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Poetry in English

Poem by Tontongi

As Baghdad Burns

«Plénitude» huile sur toile, par Jacqueline Day-Goutier, in Haitian Art in the Diaspora

Plénitude, oil on canvas, by Jacqueline Day-Goutier, in Haitian Art in the Diaspora, day.goutier.art@sympatico.ca

As Baghdad burns
also are burning real people
and an important part of us all;
you are bombing everything
for the pretense of saving liberty;
you want the disaster to be great
until you’ll be feared as specter of horror,
O poverty of human conceit!
Or until we are willing to go to the streets
of New York and London and Cairo
and everywhere the human spirit is alive
to demand that ignorance be no longer
a pretext to suppress the soul.

As Baghdad burns
I decide to relent nothing at all:
How do you cry for a people in pain
be you Osama Bin Laden or George W. Bush?
You sure not need be a genial demiurge
to kill millions in cold off-handedness.
We’re all fighting for Baghdad’s survival
with our blood and cries and dreams
and our ideals for life.
Will the invaders stop the fire when the sun comes?
Will they stop when the lilacs spread their charm,
when pain is no longer the object?

“The wounds of war have scarred the landscape
from the Euphrates to the crumbling schoolhouse
where the artillery rounds exploded,” said the
Boston Globe in subtle rendering of hell.
Shock and awe warned Rumsfeld, we have been
surely shocked and awed and ashamed of the blood
spilled along the Tigris at prayer time.
The woman with long veil could very well be
the Boston churchgoer mom along the waterfront;
she could have been Ann Frank hidden by the stairs
before the last remembrance had faded in absence.
Yet I shall render testimony for another fight
where might is the least favored path
among many choices for human salvation!

As Baghdad burned and the war plan switched gears
from carrots and flowers to the best killing round,
a few wise men and women sang the last song
for peace before the next missiles hit,
or for simple survival
in moment of horrors’ lore,
at least until peace is made the last sacred creed.
Still the attackers through laser
and sexed-up data launched with PowerPoint
the grandiose machination to blow up villages
as cleansing providential missions to purify Iraq;
God on the side of the oil managers
they have made everyone a moron
or a bleeding-heart softy on terrorists
or an enemy combatant on the run.

In great abundance of vivid energy
my heart nevertheless tremors with malaise
from the pain of such a inhumane cruelty;
I cry for what is in store for the Iraqi jobless
exposed to the elements and the void;
my heart aches from the despair in the eyes
of this mother who chose caesarean-section
to preempt the worst-case scenario of war;
my heart aches for the humiliation visited
upon a proud people
and for such a benevolence
toward world destruction;
my heart aches for the twenty-year-old G.I.
made sacrificial lamb for Halliburton’s aims.

And when even distress
and blood failed to deter good conscience
only the power of your almighty greed,
you said, shall prevail through the myopia
set by corporate goals
only this time Tikrit is not E.R.
nor is it Disney Land.

The king from the Somalian lost kingdom
will join with the Haitian bourgeois anpenpan
in excitement to highlight glory
and illusion of happiness
on Fifth Avenue à la Madame Marcos
exulted from excitement
through death from the sky
angels of though
unsurpassable love,
dispenser of wonders
and immaterial death.

When all is seen and done
after the adjustment to horror
has completed its fix
when buddy Kabel had not returned
and Theresa was made a pain-filled stock
and old Baghdad was all in flames;
when millions of families cried in silence
for the glory of the beast and past feast
and not for the slaughter of the G.I.
an high school dropped-out from the ’hoods,
you known my friend,
the immaterial, lifeless being,
virtual cadaver in real war
is not always even a stranger—
we all share millions years of history
and bad faith.

You have killed to make sense
of the war and that was the dictum
of America the cradle of freedom.
I wouldn’t want seeing Port-au-Prince my hometown
or any side street of my lovely neighborhood
be calcined in shock-and-awe madness.
If you live along the Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn,
then your neighbor may not talk to you anymore,
no more hypocrisy, he said, you are the enemy,
the Arab, the Easterner, the Southerner, the Other,
you can as well drink yourself to death
until the next purgatory transit.

As Baghdad burns
tears are no longer enough to redeem the losses;
the lost land and glory of past time have evaporated
to the dustpans of irrelevance;
media-hate-filled zombie
you are, my friend, if your conscience is in peace
and your ideals could be made to support horrors
even in the darker corners of the Earth—
you must call, my friend, for something else;
ignorance is no longer a pretext to suppress the soul.

—Tontongi Boston, March 2003

Poem by Vilvalex Calice

January 1, 1804–January 1, 2004

Today is your birthday
and we can’t celebrate.
I stand here bare hearted,
teary eyed, humming
the last refrain of our
national anthem;
hymns to Freedom
strumming fibers of my soul,
whispering the last verse
of the victorious narrative
from our ancestral exemplars.

some of my brethren
treat you like a prostitute:
selling your soul,
people and private parts.
Do not fear beloved,
we will be here
for the next two-hundred years
when all these traitors,
fools, goons and loony tunes
will be digested food
in the bellies of
worms and cockroaches.

Your true sons
will free up the space
and spread on the trade wind
their call for progress,
their unbending resolve
to liberate our land
from the machinery
of economic servitude,
to remedy the horrible experience
of our brothers and sisters.
Vesperal whispers will glow
beyond the silence of fear,
above the constraints of despair
to release hope and gifts caught up in the folds
of chilly septentrional gust,
tumult beneath the sails
of your feral, redoubtable soul,
trying to waft ashore
in this tempest of lies and calumny.

We’ll bring Teflon lining for your back
to protect you from sneak attacks
from your pretending friends
long caressing the dream
of enslaving you,
We’ll bring metal collar
to shield your precious neck
from the lynching of your pride,
daily, on the six o’clock news
by afro-Saxons and rednecks
from countries abroad
who loathe and despise you
for trying to break the shackles
of mental and psychological slavery.

Haïti! We’ll bring back
knowledge and ideas
to unbridle visions of your past,
good tools for your apprenticeship
in participatory Democracy
and your Social Justice experiments
Remember! Your detractors
are the ones supporting
your malefactors.
But, your atavistic artisans
will rebuild the frames
of your true destiny
to the specifications of our dreams
despite the onslaught of your enemies.

Haïti! For 200 years,
you stood erect and proud
enduring the evil machinations
of slavers, colonizers, warmongers
and, like an obelisk
of famed, ruined empire…
Still standing,
relic of your own future,
fragments to be whole again
in time-lapsed reconstruction
of the first Black Republic,
emerged from the one
and only successful rebellion
of enslaved Africans
in the World.

Happy Birthday beloved!

—Vilvalex Calice

Poem by Paul Laraque

(excerpts from Solda Mawon, translated by Tontongi)

The Maroon Soldier

It’s the life of a Jeremi boy
the legend of an old soldier
entwined with the history
of all Maroons of Haiti

where are you going little bird
I am going to Font Augustin
where are you going little bird
I’m spinning like a peg-top
all around Jeremi’s streets

the children are playing
in Font Augustin
escaping chicks
when you catch a girl
all your body quivers

how marvelous hopscotch is
in Font Augustine
you open your arms like a wing
your dress opening in the sky
you leg becoming the light.

we’re playing hide-and-seek
in Font Augustin
we hide together
our hearts are beating together
I wanna give you a kiss

escaping chicks
in Font Augustin
pass-her-the-hidden-charm, yes sire
and hold-it-for-me-too, yes sire
I am reminiscing of my youth

miracle or magic
the sea burst open to let Moses go
science fiction or technology
all doors can open without a key

in the heart of the night
a horse well accoutered
in the street galloping
without a horseman

in the middle of the crossroad
a pig with seven candles
lighted on its head’s top
asks you where you’re going

in the heart of the night
if you see a cute gal
you must not walk with her
she will sleep in the cemetery

in the middle of the crossroad
if you hear someone cry
it’s master you know whom
who’s beating the zombie

Alis crosses through the mirror
to reach the land of wonders
Jeni enters into a bottle
all dead walks in the dark

in the mango’s fountain
there’s no mango or fountain
but in the time long past
there was water

behind Doctor Oden’s house
there are mountains covered with trees
behind Doctor Oden’s house
the mountains stretch until the plain.

the children have assembled
to play Maroon-soldier
the children have assembled
to divide brave from coward

we run through the woods
we run through the mountains
I am a slave who broke the chains
I am a maroon slave

I don’t know if I am brave
I don’t know if I am a coward
I know only one thing
I don’t wanna be enchained

I’m running I’m running
I bump into Cacique Henry
the first maroon of Haiti

before that
I met with Caonabo
whom the colons had killed
I met with Anacaona
whom Ovando had killed
a whole race
that the Spaniards had killed
that the Portuguese had killed
that the French had killed
a whole race
that the white colons had killed
a whole race
that the capitalist had killed

after that
I met Mackandal and Boukman
Oje and Chavannes
whom the French colons had killed
I met with Toussaint
whom Bonaparte had killed
a whole race
the whites had captured as wild beasts
a whole race
they had uprooted as a wild plant
a whole race
they put behind a cage
a whole race
they held under chains of slavery.
Soon as the Whites killed off the Arawacks
Soon as the Whites killed off the Africans
The Negroes started killing Negroes

I met Toussaint’s nephew Moïse
whom Toussaint himself had killed
I met Charles and Sanite Belair
whom Dessalines had killed
I met Dessalines
whom Christophe and Pétion had killed
I met Charlemagne Péralte
whom Conzé and the Yankees had killed
I met Benoît Batraville
whom American and Haitian squad had killed
I met Alexis and Brisson
whom Duvalier and the Americans had killed

Whites kill Blacks
Whites kill Whites
Blacks kill Whites
Blacks kill Blacks
in every race
there’s class struggle
in every society
there’s exploiters and exploited
skin colors don’t matter
what matters
is the struggle of slaves against masters
burning houses cutting heads
it’s the struggle of exploited of all colors
against all exploiters on earth

I’m running I’m running
into Haiti’s history
and into the history of all countries

in the time long past
there was a country
that was called Haiti
a long long past time

death has taken us in retail
before it takes us at wholesale
death is sucking us
before it swallows us

what a sorrow upon us
nothing has endured for us

we’re eating misery
misery is eating us

we’re eating shame
shame is eating us

we’re eating the whip
the whip is eating us

we’re eating death
death is eating us

what a sorrow upon us
nothing is left for us

a whole people has become children
children they are nursing to sleep
to keep them from being eaten by crabs
a whole people has become children

a whole people has become zombies
zombies they put to work
for a soulless clique’s sake
a whole people has become zombies

a whole people has become boat-people
running from the river’s flow
ending up at high seas
a whole people has become boat-people

a whole people has become prisoners
trading Haiti’s dungeons
for Miami’s concentration camp
a whole people has become prisoners

But liberty will not die
if you’re ready to die for it
Karl Marx is talking with Toussaint Louverture
Lenin is chatting with Dessalines

Soon we become masters of our destiny
we shall have no more masters
Haiti will not die
if we’re ready to die for it

(…) God will not save us
there’s no savior to save us
what which will save us
is weapon and revolution

Queen Sun has risen up
Comrade General Sun has stood up
liberty will not die
if we’re ready to die for it.

—Paul Laraque
translated from Haitian Creole by Tontongi

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