Home page • Table of Contents • Send your writings and e-mail to: Editors@tanbou.com

Poetry in English

Poem by John Ripton

the archbishop

on a mountain above Pétionville
a new archbishop conducts mass
in a parfait of colors and class
from ebony to ivory

down in Bel Air
beneath plastic sheets
amid shattered concrete
no one gives a shit

nou akeyi ou
we welcome you
spray painted walls proclaim

in Cité Soleil’s dumps
children use staves
to find something to eat
or sell on the streets

the archbishop gives thanks
for fortunes bestowed
and places pale wafers
on silent dark tongues

while in the clerestory
anxious to leave
lily-skinned Haitians
begin their descent

a heavy rain falls
on plastic and tin
it doesn’t let up
for Mercedes or Jeeps

in fog and rain
people take showers
scrubbing themselves
with grasses and sand

the tremors have passed
the buildings knocked down
from the quake or the bribes
no one dares say

too much sand
and too many bribes
and too little cement
now dust over bones

tomorrow pick-ups
and NGO jeeps
pass USAID tents
at Pétionville’s light

air-conditioned Toyotas
their windows rolled up
aid workers sip coffee
accept coupons for food

two street sweepers flash brooms
brush metal and glass
to the edge of the street
as aid passes them by

on Bel Air’s walls
spray paint still screams
we need Aristide!
the rich and chic leave!

a young woman sells candy
from a rickety table
her empty plastic sandals wait
for her feet and somewhere to go

blue-helmeted Peacekeepers
keep poverty at peace
and no one cleans latrines
mired in swamps

rain falls hard again
surges down Pétionville’s slopes
past mambos in candle-lit windows
into the dark city’s streets

Damballah’s rises from street swales
his lightning rips open dark skies
his waters lash passersby
hillsides calve into rivers

at last the archbishop appears
swept into the currents
his arms thrash
and his cross trails behind

he enters Port-au-Prince
flat on his back
his white vestments torn away
and grovels in muck for something to eat

a naked archbishop
but nobody cares
not even the pigs
in Cité Soleil

now he sells crosses
enameled gold crosses
suspended from chains
at a market downtown

when enough crosses and chains
hang from black necks
the archbishop lifts a gold chalice
to give thanks to his lords

(summer 2010)

—John Ripton

Poems by Tontongi

I Heard The Voice of The Wife

(Dedicated to Keith Scott, an African-American who was killed in Charlotte, North Carolina, on September 23, 2016, right in front of his wife Rakeyia Scott)

I heard her voice
direct as an intonation
imploring you not to kill
her husband without any judgment.
“It’s the same old, my friend,” I said,
the bartender and his friend concurred;
the same old impunity of power
the same structure erected though the ages,
Jim Crow version 21st century.

I heard her voice
impregnated of fore-sighting pain
telling you a human being was there,
a human with red blood and a conscience
and family and friends who would mourn
the odious act you intended to commit.

I heard her voice
but yours was the yell of death,
the blindness that covered the horrors,
yours was the silence of injustice.

I heard her voice
the agony of seeing the inevitable
unfolding like a horror movie,
the cry for you to listen to a voice
other than that of your fear and bigotry.

Tell me, how do you explain
that you no longer lynch the black man
on a tree in the light of the day
and still ambush him nights and days
and kill him scornfully like a rat?

Tell me, how do you invoke
ideals of civilization and rights,
rights of human beings to freedom
and yet let your police unrestrained
like hunting dogs in search of preys?
Those perhaps are bad apples blemishing good apples
but you let the bad apples kill without accountability
for the pain they have unnecessary caused.
Tell me, how do you let
the narrowness of your egoistic impulses
be elevated as normalized values?

(When killing is justified in war of conquest
it reverberates in the conqueror’s back yard,
it penetrates his soul and the fiber of his brain
and all figment of his imagination;
it’s the chain of macabre deeds
from General Barry McCaffrey who killed with sadistic fervor
retreating Iraqi troops adhering to a cease-fire call
along the Highway of Death, a carnage young Timothy McVeigh
had witnessed as an active actor sullied in blood and mayhem;
it had penetrated his soul and haunted his emotions,
the next thing we knew he blew up in cavalier attitude
and hubris the Oklahoma City’s Federal Building
where a great number of people lost their lives.)

The culture of killing permeates all our senses
as symbiotic chemical elements in action;
it invades our doxa and ego as fetish and thrill.
You killed in the street not your fear
but a father or a son en route to their own endeavor;
you killed in the dark of the night
or under the spotlight of our eyes
a human who had caused you no harm.

(The culture of killing mines your good old sense
manipulated as it is by the Military-Informativo-Industrial
Complex’s input oiled by wars and human suffering;
it adds value to IRA’s business boom
and security on-demand provided by Halliburton.
All parts of a diabolic chain of hurt, exclusion
and eco-degradation in a vicious circle only human action
can undo and reverse to give place to a better world.)

Yes, I heard her voice
forceful, direct, full of dignity,
telling you, telling us to stop your massacre
of black men’s lives and aspirations.
“Don’t shoot him, don’t shoot him!” she pleaded,
“He didn’t do anything,” her voice intonated
in the silence interrupted by the fatal sound of the gun.
“He doesn’t have a gun, he has a traumatic brain injury.”
“Don’t shoot him, don’t shoot him!” she implored.

You killed because your cowardice
is nourished by hatred of the Other
whose gesture was seen as a threat.
You are so entrenched in yourself and shelve
you are ready to kill and cause pain.
Yes, black lives also matter as do all other lives!

Yes, I heard the voice of the wife
and also those of the protestors,
the voices of the brave women and men
of Fergusson, of Baltimore, of Charlotte
and all over the USA and the world
who are crying out loud that Black Lives Matter
and demanding for justice to flourish
and for the respect of all humans’ rights and dignity.

(Cambridge, September 2016)

A Word of Wisdom To The Disappointed Voters

After the glory days of 1789
Came Napoleon the butcher of freedom;
Then came the Restoration of the ancien régime.
After the parricide of the Pont Rouge in Haiti
Came two hundred years of oppression,
Then the hope of a better tomorrow.

After the valorous struggle and the sacrifices consented
By Tubman, Brown, Douglass and Lincoln to elevate
Our living together toward higher aims and decency,
Came Post-Reconstruction with its Jim Crow horrors.
After King’s dream and Malcolm’s defiance comes today
the nightmare of Trump inviting us to the abyss of hate.

Thus the circle continues but hope still remains alive;
History is a long journey of unknown turns.

Trump is today our turn and challenge,
The cries for hatred, exclusion and lynching
Will have passed as an aberration of the soul
If we counter them with our collective will
To building a better life and a wonder of being.

The Trumps and the Le Pens of our world
Are symptoms of expected madness to come.
Our endeavor is a betting on what is best in all of us.
Nightmares come and go still the day brightens,
The day to rejoice of our shared lives goes on.
A democratic election can go right or left
But the struggle for a better world is an on-going pursuit.

Our aspirations will remain
As long as our dreams live on;
Our days can be made of despair
And regrets and deceits that we’re not proud of
But remember my friend, today will soon be gone,
But tomorrow will brighten a brand new day.
The struggle for a better life is our collective fate,
And life offers always an opportunity to reinvent our being.
We must not return to the darkness of years passed;
Our path to the beauty of being together remains illuminating.

(November 9, 2016)


Poem by Natasha Labaze

I Am Hungry

I am hungry for a poem
I am
starving for letters
cooked into words
that emit an aroma
of understanding
an aura of love and

I am hungry for letters
that will weave a colorful
tapestry of joy
to shield the already
saddened from the daily
breaking news of
human hands stopping
human hearts.

I am searching among
the shelves of supermarkets
for words to create a recipe
whose secret lies in
healing the hurt
who feel a need to hurt back
letters to anoint
the bruised hands and
feet of those who have
endured more than my
letters can spell.

A spell of letters
a cauldron of stirred words
that will rouse the hearts
of leaders, soldiers, young men
trained to starve for
the blood of newborns
whose umbilical cords were
severed before their lips
learned how to suckle
their mothers’ milk.

I am hungry
for words to rock
to sleep childless
mothers and fathers
siblingless brothers
and sisters.

I starve for words
to lure
young boys trained
to hold uzis
before they can
steadily hold a
pencil to search
for letters to
remind them of
back home under a tin
roof hosting baked bread
a mother’s or a father’s
and lots of love, love, love
words to help them learn what
it is to understand, be confused
words that elicit the power
of compassion.

I am hungry for letters to
cast a spell that will free
kidnapped daughters and sons
I am searching in the
jungles of blinded drugged
human souls for letters
to convince and compel
those who hold the gun
cuddled against their heart
to stop
lead lost daughters and
sons back home under the
spell of love and safety.

I pick through
the dumpsters
of rotten words of hate
murder, genocide
in hopes of finding letters
that will drive away
the man’s
the woman’s
loneliness as he
she grabs a needle
filled with poison
a hunger so deep
so blind he
she needs to poke a hole
through her skin
a hunger so gut wrenching he
she injects a needle
of desperation
into her parched vein
now starving
for chemicals
that can exhume one
to infernal heights
just as it can enshroud
one in living

I am searching
in vain to fill the
veins of the hurt
confused and lonely
eyes red yearning
for the next fix
young face already
looking old not
with wrinkles but
with skin pulled taut
stretched to cover
all the bones of the living
dead whose mind and
soul under a spell of a fix
reach for that needle
the breaking point
the breaking news
reveals the daily

I am looking
for strings of letters
and fortifying twine
to weave a net
and catch sparkling silver
fish streaked with the blueness
of peace
fish that can be magically
to feed dry parched
lips whose tongues
have only tasted for days
the bloody chipped
rotten enamel.

A confetti of letters
swirl above my head
like a halo of
words I cannot reach
words that cannot teach
that war, poverty, hunger,
man-struck deaths of bullet
Should cease.
I am hungry…

The Red Gate

pay Haiti a visit.
It came
Today, I did not
lurking on my

The scorching benevolent
had not stroked
my head
since we tucked
my mother’s
worn body
in Haiti’s

Haiti’s visit
so warm
so clear
so unexpected
Even the computer screen
vanished before my eyes.

The image
of the red sliding gate
under a cooling sun
of our once family
just stood there in
the forefront of my mind.

The home my mom
could visit only
when her arthritis riddled
fled the 40 hour week
to go home only
for a bit to
and rekindle
her bones
to rekindle
the laughter.

Just like that
with no airfare
I landed facing the
red gate
Moist dusty hill
leading down to the
sliding red gate
Dust wet with
the damp smell
and taste of impending rain

The red gate
The deep green bush
with shy peeking red hibiscus
the red petals
the yellow pistils
intimately leaning
Reminding New York-born
me that
I have arrived
on the soil
of my mother’s
bones turned dust.

The red sliding gate
remains shut
at the crossroads of
streets whose names I
no longer remember

—Natasha Labaze

Poem by Selwyn McClean

Amerikkka Goddam!

Tell me, what is this macabre ritualism that connects white
Amerikkka with Black bodies?
What is this morbidity, this continuum of white men standing next to
Black bodies, like trophied public spectacle?
This never-ending fatality where hooded white vigilantes terrorize with impunity
Where armoured robo-cops in G.I. gear occupy bunkered “ghettos”
Where naked hostility and deadly force become the final remedy
From slavery to the surveillanced homeland
From the birth of a nation to the new jim crow
Black bodies on public display
Black bodies, transplanted and traded
Black bodies, terrorized and traumatized
Black bodies, marketed and incarcerated
Black bodies, christianized and narcotized
Black bodies that don’t matter
Black bodies on display
Like strange fruits on sacrificial trees
They sway
Black bodies on display
Like bleeding road-kill on asphalt streets
They lay
Black bodies on public display
Black bodies with mutilated genitalia
Black bodies with bullet-filled holes
Black bodies, objectified and dehumanized
Black bodies, abused under siege
Black bodies that can’t breathe
I see six cops, forty-one bullets
I see ten cops, sixty bullets
Sometimes, sixty-one for good measure
Always many
Good cops doing their duty
So impotent is their humanity
We are really scared for our garrisoned lives
We feel like kids in the face of Black demonic hulks, even with their hands up
Murdered sons and daughters
Murdered fathers and brothers
Murdered grandmas and sisters
That boy was just twelve years old
She was seven as she laid asleep
That grandma was eighty-something
That boy was only eighteen
And, that old man? Everybody used to call him Pops
All, Black bodies on display
Black bodies on display
With abstract rights, abstract laws, abstract protection,
abstract justice, abstract equality, abstract democracy
Black bodies on display
With real terror, real oppression, real injustice, real bullets, real death
This Amerikkka
Where violence is an ideology, a twisted logic of brute force
Where terror is the violence of choice
Where the choice is to kill, always
Where the justification is to dominate
Black bodies on display
This Amerikkka
“We the people…”
No, “We the (white) people”
We, with the selective amnesia about freedom
We, self-deluded leaders of the “free world”
We, self-conferred exceptionalists
We, with diminished morality
We, narcissistic patriots
Engulfed in self-exaltation and hubris
Democracy, a colossal myth-hood, scorned
Is this your final solution to the “Negro problem”, Amerikkka?

Selwyn McClean © December 8, 2014, Toronto, Canada, seljmc@aol.com

Poems by Aidan Rooney

In Diquini

In a passionate, long-cambering bid
to make it out onto the Saint Rock road
and up the mountain, past boys on hunkers
outside Baptist and Adventist churches,
breaking rubble down to rock and aggregate,
past the Miami numbers chalked on slate,
past grazing pigs and cocks, past the beatings
oil-drums get in Fair Trade Art, the bleatings
of Pay-1-Forward goats, across from Père
Auto Body Parts Works, over
the hospital wall, top-dressed in cement
and the halves of broken bottles, hell-bent
on getting out, unscathed by razor-wire
snagged on rusted, twisted pegs of rebar,
and looking to graft itself to you, to me,
the Bougainvillea, in Diquini.


Come see here
no sign of war,
or peace, moreover.

Come closer
to a dark whose color
will seal your heart.

Come here see
the misery,
the need in every
needy eye.

Come take
the measure of my bother
after the earthquake
took my brother.

Come see
new royalty
swill and swoon
water we spoon.

At a grand table
sat at by the devil
and his retinue,
come see what you can do.

Come and get a little air,
come bring your light to bear
on a brighter future.
Come, make it clear.

—-Translated by Aidan Rooney from the original poem “Vini” by Darlene Skylie Pierre

Poems by Kiki Wainwright

This painting is a mess…

Houses and shops on Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai Street in Saigon.

Houses and shops on Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai Street in Saigon —photo by David Henry

No matter how life is painted now
white over black,
red, the color of blood
or green, the hope that changes are imminent,
this painting’s a mess…

No matter how the lower class
struggles in bad weather,
the big boss always has sunshine;
a bad day for him is death for others,
this painting’s a mess…

No matter what the big corporations
or the G-8 say about easing off foreign debts
or never-ending poverty
by adding more colors to their speeches
or changing the motif of their work,
this painting’s a mess.

No matter the shape of the easel
or the brand of paint
or the type of brush they use to mask the truth,
this painting’s still a mess,
a big dirty mess.
It’ll stay that way
until the proletarians of the world
seize the brushes from the rulers
and make their own painting,
a more humane one,
a painting full of love and understanding,
a painting with the colors of true life.

The gardener

Every day
when I wake up
I plant a bit of sun
in the garden
of my existence,
and I wait patiently
to harvest the essence of life
in every season.

(Excerpted from Tambour de la Libération/Tanbou Liberasyon/Drum of Liberation, Trilingual Press, 2016)

Home Page • Table of Contents • Send your writings and your letters to: Editors@tanbou.com