will become today’s
truths, and then
tomorrow’s heresies
when those truths
become millstones
around humanity’s neck.

we are friends. i
would like to say
we are comrades and
much, much more. but
we’ve not the time
to discuss such
things. for lo!
look: here are the
borders of the
territories of
the dangerous. here
is where we walk
the tightropes of
our epoch.

may 23, 1994 (for eugene rivers)

even before boarding
the bus for work
i heard on the radio
about the house
shot up by some folks
whose i.q.s at best
match the millimeters
of their guns and
we’re talking decimals
of less than one
calculated, calibrated
by the huns of our
time, the ones who
made the guns
the ones who cultivated
the mentalities.

daybreak has come. our
lives are still intact
while some others
didn’t make it through
the night. in these
mad times, poetry
takes up the song
of the late soviet union:
friend to all nations
fortress secure. and
so far the only thing
lodged in my head
is this throbbing
pounding demand for
caffeine, a drum
beating in conscientious
objection to a
hollow war on drugs.


nkosi sikeleli afrika
manifakanyi lupando
Yizwa imatandazo Yethu
nkosi sikelela
thina lusapolwayo.

they were singing
in the fields
the miines, the
barracks and
servants quarters
as they slaved
twenty four, seven.

they were singing
at the demonstrations
in the stadiums
in the shhabeens
the churches, singing
in combat against
their enslavement.

they were singing
in the jails, on
the gallows, at
the funerals to the
stamping of the toie-toie.
the clap of the
explosion of letter
bombs were weak
counterpoints, hollow
thunder of the
twiilight of boer gods
unable to herald a
new time arrived.

and now after
centuries of time
longer than the
hangman’s rope
years and then days
speed along like
the bullets of
umkontho’s guns.

they are singing!
in every corner
from every rooftop
from the abandoned
halls of government

silent for only
a moment, on
the farms of the
transvaal, in
the streets of
the city and
on country roads.

they are singing!
freedomsong for
freedomday hundreds
of years in the
making, millions
of eras predestined.
black and white
brown and copper
men and women
young and old
alongside each
the other waiting
to vote, awaiting
the end of the
day and what it
will bring.

they are singing their song!
they are singing our song!
anthem of both great lands
stained by apartheid.
and it’s one down, and
our yet to go. they
are singing!

woza moya
woza moya
woza moya oyincqwele
nkosi sikelela
thina lusapolwayo.

at wally’s (for luis Rodriguez)

on a
saturday night
the notes
and the thunder
of electric
guitar, electric
organ and the
ecstatic sax
drums, and
cymbals fire
and thunder
through the dark
tracer bullets
the sources
of our
genocide. on

a good
saturday night
has wrapped us
in a mantle
of salvation while
we fire
our staccato
total rhythmic
music, a statement
to those who
would destroy existence
that creation makes
no junk

nixon in moscow

he walked slowly, wreath
in hand, the premier
aside him. he walked
toward one of the many
tombs of the known
and unknown twenty
million. in the background
the red army orchestra
blared the national
anthem that proved that
a song of patriotism
can be writ large
sung well, and that
mobs need not be drunk
to sing in tune, on key.

they might have brought
out the chorus to sing
the words, but that stanza
about having fought
for the future, destroyed
the invader, like what
was happening that very
moment in vietnam, might
very well have freed
the phlebitic clot in
his leg, and touched
off such international
scuttlebutt of the kind
of which you know
mama russia raised no
children that dumb.

—Gary Hicks

Poem by Tontonguy

Ayibobo1 for brother Mumia Abu-Jamal

It’s a great day to hope
well into the row’s nightmare
in the darkness of pain
and tears through the body’s pores
betrayed by the sun and light
confined in the solitary hole of silence
away from into and under
society’s spell and living in hell
deprived of the aroma of food
and spirit and spices and sweetness
and salty joyfulness of sexual goodness
all gone to the abyss of the row’s madness!

Oh! Today is a great day to hope
that this forestial man of nowhere
last blood of the deep Congolese line
that this voice of nowhere
voice of the desperados voiceless
voice from the madness of being
voice of Mumia our comrade
will penetrate our abused conscience!

Mumia’s metamorphosis from hell kid
to coldly cop killer and hero in death row
was already being plotted for fateful demise
since the beginning of the trap to harm hope
harm its element of fire
until l’enfant terrible jumped back to yell!
Yell his innocence by virtue of cosmic truth!

Whomever may this scourged soul be
that took Officer Faulkner’s life on that day
in full boastful viva while blood paved the ways
is now lost somewhere in despair
part of the pathology of collective killing!
Whether you kill or let this Mumia live
his specter will continue to haunt
haunt our memory our space our peace:
“I still sojourn in hell”
said he dreadfully the day of the stay.

It’s a great day to hope, hope indeed
that the delirium nausea of horror
and the street-level holocaust of our dream
in that morbid day on a Philadelphia street
where souls that fight
children that dream
birds that fly
and MOVE people reclaiming humanity2
were calcined in great indifference
gone in flames
and blown away in words of beauty
words of the beatified soul of death
words of what is said and is done
words of media enlightened hatred
will cease their strangulation of destiny!

It’s a great day to hope
that Sacco and Vanzetti will rejoice
and reclaim death’s greatness
in their graves and their nanm3
and reshape the ideals of being.
It’s a great day to hope and demand
that we stop the slaughter of life, stop
the dismantlement of energy, light, horizon!
A good day to banish sorrow
or life in death row or any society’s row:
Hopeful is the day of Abu-Jamal’s freedom!

—TontonGuy Boston, August 1995


1.Ayibobo is an expression in the Haitian voodoo rituals that means literally “Hail to the spirits”
2.MOVE, a radical Black politico-spiritual movement whose headquarters were bombed and burnt to the ground by the Philadelphia police department in 1985; 11 people were killed, including children, 53 houses destroyed and 265 people made homeless by the blasts.
3.Nanm is a Haitian Creole word meaning together soul, spirit, consciousness, intelligence.

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