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Poetry in English

Poems by Vilvalex Calice

The Nile in my Backyard

Untitled abstract painting by Rhoda Netchinsky, circa 1990.

Mothers and Cities, abstract painting by Rhoda Netchinsky, circa 1990.

I know why,
salmons swim upstream,
in search of new beginnings.

I know why,
little streams
creep up to the nearby creeks,
then together rush to the river.

I know why,
the river meets the ocean,
in search of strength in Unity.

I know why,
the Nile in my backyard,
must survive tides of acculturation,
to find its source downstream,
in the Africa of my heart.

I know why,
the confluence of your Nile and mine,
will overflow, a second deluge,
to evanesce the tear drops
from our mothers’ eyes,
to fecundate the lands,
in the Africa of my soul.

I know why,
the lion born in the doghouse,
is startled by its own reflection
in the calm and limpid rhea,
when, newly, discovers
his lustrous mane.

I know why,
the lion held captive in the slums
will reject his subjugation
and soon will crumble
the walls of his crummy jails
with a long and mighty roar.
Bleeding Heart
When human suffering exceeds
Its quotas of endurable pain,
The onslaught of sorrow spills
Over the heart on to the streets;
The effervescence of rage
Swells to paroxysms,
Rivers of tears are never enough
To wash away the blood
On the tarmacs and our
Guilty conscience.
But our sobs must rise volubly
To crush the maddening shrill
Of grieving mothers and others.

If your heart wants to cry,
Without decorum,
Without a modicum of shame,
Let it wail to halt the senseless
Death of another man.

My lips tremble for the writhed hearts
Of those who overdosed
On pain, anger and agony.
Alas! This poet’s words
Are no antidote;
Just a rumpled breeze of epithets
Against the tide of noisome fumes and
Acrid diphthongs of forked tongues.

I am a bleeding heart with an attitude,
Self-appointed and immodest
Edging up the veiled norms
With a pedantic verve in my verbs.

I speak for the poor, the weak,
The abused, the rejected, the oppressed,
The depressed, the pariah, the dead.
I look, with keen and genteel eyes
Under the dress of power,
Undress their failing redress
And expose their doctored truths.

Let the moans of the dying,
The murdered, the executed
Echo in the marble tombs
Of their stony hearts.
Let mine, made of flesh, ooze
The sap of the living in the wounds
Of all the crestfallen souls.
Let my heart bleed,
Please.
A Bed of Tears
Indigo blue is the color of happy sky
Unlike the rainbow on bruised cheekbones
Busted lips, blackened eyelids
And deep red blood shut eyes
From painful days and hurtful nights.

Only sleep interrupts the flow of tears
Even the swell of lacrimal wells
Cannot drown this sorrow each time
Love feigns its presence at the crime scene.
Dream is the only respite.
Fear remains the omnipresent sentinel
Standing guard between him
And her human cargo.
She can’t afford to go incognito
With a baby there is no maybe
He will find them.

Nowhere to run
No plans, no destinations,
No safe distance from the verbal
And the subsequent blows.
She knows.
One can’t escape the bed of tears
When the devil sleeps next to you.

—Vilvalex Calice

Poems by Michèle Voltaire Marcelin

For reasons beyond our control

We live on occupied land
Corpses in every direction
Birds retreat into silence
Homes are mausoleums
Nothing separates the dead
From the living
Besieged for years
The city is under lock and key
Between wailing and eulogy
Books, sorrows, old photographs
What’s left behind is not worth a tragedy
Exile is a personal journey

(May 24, 2021)

Engagement Party

There’s a dream journey
A short path
Between heaven and earth
That leads to the land I love
One day
I will abandon all my other lives
And return home
I’ll climb on my rooftop
Facing the sequined sky
I’ll choose a single star
A dazzling ring to wear
For my betrothal to my city

(May 24, 2021)

—Michèle Voltaire Marcelin

Poems by Sussen Gazal

A Picnic Table for My Birthday

Today is the last day before tomorrow
Tomorrow is the first day of my new journey around the sun
The weather channel said the sun is excited (and so do I)
I could prove it today from the warmth of its golden hugs.

The sun came out calling everyone
To leave our desks, coats and worries behind
Out of the blue we were just kids at the picnic table and
The carrot cake was a sign that Spring will come.

The signs of aging are only funny moles and happy wrinkles,
On my face this smile looks like a sailing boat
Ready to slice this carrot cake my friends chipped in to prove
We are a caring group with a sense of humor,
Sense of taste and sense of right.

Today I got to taste the sense of belonging to this tribe
Folks we borrow from their own families to spend years side by side
Oh boy! It feels good to be celebrated and pampered
They all convinced me birthdays have nothing to do with numbers
Birthdays are the sum of all the people who shaped our lives
From far and wide.

Kissing My Hair

I can’t wait for the thirty-minute breaks I’ve been granted
Every day around the same time I run for freedom
I can’t wait for those thirty minutes of fresh air
Outside the cage, outside the over-decorated prison.

We are letting out, usually, one at a time,
Around noon, around the time free people eat lunch.
I could care less for food, I’m hungry for my legs
I need to feel my hamstrings being stretched out
I bend my neck to let my thoughts grab those fatty clouds.

There’s a period in the morning after I put on my badge
When I feel my thoughts disappear to let in the ones that are not mine.
I repeat people’s thoughts, I hear voices and whispers,
I almost read people’s minds.
I can feel their lips moving, the hesitation suspended in thin air
As if they can’t be reassured that others are willing to finally understand.
Perhaps there’s nothing more difficult than talking like them inside a fish tank
Imagine if you say your pain is ten out of ten
And all that comes out is bla, bla, bla.

My mouth talks for hours and hours,
I follow providers and patients’ threads
I’m people’s echo, I interpret every little breath,
Helping each other out of the way of our death.
Be quiet, I’m listening... Here comes another involuntary step,
Another work-related accident.
I let them speak without the urge to sync,
Without the urge to sink in a bathtub of sorrows
My phone can ring, my beeper can blink
But I’ll never interrupt their anguish or despair.

I can’t wait for those thirty minutes when my voice is back
To my throat and my thoughts are back to my head
In front of me, I have only a zig-zag puzzle of tiny cobbled streets
The only thing I care about is fresh air and the sounds of the leaves
Playing with the wind and the sun kissing my hair.

—Sussen Gazal

Poems by Tontongi

A destroyed building in Mariupol. —photo Reuters; Pavel Klimov, Alexander Ermochenko

A destroyed building in Mariupol. —photo Reuters; Pavel Klimov, Alexander Ermochenko

Mariupol

[As of this writing, April 18, 2022, the southeastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol may fall at any time to the control of the Russian military after a multi-week siege that destroyed 90% of the city. In a recent statement, the mayor of Mariupol, Vadym Boychenko, said that an estimated 21,000 civilians have been killed since the invasion, many of them non-combatant men, women and children. However, Ukraine continues to resist and there are many reasons to hope, even in the prospect of a temporary surrender, that the country’s fight for its right will prevail. To put it in historical perspective, Mariupol has been, over centuries, successively controlled by the Cossacks, the Ottoman Empire, the Russian Empire and the German Nazis, until Ukraine’s independence in 1991 following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.]

Tears flow from my eyes,
And my guts are churning for Mariupol,
Please stay strong, O valorous Mariupol!

Bad enough this war is a choice, made
To deflect the Navalny story in Russia
Still, besieging people to death, with armored
Tanks belching out hell replayed on cable news
Is as horrific as any tragedy of our time.

Yes, I remember the massacres
In Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo,
Lasalin, My Lai, Aleppo, and Srebrenica;
I remember how we justify horrors
In the name of our convictions
Cast in self-interested moral outrage.

I remember the Lakota dead at Wounded Knee,
I remember the annihilation of Blacks in Tulsa,
I remember Guernica, and the Sharpeville massacre
In South Africa to deny Blacks their right to humanhood.
I remember, like the stoic Mariupolians
How the people can transcend evil acts and live,
And hold fast the principles of freedom and justice!

Once the Nazis used Buchenwald and Auschwitz,
Here the invaders use mobile crematoriums,
Like a tourist carries a suitcase, to hide
From our awareness their mayhem and crimes;
Yet no clever subterfuge nor verbal disclaimer
Can erase or refute the truth of this bellicose insanity.

“How do you even process those emotions?,” asked
The TV anchor, moved by so much courage from
A doctor who barely escaped death when her hospital
Was blown up by an airstrike, her tone still frightened
By such incomprehensible human evil:
“A feeling of disaster,” the doctor responded,
“Everything was ruined, I felt desperate,”
She said, “Everything that was dear to your life,
All your life, was ruined with this one blow…
I couldn’t understand what was the fault of our patients,
The children, the doctors who were there helping...
Why was our hospital chosen to be object of the strike?”
She spoke as if she had just awakened from a nightmare
Even after one month after the lamentable event.1

The skeletal remnants of burned, solitary buildings
are haunting the endurance of our consciousness,
crying for an end to acts that cause so much suffering.
Mariupol will live to uphold all nations’ right
To dream, to follow their own destinies.

The type of images the media display
From Mariupol or Bucha and from Kyiv,
Laid out in full view for us all to see
On live television or newspapers’ front page,
Are overlooked when they emanate
from somewhere like Yemen or Mali or Myanmar.
We shall demand that mass killings everywhere
On our Earth be called out, exposed and reviled
In honor of human kinship and solidarity.

Tears flow from my eyes for Mariupol,
Please receive my love from Boston,
May the world come to your aid
Stay strong, O valorous Mariupol!

—Tontongi April 18, 2022

Note

1.On March 9, 2022, an airstrike “ripped through a maternity and children hospital in Mariupol under siege. City officials said at least 17 people were injured in the attack, including children, women and doctors. At least 5 people have died since the attack,” according to the New York Times of March 17th 2022. The interview mentioned in this stanza took place on April 15, 2022, between Dr. Lyudmila Mykhailenko, Acting Director of the bombed Mariupol hospital, and Erin Burnett, anchor of the CNN television program Erin Burnett OutFront.

THE CAUSALITIES OF EVIL

Part I: The Masters of Quake Land

(Dedicated to the victims of Haiti’s 2021 Earthquake)

They lay in wait on the bridge
called Pont Rouge like the blood
on that sweaty October night,
Défilé the Crazy unceremoniously put
the Emperor’s remains in a more dignified place.

The vermin that followed this round
brought terror wrapped as salvation
thus completing in the believers’ eyes
the reverend Robertson’s divine wrath.

It’s the conspiracy of the oil industry
in league with Bord-de-mer exploiters
Grand dons and ambitious politicians
to deplete the land for City Bank of New York.1

We held the hope in the year of the quake
that tragedy could portend better days
even though certain signs of bad faith
would plead vividly for the contrary.

It is not God’s job to bring forth punishment
upon a land cursed by others’ evil deeds
nor is the prayer of the sacristan
the citizens’ sole last words.

Nor could quakes, serial coups d’État
even assassinations of emperors and presidents
undo the original sin of slavery and conquest
through mayhem, subjugation, and faith.

Haiti was born in the name of freedom
and continues to pay for choosing that road;
already Charles X sent fourteen ugly warships
to the Port-au-Prince shore, demanding remittance
for supposed property lost by slave masters!

That ransom was the first quake from Paris
overrun by the Ancien Régime’s false
splendor, flooded in arrogance of power.
Nature wants to teach us the wrong tale,
she chooses the wrong targets and culprits,
these are innocent prey of the same predators.

What about the oil magnates and Wall Street?
the lazy financiers, the sumptuous emirates,
the uncaring bourgeois lost in their neuroses
who supported your villainy with hubris
What will their chastisement be?
How could Rumsfeld die in his sleep?

The US has chosen the moronic QAnon path
instead of all the values it pretends to stand for,
human rights, democratic ideals, justice, and equity
are thrown into the sewers of Jim Crow nostalgia.

No one is innocent on the part of the Earth
made of heroes and lovers of freedom,
and also of jackals and spurious angels
who blew a presidential palace with no qualms
with family and children, and everyone inside.
Who could have set such an awful explosion?2
Here, lies and illusions by unrepentant bourgeois
are made sacred revelations, and cause for jubilation.

Underdevelopment, like degradation,
is a process that stems from long-endured
malfeasance and thievery culminating over
centuries-old evil deeds and madness.
The tectonic fault lines are many,
the universe playing ball with our destinies.

May new generations help forge,
here and everywhere, a new path
toward an inclusive communality,
and build a space of love and care,
a center of beauty to marvel at ease,
even on the darker side of the sun.

Footnotes

1.Following the U.S. occupation of Haiti in 1915, the debt servicing of the French-imposed, crippling Independence indemnity was transferred to the National City Bank of New York, an American bank (now renamed Citi Bank).
2.On August 8th 1912, the Haitian National Palace was blown up by a powder explosion that killed 400 people including the President of the republic, Gen. Cincinnatus Leconte, according to the New York Times.

Part II: The Intersection of Suffering and Resistance

(Dedicated to Van Hardy)

Slave hunters on horseback
cavalierly aiming the lasso
moving like owners of stolen lands,
this time it’s the Rio Grande,
reminiscent of bygone Wild West conquest,
mayhem, rape, and torture
of other inhabitants of the land;
yes, just like yesterday.

Yes, Thomas Jefferson,
you strangled Haiti’s dream
with your 58-year embargo
against the newly free, rebellious
Maroons resisting France’s rule,
their struggle helped the United States
acquire lucrative new Gulf States,
doubling the future Empire’s living space.1

Yes, you, Woodrow Wilson,
blemished the Haitian people’s hopes
with your sacrilegious violation
of Jean-Jacques Dessalines’s resting place.
O land of freedom becoming land to flee from!

Mass deportations in the 21st century, like sheep
unknowingly en route to the slaughterhouse
handled with no process nor care;
revived flutters of the earthquakes’ horrors
when beautiful bodies grabbed like rubbish
were thrown in the common pit.

While the Mayflower was welcomed
with gifts of knowledge, flowers and food,
you bring up your hateful, violent cowboys,
as if chasing vultures on a vast savannah
and not suffering and sanguine human beings;
what a horrible sight
what a failure of empathy!

It’s a causality chain of calamities
and a correlation of malfeasance;
it’s the failure of a whole state of things.
It’s certainly hard to explain the despair
that makes people brave
many adversarial horrors
and misfortunes paving their way
to find a better life, to achieve
a more decent condition of existing.

It’s the causality that establishes
and nurtures a thuggish State
and permits it to prosper
on the south flank of paradise.

It’s the Columbus reflex in reverse,
the repelling trajectory,
Haiti the beautiful
turned a hellish and menacing enclave
amid dictators, tonton-macoutes,
corrupt débrouillards State minions,
kidnappers in dark alleys
Bourgeois sans conscience
and neocolonials from overseas.

It’s the end-product of dreams
based on Bon Papa taking charge
of all your problems and aspirations;
the fall-out from the voracity
of the Haitian Big Eater class,
those jackals who don’t mind the dirt roads
along their mansions made on foreign soils.
Those who aligned themselves with evils
to keep the populace under control.

It is the political causality
blended in oppression
revamped by exclusion
that neither Biden nor Obama
nor Trump could fully comprehend,
they who deported by the thousands
the refugees from lost lands.

The causalities of evil
and their many facets
involve the intersection
of suffering and resisting.

A system that kills
and rationalizes it away
as a narrative of Barbarians
invading and destroying properties
is the same that beats up refugees
at the borders and elsewhere.

Barbaric is the Wisconsin state law
allowing earnestly for judge and jury
to be chosen à la carte
just to let a killer go
and get way with murders.2

It is the same transatlantic causation
the one that brought people
like produce and sheep to the marketplace;
the same interwoven determinants
waving across the Andes,
through the Caribbean or the Pacific
that compress life’s flow
within the confines of greed,
a vision to dominate,
to pacify,
to wipe out the Other.

The causalities of evil
bring about the resistance
of alterity leading the battle
for human sublimity.

It’s the same people
at governance
or head of board
the same gentrifying machine
that throws whole neighborhoods
into turmoil and hardship,
re-zoning as a tool for an Others-free zone.

It is the vision of Van Hardy
and the brothers and sisters of Union United
Somervillians of heart and nerve
along with Books of Hope,
the Media Center in the middle of the square
and the Welcome Project
embracing newcomers
from many continents
from many perimeters of pain,
using their praxis
in the name of beauty.

Yes, this is beauty,
the knock on the doors
to reveal to the neighbors’ consciousness
misdeeds done in their names.

Yes, it’s the constellation of hope,
a vocation to have the struggle serve
as a long march to expand the horizon,
spread the wealth for the betterment of all,
the fulfillment and always revealing
quest for justice and decency
the pursuit of the pleasure in living.

Yes, solidarity with all wretched of the Earth!
Asylum for all the refugees!
May we join together to undo the causalities of evil!

—Tontongi November 27, 2021

Footnotes

1.Because of his defeat in Saint Domingue (the name the French gave Haiti) by the Black rebel armies of Toussaint and Dessalines, Napoléon Bonaparte was compelled to sell the French Louisiana territories to the United States in order to finance his war against England. The Louisiana Purchase, as it became known, extended United States sovereignty across the Mississippi River, nearly doubling the size of the country. The purchase included land from fifteen current U.S. states and two Canadian provinces.
2.Allusion to the acquittal verdict of Kyle Rittenhouse on November 19, 2021, for killing two white men, and badly wounding a third who came to support a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Harvard University during the snowstorm of February 2022.

Harvard University during the snowstorm of February 2022.

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