Tanbou logo

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



Poems in English

Poems by Danielle Legros-Georges

The List Grows
(for my grandmother)

They sent you back by boat
to a familiar shore.
Your son and daughter with you
your wife had passed safely.
You hid first in Mirebalais
then in Port-au-Prince
where they arrested you,
disappeared you for two days.
Yvon Desanges, I know
only of your voyage,
and your image after:
your brow missing each eye,
your mouth without its tongue,
your left ear lost to a field,
your face mined like a birthing
star. Your face is still beautiful.
It blazes to lay bare
your faceless assassins
who could not
disfigure you.

Yvon Desanges: a youth organizer and vocal Lavalas supporter, murdered in the spring of 1994 in Port-au-Prince

PASSAGE

Your bright night of eyes over
Shadows of my unlit dreams
guide me back to the living,
to you.

EYE IN EYE

I pressed a finger to an eye
saw in orange-
black brilliance
my eye:
pupil, a black hole,
all light going in
diameter of a collapsed star
intense vision field
time cut
in instance stopped
a circle dropped like
water back to source.

Count down.

Propelled as I was by
this sight, might
as I tried to
define it—a thing,
an organism
skimmed across film
like a DNA string
code to something
past and now
gone, it too descended
was gone
leaving me hole,
eye in eye.

THREE MEN SIT ON A WOODEN PORCH
(for Chester outside the general store, Alabama)

The third with glasses reflecting
the photographer’s back, unwilling
to be trapped by a lens.

The middle man in a wise smile
whiles it seems until
the image-taker leaves.

The first, the one on the left
holds a pant leg that once
contained a leg, laughs,

quick—opens and closes one eye
like a shutter,
send me a wink.

MRS. JEAN-LOUIS LISTENING TO THE DOCTOR

“The red mark on your daughter’s cheek
is not a birthmark but a parasite,”
says the doctor.

He reiterates,
“a PA-RA-SITE.”

“Most people in the world
live with parasites.
Here, we are lucky.”

PORT-AU-PRINCE PYROTECHNICIAN

Do you know your casualties?
It is the girl in from the heat,
her red-and-blue hair ribbons
rising and falling
with the afternoon prayer.
Someone’s aging father maybe,
his creased fingers bent
about a repeating rosary,
each bead slipping
and oiled with devotion.
As the girders crack
in the church basement,
is it the priest, shocked
at seeing Jesus’s arms,
in your moment of brilliance,
melt.
Do you too fracture
like the glass stained
with saints.
Archangel, what have you believed?
That for those who remain firm,
who don’t crest
or waver—earth?
So you choose earth,
people it deep.
Six feet down in darkness
you kneel to plant the powder,
knowing it will blow.

TO AND FROM
(for my mother, November, 1993)

She laughs as she tells of their escape from the rural region
where they’d built their farm of chickens and goats,
rice field, some beans.
Despite not being a market woman she had been shrewd,
Forced to be in a country ruled by anticipation

of food shortages,
of shortages of gasoline,
of shortages
of electricity,
shortages of power,
of power shifts.

Her husband in his impeccable restraint recounts
their consideration of the hen house as refuge,
Behind the barbed wire or in the plantain fields
where humans and trees are often confused at night,

while the gunmen, if they came this time,
shot the house, perhaps a dog, indiscriminate
As the circulating lists of marked individuals:

radio announcers,
teachers,
the religious,
students,
so-and-so Jean-Baptiste
followed by
woman of so-and-so Jean-Baptiste.

The woman and man laugh at their fifty-eight
and-nine-year old daring, the old couple,
how at rooster’s crow they escaped in their station wagon
through the hills of Plaisance, down the coast into Gonaives
where their old church (sign-of-the-cross) stood,
through the Raboteau the army dared not enter,
where the people threw back the clothes the governors had
brought—threw foreign rice into canals.
They drove fast around the salted hills, like race car drivers,
like the drivers of country buses, like all the country’s drivers,
this time not gunning for goats or stray street dogs,
but for the capital, where anonymity would protect them.

—Danielle Legros-Georges

A calligraphic poem by James Vanhooy

A scan of a calligraphic poem by James Vanhooy

Poem by Ella Turenne

The day I prevailed

I stayed with him because he loved me.
In his own way he loved me,
at least that’s what I pretended.
As my pain peaked,
I was persuaded by my passion.
Never pondering my plight,
never perceiving my pathetic position,
I let him prevail.
Every blow said “Baby, I love you”,
Every scratch “Sexy, I need you”,
Every hateful hiss “Honey, I want you”.
Embedded in my insecurities,
I let him take all of me.
He drank from my oasis and left me dry.
Once a vibrant mahogany,
he began climbing my branches,
reaching heights and depths
no man had ever dared to venture,
sucking my sweet sap,
but never watering my spiritual garden
to replenish what he had used.
And I let him.
I let him prevail.
I let him because he said he loved me.
And no one had ever said that to me before.
How lucky I was!
Even after he beat the budding life out of my womb,
he still loved me.
Imagine that.
And he climbed.
And I stayed strong and steady blind,
because he loved me.
But every branch has their breaking point,
and this time he climbed a branch that was too thin
to support his multi-faceted cruelty.
It was the blood.
My blood.
My vital life fluid.
It was only a speck,
a dot that dripped from my beaten body.
But that drop drove me deep.
All of a sudden, it wasn’t my blood anymore.
From a place and a time where women had
No men in them, on them, or around them,
My ancestors rose up, grabbed my soul, and
forced me to empower and survive for me—
for me!
Not for some man who claimed he loved me.
So when I watched him crawl off
into his drunken stupor,
it was my ancestors who propelled me to the kitchen.
And the knife in my hand,
I held it for all the times he had used his hands
as a blade across my delicate flesh,
bruising me,
leaving murals on my body
painted with his fingerprints.
And when he came back for more and
I held the knife up to defend myself,
I did it for all the sistahs who couldn’t
find any weapons,
who couldn’t even run in the fields, alleys,
parking lots, living rooms,
their own bedrooms.
This was war.
My spirit and sexuality at stake,
I stood strong and stared at him.
Eyes gleaming,
hand clutching my liberation tool,
I felt the energy channeled up through
The Earth to myself—
now a vessel for ancestral flow.
It ran up through my feet,
stopped at my heart to grab some rage and
went straight to my uprooted arm
never thinking to check my thoughts
(because rage has no brain).
Now it was his turn to tremble.
So powerful the flow,
It forced the weapon out of my hand, to the floor,
and spewed words out of me instead—
Yes, words.
His sticks and stones broke my bones,
but my words were out to dismember his warped
male mentality.
My words let him know that he was never
going to have the opportunity to violate my
sacred temple again.
Never again.
In that moment, he was forced to see who I am—
W.O.M.A.N.
Complete without the man.
No longer possessed by
his false lullabies of love,
he was rendered
painfully powerless
and
at that moment,
I prevailed.

—Ella Turenne

Poems by Aldo Tambellini

Make The Poem

strip the poem to the bare essentials
throw it into the garbage
flush it into the toilet
then go find it in the sewers
as a piece of life rejected
unwanted as a new born cry
that sits on excrement
eaten by swarming flies

make the poem the forgotten
the throw away society
the unnecessary surplus
the exploited no longer of use

make the poem those who appear
dying split second on the screen
before you flip the dial
before the stench of death reaches the nostrils
before you might discover what life for some
for too many is all about

make the poem before sinking the teeth
in that blood stained hamburger
that could be ground meat from starving corpses
before you can say this is the taste of death
& spit it out

make the poem cruel
as the messages from well fed politicians

make the poem tearing limbs to shreds
in the name of democracy
to protect ruling delinquent interests
to increase wealth of the few
to increase stupidity of others
who wrap yellow ribbons on trees
glorifying fighting heroes on tv news
conquering dismembered women & children

make the poem mercilessly brutal
as the dictators we prop on fake stages
ordering executions of innocent people
as firing squads hunt freedom guerrillas
as raining bombs drop over defenseless populations

make the poem your assassinated forgotten love
make the poem the junkies’ perforated bodies
make the poem AIDS’ skeleton’s remains
make the poem without sentimentality
as you turn a calendar page
to a new day that never will come

make the poem without saying I I I in every line
as if you were the only one that mattered
in this shrunken planet
make the poem looking at earth from a star
as the famished nursing bitch howls back at the moon

make the poem discord in bitter notes
puncturing deaf eardrums with pain
make the poem cut decisively
the way the butcher slices meat
razor sharp with sound of falling flesh

make the poem ripe with bile
for the skin you hate then swallow its venom
make the poem on the airwaves viciously racist
mixed with intellectual educated innuendos
then contemplate that one day a bullet
might split your skull wide open in retaliation
make the poem when you take a shit reading the daily paper
make the poem suffering without pity
in the continuous living hell with no ending

then again you could make the poem
that says spring is a perhaps
& if you wish upon a star
it makes no difference who you are
if you are rich & have power & control
in the destiny of
“O say can you see
America”
it’s a war poem
to the wretched of this land
to the poor to defenseless oppressed
your poem is a contract on the life of the people

America
make the poem
& fuck it!

She fought death

Wanted the eyes to open
wanted the sun in the flash bulb
to bounce in your eyes
to just talk
about anything
of simple things
with motion
even a blade of grass
weaving wind
your voice causing modulations
over airwaves
on the telephone saying
I’ve landed in Dallas or L.A.
I am OK
in Chicago safely
Seattle or back in Boston
wanted a word
simple
a sign
flowing out the tubes
in your mouth
connecting to my brain
to be one together
with tenderness
as old timers do
with the gesture
holding years in struggle
in a caress
moistening warm fresh blood
from the tubes interacting
between 2 brains
wanted that word
flowing from transfusion
to say
see
I am alive
a miracle
I would stay genuflecting
by the tubes in your arms
touching the purple swollen feet
to feel the circulation
the nurse saying
remove the tubes
she pulled through
she fought death
she is alive
& I would have kissed
new blood streaming
from your mouth
in corpuscles
filled with desire
for living

DEATH WAITED ON LINE

inside the tar
stretching the cyber highway
“cannot access her mind,”
says someone at the computer
no one knows the password
the program is locked
in the compression lab
digit in tar
melting in even blackness
as the Hiroshima woman survivor
tells on the radio
a sudden flash
earth/rocks/humans/oceans/sky
are one fusion in toxin chemistry

SARAH IS DEAD

I cannot look at death
that follows/hunts/obsesses/intoxicates my mind/
digits in tar
stillness
in the intensive care bed
with eyes never to open
the nurse says
the breathing was an illusion
from the mirage machine
the pressure in the monitor
an even immovable line
DEATH WAITED NO LONGER!

—Aldo Tambellini

Aldo and Sarah
Aldo and Sarah

Poems by Joe Davis

Ingrid, a denizen of Tremont Street, Boston, Massachusetts. —photograph by David Henry
Ingrid, a denizen of Tremont Street, Boston, Massachusetts.
—photograph by David Henry

OASIS

Oasis off the white Sahara
rising up from grains of sand
give a drink to Abraham
at the camp of nickel cans and broken cups
where rivers run in aqueducts of empty bowls
and shoals are full of bullet holes
and children drinking glass
poison gas after class
grottoes of autos
filling up with water
Rio Abajo
running on the border
and falling out into hot Texas
with hardened feet that pound the ground
and rock the rivers underneath
heavy water running under
lumbering in submarines behind the scenes
that hunger under arsenals and magazines
batteries of laser beams
vista cruiser treetop trips
double decker greyhound
down the river Styx
Minutemen in open crypts
calling up from down below
resurrection radio
hometown touchdown
Mo’town meltdown
waters that escape detection
rolling off in each direction
that trickle down
and water down the underground
terrorists and partisans
prisoners and captives
that wash the bones
and carry off the ashes
where waters rise with tylenol and cyanide
and sweep across the great divide
wearing down the mountainside
waterslide
big horn six guns
waiting for the big one
country cowboy carousels
ranging all across the parallels
Sitting Bull in battle feathers
counting coup by liquid measure
and charging up the citadels of infidels
from cabinets of sand
the Rio Grande
emigration nation
rivers of humiliation
Crazy Horse on a video pony
water well the dry adobe
Ethiopian air
where soldiers fight for their fair share
stopping up the drains with rice and butter
backing up the watersheds and aquifers
and whipping up the waters
where up above the satellites gather
in high fields that wash aqueous and overpainted
lofts of sweating angels singing voices in the wind
great opera in the bloody arroyo
running remingtons and rockets
and hungry flocks that bleat and glean the cracking pavement
baked brick canyons of broken Earth
and mills along the shore
that slaughter sheep and grind the ore
ashes of the ashkenazi
white water roaring
in the kamikaze rhapsodies of refugees
that ride in ships to salt the big jacuzzi bathtub of the Ganges
King Kong Mekong
whistling down the wire
straight through to Mississippi cane breaks and causeways
and crowded fields of the lord
straight into the mouth of Abraham
esophagus of elders
intestines of Palestine
at the camp of broken cups and nickel cans
where waters run in aqueducts of empty bowls
and shoals are full of bullet holes and children drinking glass

ALLIGATOR

Holding open like the parting of avocados
thumbs aligned
palms and fingers gathering soft contours
unfurling halves of curving birds reveal the single seed
along opening surfaces
where lapping edges turn in close furrows
she holds me there anointed
drinking in the spreading flood
with narcotic vapors that penetrate the air
like ghosts breathing up the night
weaving thick, black tendrils
in and out and around her
the cloth of night
asps of Egypt
she lifts a transparent veil
of mists and stamens
and unfolding the flesh of her pristine vagina
she beckons you to rapture
where the world is without light
and serpents rule the night
she licks her long lips with a thick curl
that glistens regiments of pointed ivories
and pruning her smart little scales
she eats birds for breakfast
you know, over easy
sliding off into the murky afternoon
getting hungrier by the minute
you follow and look in the face of the dragon
and she steams and sputters,
tell me you love me”
smiling through mouthfuls of rattlesnakes
bristling with fangs
and spitting out feathers
you think there’s something carnal
in those bright yellow eyes.

—Joe Davis

Poems by Gary Hicks

(writer’s notes: triplicity for fidel)

first fruits

home. december
twenty six, one
past midnight.
glitzy christmas
past by one
minute. mao’s
birthdate now.
and the first
day of kwanzaa.
harvest.
home.

mandate from heaven

boston’s esplanade
hundreds of thousands listen
paeans to the tsar.

half the globe distant
from mountain range to ocean
grizzlies maul the people.

china in retreat
to get rich is glorious
red fashion statement.

cuba is sending
doctors to south africa
health is a class act.

vietnam concludes
eighth party congress
head above water.

chiapas cordoned
but in guerrero province
rebels in the hills.

saudi sheiks tremble
one cannot behead jihads
islam in motion.

ayucucho cliffs
add to our understanding
of how to tell time.

here in my homeland
in the countryside and cities
prairie fires begin.

boston’s esplanade
fireworks light up the dark
optimist’s prelude.

I—moncada

revolution is
an historic necessity
highly illegal

july twenty sixth
a day of celebration
remember the dead

they loved their country
to the point of gun-toting
against batista

this first reckoning
stopped dead by a sledgehammer
would not be the last

there were survivors
who remembered those that died
and swore victory

today in cuba
the young learn to read and write
and sing their future

let the yankees growl
god has a special message
for the arrogant

II—cuito cuanavale

red divisions are
not crack
divisions. people’s
armies are not
soul on ice.

people’s armies
march to
wherever they’ve
needed. they don’t
need security
council resolutions.
they don’t need
press conferences.
all that they need
is to be called
to locations where
civilization’s
salvation from
barbarism depends

upon their reaching
the destinations
of our time.
upon their bayonets
is caked the
blood of battle
drawn in these
days when leaders
decide to lead
wannabe fourth
reich armies into
atrocity committing
wrong in quest
of the franchise
for the new world
order. and the
young men of those
armies bury their
guilt and their
sorrows in the
products of
la-la-land sold
in the streets
of those countries
that proclaim
the death of
communism. or these
young men search
for ever new
enemies even if
they’re to be
found in the
day-care centers
in the federal
buildings of
ruling governments.

in cuba they shoot
their drug dealers
even when—especially
when—they are
high-ranking generals
even when—especially
when—they have
heretofore been heroes
of the revolution.
they want the world
to know: red divisions
are not crack
divisions. people’s
armies are not
soul on ice.

the red army is
a humanity
broken only into
divisions
of labor.

III—in praise of a bad example

what do you do
about a country
that keeps all
of her schools
open, keeps
all of her
daycare centers
open, keeps
all of her
hospitals
opens. open when
all of her
allies shut
theirs down?
open even in
this period of
down and dirty
economic garroting
of the thug
only ninety miles
from its shores?

what do you do
with a country
that has the
lowest rates
of illiteracy
infant mortality
disease and
crime in the
western
hemisphere
even at the
entrance to the
furnaces ninety
miles north of
their shores?

what do you do
with a country
that sends its
doctors to
train other
doctors and
medics in
other poor
countries and
develops medicines
to effectively
combat disease
and offers to
even make them
available to
the inmates of
the barrios
the ghettoes
the appalachias
of that giant
ninety miles
north of
their shores?

what do you do
with a country
that sent its
soldiers to
fight racial
and fascist
aggression in
africa while the
concerned of
the west merely
sat on their
haunches? or
quietly, gloatingly
speculated on
the triumph of
apartheid in the
planning rooms
of that superpower
ninety miles north
of their shores?

what can you say
of a land that
proves that the
monster ninety
miles north of
them is a role
model for nobody
and keeps pointing
out that their
weapons notwithstanding
the emperor still
has no clothes?

what do you do
with such a
country that
rises bleeding
from the blows
of the gangsters
ninety miles
to their north
rises bleeding
from fighting
the beast at
close quarters
and yet takes
time to give
the gift of
courage to a
world dominated
by monsters?

you call that
country by its
rightful name:
cuba!
you claim their
struggle as
your own.
you make plans
to study at
the feet of
their teachers.
and if you live
in the entrails
of that monster
to the north
you swear that
that monster
will have no
peace until it
leaves cuba
the hell alone.

—Gary Hicks

Poems by Marilène Phipps

Family tree

Alone at my father’s gate stands the peanut tree.
Burly branches spread over the land
and house where I grew up. At the tree’s foot
there is always some zombie shit
the size of an apple, red
with black dots like a ladybug.
The peanut tree was Lord. If you went
through the gate, didn’t bow and say
to the three “Good morning Master of the Land!”,
your eyes and heart would feel closed,
you would not understand life around you.
The tree was the power of my family.
Neighbors respected us.
Then we left our home to find work.
In the city no one knows anyone.
Men helped themselves to girls like fresh mangos
on a free stand. Just yesterday I walked
to the Virgin’s shrine in Turgeau. Immacula
was standing there, arms raised and wide open,
an empty gallon of oil in each hand, calling:
Immaculée Men mwen! Men mwen manman!
Here I am! I am the one, I am
the woman who bears your name!
I came here to tell you I can’t
take this life any more. Three days
since I have had anything to eat!
My stomach burns. In my horizon
there is only darkness.
Don’t forget me! Every day finds me
in this shrine, at your feet.
Immaculate! I have a beautiful child!
Not a cripple, not a face for Mardi-Gras,
but an angel with all her fingers.
She is wasting away. Immaculate!
You know I love my child.

Yo voye tout sèvitè yo ale—
They dismissed all the servants.
No reasons, just GO!
M’vle mouri!
I want to die! Take us away!
My family is lost.
Six years since my mother died.
I am going crazy
wanting to see my mother again!

That’s what Immacula was asking the Virgin.
The sun rises before it sets. It should rise
for every body, shouldn’t it? Yet
look at me also: my grandfather knew the tree,
my great-grandfather knew the tree,
many before them served the peanut tree—
poured rum, lit candles, pulled weeds—
still, my own husband is a good-for-nothing
who brings home his children with other women.
And I take them in. And they hate me.

niska and the snake

Honey, you are a dead duck! You can do all
the glou glou glou under water you want
and look at me with those yellow
bald beady eyes of yours, I am not
going to take my foot off that brick crushing
your back, I am keeping it until you choke.
I have been watching your slinky slithering
around my pond for a while. My goldfish are not
up for grabs and at three-for-ten-dollars I paid
I wasn’t buying you lunch with those ritzy tadpoles
of mine you have been keeping an eye on while
they’ve been doing their job keeping an eye
on the bottom of the pond to clean it. This here is
my piece of tropical dreamland—my white Hyacinths,
my purple Pickerels, my Water Lilies and my
yellow Irises. Babe, I’m gonna weed you out of my
grass! Your name may be Water Moccasin and you think
this water is for your roaming but my name ain’t Eve!
I know your kind! All Cottonmouth
that you may be, you’re not gonna sweettalk me
or frighten me out of this Paradise.

It’s happened to me once before
and I was just a child. Haiti!
That really was the Garden of Eden for me
until the same kind of snake you look like—
soft talk, loves the poor, justice, democracy,
great promises and all—skinned, choked,
beheaded all the goldfish he could catch, terrorized
all the tadpoles left behind. That Cottonmouth
snake could have made a difference
but like all the others after him,
he just went for the best catch, ate his fill, fat
in the sun. Ain’t life sweet after all! Well,
I am not about to forget the way my brothers and I
left home and childhood behind: “Wake up… Mother?…
rush… put this on… why?… hush… cover your face…
hold this tight… get to the car, hurry!…
where are we going?… keep your head down…
we’re there… get out now… where are we?… quiet…
quick… go up the plane!… why?… move!…
They are looking for us, same who killed your father…
why?… to kill us… are we coming back some day?…
no… never?… no. Good-bye all, I’ll be gone when
you wake up… family… cousins… all sleeping…
don’t know we are no longer there…”
Good-bye Grandmaman and Granpapa!
Good-bye Garden and Calabash tree!…

Ha! Grandmother in the pool looked like
a big mother frog sitting on a navy blue Lilly-pad,
with the skirt of her bathing suit floating around
her waist and belly. Not a wild swimmer—
absentmindedly kicking her short legs back,
her wide breasts looking like eyes scouting
for her kiddies. All that’s now… gone!

So you see, snake?

What’s happening to you, I’ve learnt from your kind.
It’s been a long trip for me until I meet you here
—Guadeloupe, Puerto-Rico, France, Texas, Alabama—
but I am not running any more! My own kids
are grown and I’m going to be a Grandma.
This Florida pond is mine! I am now a Southern gal
in a hell of a mood, who thinks you are taking your
sweet, long time to croak, my husband is gonna be home
soon, I’ve got to fix him dinner
and he won’t find me here, a foot on-a-brick-on-your-
back, a foot on the shore, so I am picking up another
brick… here… and this stick in my left hand I slip
under your sorry belly… right here…
I just loosen my foot, a bit… that’s right… and you
just wiggle
a little bit

Gray Day at the Goats by Marilène Phipps
Gray Day at the Goats by Marilène Phipps

from under
the brick on
your back, and
that other one
in my right hand
is fixing to land
on you just as
you try running
away in the grass—
and I already told
ya I’m gonna weed
ya out of my grass—
you’re doing great…
OK… try to wiggle out
a little… more… and
my stick is going to flip…
you out onto the grass…
look at me all you want…I
am still going to do it… there
we go… FLIP!… YES!… run, run, run…
GOTCHA,
WHAM!

—Marilène Phipps

Poems by Anna Wexler

Pelerinaj

I make the dust swirl
and kiss your shadow
on the path you take
across the Mòn Kabrit.
Fani drops three coins
into the bowl of Jean Baptiste.
A bundle of red cloth
a mirror, and a bed.
Maybe you will come.
Henri says l ap vini.
I don’t believe him.
A yellow butterfly flickers in the wind.
My heart stores messages.
M prale wè kote
oungan mwen ye.

Paulette tells you
I have asked for you
since morning, a child yearning
for the soft arc
of her father’s shadow
on the inner wall.
On the path to Saut d’Eau
I walk behind you
breaking the spell of exile.
Moss grows
along the edges of my heart
in deep green pillows,
I see my face in cascading mirrors
under the highest fall
where Paulette is standing

Maman, mambo, my breasts rise
for this pleasure,
rushing sheets, cool silver
tongues, rainbow, thunder.

Your ounsi is drunk.
You hold her wig
and lift her tenderly
out of the mud.
I am barefoot
and flying. You catch me
on the way back to town
and take my arm.
Ou renmen dlo?
There was nobody
at the end of memory,
between the flashing
mirrors of the great lwa
and my blindness
until you came
in your gray cap and shorts
limping into Ville Bonheur.
My feet are gone
you said. The hard way
over the mountains.

Victory

Fanm vanyan, behind you the flags
unfurl for embattled spirits.
How many times you sang for them,
calling their names
for the next clandestine war.
Roses made of glass
shatter in my hand. I know
who sent them.
Invisible shards
of petals pierce my skin.
There is no blood in this skirmish
only the wind whipped
cloth and then my fever
broken. A man’s shadow
turning in the doorway.
The lethal passage
of desire
shut.

The Botanical Doll Answers

Behind a curtain the woman, Ana,
waits. Her prayers uncurl
like paper roses blossoming
in a glass of tears.
Where will my body rest
in the years given by the cowry shells,
when will my love
again be tasted?
I am led by dream
to the dusty window
where the ancient doll sits staring.
Once she watched me as I asked the keeper
for her secret. There are no saints
only wounds through which
light forces passage
and perforates
even the densely woven fibers
of the heart.
I wanted to know
why I was lucky, plump and purposeful
while the bodies of the other girls
grew translucent wings
and disappeared as butterflies
into blood singed ivory roses.
Her eyes which followed me
through obscene cracks in the ceiling
reverse the question.
I had to live.
In the next room
he prepares
the delicate tissue
for recurrent sacrifice.

Love Like Hers

I am not a child but my fingers are. My missing mother wore a
skirt edged with waves breaking into moonlit spray. Certain stars
fell sideways on the satin where panels of the night sky rotated
slowly. Yemaya, a fearsome indigo. Look how beautiful I made you,
facing the ocean, your ancestral domain. I put white roses in the
tangled seaweed trailing from your head and in your outstretched
hands, a birth offering. I wanted you to deliver me again painted
with blood and feathers. Deliver me from incest.

After I was born she gradually lost her sex. She compressed masses
of black curls into two braids which she wound tightly around her
head and anchored with hairpins. Without a crown her face shrunk
into a creased map of the secret passagways between rooms. The
dressing gown of crimson corduroy softer than velvet stayed in the
closet. Her breasts disappeared into plaid shirts buttoned to the
collar. How I grieved for her lost beauty! I looked everywhere
for it even in the mirror where my face could have stolen it. He
was looking too and at times he tore it out of me claiming it was
his. I walked alone to school through acres of cultivated flowers
thinking someone will die according to the algebra of myth.

The doll needed rest. I pulled the hot pink balls, which matched
the color of her ruffled playsuit, out of her earlobes. Her
nakedness soothed her into days and nights of unbroken sleep under
lace and silk sheets. I promised her a translucent pearl, flannel
blouse brocaded with white roses. If she would only be my
mother I would restore her beauty in the image of the ocean tinted
with moonlight and the debris of shooting stars. With each perfect
stitch, she comes a little closer watching my fingers which are
devoted only to her adornment. Love like hers will surely come my way.

If I lay on my back long enough staring at the ceiling it would
become the floor of my mind from which I could observe the room and
its inhabitants. Dizziness was an uncomfortable but necessary
prelude to this state. Afterwards the pain between my legs felt
like riding a bicycle with the seat too high. I preferred this
explanation because it elided the structural necessity of someone’s
death. And I did have a pink bicycle which I frequently rode down
the steep hill below the house breaking suddenly at the last minute
in front of a stone wall at the bottom. Then I realized the folly
of all temporary mental constructs when my mother became ill with
a disease too terrible to name.

A dog ran past us, and then a man carrying a guitar and a bundle on
his back. “That’s all he owns,” you said. “Every night he sleeps
beside her on the sand, his only bed.” Such devotion made our
altar—candles, white roses, and the doll enthroned on a mound of
seaweed glittering with abalone shells—seem theatrical. “But you
sacrificed your innocence,” you replied to my anxious silence. I
had never thought of what was taken from me like that but when the
border of her dress swirled into a wave cresting into the milky way,
I was comforted. She licked the blood off my face and placed me in
the dune hollow where she had prepared a bed of woven grass and
feathers. In the song she sang the ruined years blossomed again
into the acres of red and yellow tulips through which I had walked
as a deliberating child.

The day she was supposed to come back from the hospital, I spent it
waiting for her by the hall window. Leaning on my father’s arm,
wearing the gray coat patched at the elbows and looking frozen
into the pallor of late winter snow, she finally returned. In her
absence I had learned that even the shadow of her beauty protected
me from the images of total destruction which my father had
identified as the footage of a just war. I tried to imagine myself
with all my skin peeling off as he explained the terrible
consequences of revealing the hiding place of her lost beauty. In
order to keep the disease from recurring I covered the mirror where
I had first seen my face flush with her desire, crimson heartshaped
lips puckering slightly, eyes a fearsome indigo.

The only antidote I know is devotion but it’s not that easy. At
the end of the ceremony I joined a throng of people gathered in
front of the table where the cakes whose sweet essence had been
consumed by the spirits were being cut into pieces for the hungry
crowd. There a man singled me out from the few other whites
present for the crime of trespassing. Pointing to the lines drawn
in cornmeal on the floor, he told me that the maroons had used them
to repel enemies from their encampments. “You think you’re a
special case,” he said, reading me clearly. I looked over at the
priest totally absorbed in handing out slices of cake on paper
plates. He is my father, I wanted to say, but already the claim had
turned to ashes in my mouth. This man chosen from all the others
could not shield me from the implacable dead returning from the
charred plantations.

Each room had a structural weakness which was not only invisible
to the unknowing inhabitant but constantly shifting its position
so that any assumption of stability was sheer folly. A longing
undermined by the very next step. Perhaps the simple act of
opening the closet door would reveal a pit of brackish water into
which all my carefully washed and ironed school dresses had fallen
and were tangled up and floating helplessly. My younger sister
moved out of the bedroom she had shared with me for all of her five
years after the floor gave way beneath her on her way to the
bathroom and she fell into the basement where my father was
polishing the family shoes. What happened then is a matter of
conjecture because she moved into the attic afterwards and spoke
only of nightmares which were by definition products of her own
mind temporarily overwhelmed by the experience of falling between
floors. Spiders suspended on filaments from a hole in the ceiling
above her bed left the question open as to which room was more habitable.

I know the doll was working because when I woke up she was cradling me.
It was dark and even the haunting aftermath of my last dream in which
I wandered naked to the edge of an unidentifiable American city
dissipated instantly in the sound of her waves hitting the piles of
the wharf. She was underneath and all around me and I
rested for the first time without straining toward oblivion. My
body flowered, a white rose within hers. I wanted to wander all
the beaches of the world to collect the tiniest, smoothest, most
delicately fluted shells for her necklace. There I would hang them
from translucent beads of blue and aqua, the crystal mirrors of the
sea. There I would see myself in the perpetual loveliness of her face.

—Anna Wexler

Poems by Brian Sangudi

these words

these words i write do not belong to me
if they did, i would be able to summon them at will
i don’t write because i think i am wise
it is because i know that i am not wise that i write
i write so that i can trap what little thoughts
i may have here in my consciousness,
before they creep back to their real owner

from the air

from the air
from young mouths and wise ones,
in the winds around me,
into my ears,
bouncing in my mind,
words drop
like fruit from a tree
green and tasteless when young
nourished over time from the root and leaf,
through trunk and branch,
bearing the seed of life
to plant in the future, in the distance,
words ripen

life’s source

love is the source of life
war is the end of life
no wonder love alone
can conquer war
but love and war both
make one blind to the other

thanx

thank you for the pain and the sorrow
in whose depth i can feel my soul
for all the laughter and joy
under whose warmth anger is melted away
for all the confusion and misunderstanding
a maze we will crawl out of, free

child of freedom

child of freedom became prisoner of circumstance
traveled far from home
only to be shackled here
i was chasing dreams
now i am chasing papers
lover of love
yet hatred and anger i supposedly harbor
seem to be my only constant companions
in this rat race i am trapped in
free me

by being loved, we are taught to love
by being thought of, we are taught thoughtfulness
let us be wells, burying the wrong that’s done to us
and springs from which the good we might not have
been taught can come

like the dawn, let us bury evil in the dark
and give birth to the sun and new day
and like the moon, let hope give us reassurance
that even in the dark, the sun burns bright

warm tears

warm tears falling, melting icy pain
turning into cool water, i’ll pour on my people
to relieve unyielding heat of the fire

here

here is a book of words
hear the words in this book
words from inspiration, not invention
inspired by search for truth
which when i find, i’ll dance, not write

hear

here listen to our song
hear the words of our throng
here in our music of today and yesterday
hear the meaning of what we say
hear, and never forget our story
here today, as you dream of future glory
hear right what i say
right here, what you read today

—Brian Sangudi

Poem by C. C. Arshagra

In the key of listen   (for Aldo Tambellini)

It’s a brutal world
The cold sleep
and the sharp edited-listen
paints with reality black
Harsh word-lights’ shine
into the crevasses
of daily denial
Fathoms of deep innocence
are in a coma
of ignorance bleeding
It’s the blood
of yesterday’s headlines that appear
red and dead-awake
on the hands of today
as conservative
safe-clouds break
and the black of sun comes
as a gift of going blind
to understand seeing one
relatively small planet
clear through the brutal world
of illuminated-lies
using you
like a free-puppet
with painted eyes
glassy and looking
open to believe
that if a rock or rocket
of truth were to strike
the center of your brushed on
and glossed over cornea
Nothing would change
or shatter. Look.
The strings
Nothing could cut
the tethered motivation
attached to your hands
where armed weapons might live
Attached to a smiling
fist up your spine
Ready to bare fangs
at the squeeze of a trigger
Ready to bear down
on shredded information
Shaving of voices
from where no lips are moving
All just as if
you would
still believe to be
the very source
of your own freedom

—Christopher Cistulli Arshagra

A view down the cliffs on the island of Gomera, on the Canaries Archipelago. —photo by David Henry
A view down the cliffs on the island of Gomera, on the Canaries Archipelago. —photo by David Henry
Tanbou logo

Tanbou Home Page  |   Table of Contents  | Write us at: Editors@tanbou.com