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Poetry in English

Poems by Anna Wexler

Fluid precaution

Most beautiful baby born
into a laboratory maze
of uncalculated risks
your mother is waiting
behind an alien sign:
don’t touch, breathe
or absorb this body.
It knows too much.
From the move-sanrising up
your milk was spoiled
as her grief was split
into every multiple of fear.
Still you come loving
her aching breasts
and continents of softness.
We know how to cover this child
with heirloom blankets woven
out of moonlight
but the old prayers
are shadows under the water
moving beyond sound.
May their syllables
return and teach us
between life and the endless
figures of its inversion
is the sweet dark moan of labor
humming across our bloodlines.

The Following Dream

I listen under
the thin cadence of your disbelief
where your voice begins.
All the lwa walked beside us.
From the deep spring
they spoke to us in echoes.
Without knowing you have forgotten
I remind you.
You keep talking
while my body listens.
There are always reasons
afraid and hungry
they believe
spirits seal every footprint
make the corn come gold
their blood quicken.
I wanted to drink
in the deep spring
where your voice begins
but you deny your hunger.
Which lwa
put basil in my dream
where I was lonely
green and pungent leaves
to sweep my body
clear of sorrow?

—Anna Wexler

Poem by Joe Davis

Joseph’s coat

Un homme endormi devant le cinéma au bord du bassin de la Villette, dans le dix-neuvième arrondissement de Paris. —photo par David Henry, mai 2001

A man sleeping in front of the cinema next to bassin de l’Ourq in the 19th arrondissement of Paris. —photo by David Henry, May 2001

What conspicuous nature operates
the thin apertures of belief and omission
that represent the truth
facts and strange companions press between
the ten thousand sheets
fingerprints peeling from the long record of days
page after page of history
and philosophy
and the footprints of councilors and ants
step by step
one by one
tooth by tooth
termites and angels slide out of heaven together
in big four-doors
they drive nice cars down through the high walls of paradise
where living things cavitate and disappear
with articles of faith
down in dark rooms of the obscure camera
where good friends and gathering godgs
return the fruits of flesh and blood
but it is apple-flavored
one time slash and burn operations
taking out Brazil for cheap power
and cold-blooded pleasures
there are ten thousand terrorists in paradise.

So now I take Joseph’s coat
many souls folded in the collar
I draw my breath in pockets cut from skin and clods of Earth
and sing my lovesong for the dead
long, departing lines press the air
like the thick of flies feeding on the carcass
I teach the grains of sand to sing my song
and pour them into the silences of Heaven
when I lift my voice it is the seeds of weeds and clouds of dust
and when I lift my hand it is a black flag
and all the princes of darkness stop to grind their teeth
familiar corpses wait at the grave
like racehorses grazing in their fields at night
stand by each narrow gates and call them out
by all their secret names…
I go riding back and forth from the fat belly of Egypt
in the big green ship of Allah
sucking up infections from the legs of frogs
and dare to read the dreams of an evil genius
I take them up in plastic bags and set them out at night
soldiers in the covers of darkness
cracking in the wind
like voices of wisdom in the radio background
Heaven reaches down to lift her dress
giants and mastodons drop to their knees
great stones break apart on the tables
when I lift my glass the oceans pitch and curl
clouds of dust and seeds of weeds
they are robes
the leaves of the trees and the blades of grass
and I go down again to lie beside the Nile
and the princes of darkness can have the air.

—Joe Davis

Poems by Bryan Sangudi

mellow mood

when mellow mood has got me
and from it i just can’t break free
i pick up a pen and scratch words on paper
trying to bury my thoughts until later
when i read those words to myself again
remembering why i wrote them,
remembering the pain
i thank the most high that the pain didn’t last
i remember the words—hurt only came to pass

it is not

it is not the recorded events in history i think of
it is the unwritten side that really affects me
it is not the police nightsticks which hurt
it is the hatred in their fake laughter and handshakes
it is not what they did
it is how they feel
beware you educated ones, beware
while they teach you what happened
while they teach you what to do
while they teach you what is to happen
do not ever forget how to feel
no one can ever teach you that
it is something you have to remember not to forget

history

history repeats itself
and our history is bad
but is it really all bad
or is it just what some want us to believe
and even the “bad” moments comparatively good
who, i ask, who would rather torture the innocent
than fight their struggle of liberation
who would rather scorn the poor
than build wealth with them
who would rather swim in the pain of their suffering
than dance in the joy of their songs of freedom
people who would rather steal all than share, that’s who
people who slaughtered the innocent, giving reasons why
to civilize, christianize, and enforce order are the excuses they gave
but i refuse to learn and be baptized in evil ways
i am one who didn’t wait for book to teach me right from wrong
i was born communicating with the most high
and i’ve known all along
the path to the future
i see it clear as day
put down your weapons of destruction and watch me move,
soon you too will see the light and get into the groove

—Bryan Sangudi

Poems by Marilène Phipps

(Extracts from Crossroads and Unholy Water)

Aunt Frances the Pianist

In the rough rivers where she swam,
Aunt Frances liked to anchor herself
with one hand to a rock, then wave
to us children lined up along the banks.
The water slapped and sucked
the unprotected parts of her body:

petals of rubber daisies on her cap
seemed like bouncing tentacles of one-eyed creatures
positioned in surveillance around her small head;
snorkel and mask channeled her sight and breath;
hard-meshed nylon cups held her breasts
within the bathing suit; black
flippers extended her bunioned toes.

Long-limbed, squared and no butt,
she waddled. No curves on her body
except for breasts which once had fed
her only son (born deaf) who spent his time
intent on solving mathematical equations
or reading out of stacks of comic books
about superheroes. She spoke little,
smiled often, but her teeth were false.

At night the teeth sat in a water-filled glass.
Her husband had his own bedroom. We found her
exotic, foreign… our American aunt!
(A noted pianist once!)… shy to show photos
of her parents’ house, a sister, a cardinal
in a high tree, a field of wheat.
The only voice left from her home was her piano.

Her husband, the ear-nose-and-throat specialist,
always left the house when she played.
Music also made the two dogs howl
and howl continuously at her side,
every time, until she gave up playing.
For years the stilled piano remained
planted on the front room’s green mosaic floor,
used as a table at Christmas
to display gifts. She drank.

For years. Rum cocktails
at noon. Rum cocktails
alone. Rum cocktails
always. In the bathroom,
thin towels were always damp;
tropical fungus blistered
the walls. And all the while
the dogs at her feet.
Scratching. Grunting.
Wheezing. Getting old.
Dying. Replaced
by the same.

Elzir’s Advice

As soon as your husband is dead, slap him
and cross over his body three times!
This way you let him know you
are no longer friends. When he’s in the coffin
sprinkle his body with sesame seeds and
attach lots of pins on his lapel. Spread more
sesame around his grave mixed with broken needles.
That’ll give him something to do!—trying to thread
tiny seeds with broken needles—and
keep his mind off you.

Wear red panties and nightshirt—they’ll be like stoplights.
He won’t be able to climb over you at night
(you don’t want that, do you?).
Everybody here knows the dead have power.
He is bound to miss you. He was used
to your company—he’ll want to visit.
Hell! He might want to take you with him!
At his funeral,

you’ve got to cry loud and clear!
You do not want to humiliate him—let people
know, by the way you cry, that he was
a good man, respectable and loved. That
is the only reason we are so noisy at funerals!
Not for the dead. Why, there is nothing to regret
about this earth!

Caribbean Corpses

for Allen Litowitz

Midday. The family sits behind Emmanuel’s corpse.
His adolescent granddaughters, self-conscious,
their bursting nipples squeezed in white
Sunday dresses: three child brides for their grandfather’s
funeral. Sweat gathers and tickles in the crease
behind their knees. A veil of mosquito netting
is spread over the body in the open casket.
On the wall above the coffin, a porcelain blond
Christ points to his own bleeding heart.

Green mildew lines swerve down Saint Peter’s
whitewashed walls in Pétionville. Lizards copulate
behind the old Way of the Cross. One granddaughter
wants to keep this last image of her grandfather:
nose with folded wings which seemed to guard his face;
teeth long and yellowed, some old molars, rotting—
it’s almost a relief his lips have now snapped shut.
Her eyes make out his hands—fingers like her father’s,

who just happened to cast a glance at his mother
because his ex-wife—number two—is walking up
the aisle, dressed in white lace. Emmanuel’s old bride had
already spotted her. Today she must mask
her joy at having won her son back since his divorce.
When she does not nag about his failed marriages,
she complains about his now dead father—she says
Emmanuel still masturbated at eighty-eight and
it’s his own fault if he died. Oui Maman, her son says;
“the doctor thinks I starved him but it is not so;”
Oui M’man “…couldn’t come to the table… has no strength…
a hypochondriac! It’s his own damn fault!” Oui M’man.

Mosquitoes buzz in circle formation over sweaty scalps
of women smelling of too much Frangipani or Florida Cologne.
Dressed in lace, satin, taffeta, they fan themselves
with one hand, slap flies with the other.
Men, in dark suits, repeatedly wipe their foreheads
and the back of their necks; so does the government’s
representative sent to pay homage to the years
Emmanuel worked as a state civil engineer.
People searching the ceiling for air vents,
wondering who the hell planned this building like that,
find Saint Theresa’s eyes are also looking up to
heaven while Saint Lucy carries hers on a plate.

Late, just off a plane from the U.S., Emmanuel’s
daughter arrives at the portal. She enters
with a long wail. Her friends turn bored
and bloated eyes from either side of the aisle. She runs
to bury her face in her father’s veil. Her mother’s jealous
displeasure is distracted by a commotion
in the next chapel where a new widow
screams from the top of her lungs there is black magic
in this place, the Priest is a God-damn-
black-ass-Zombie-maker-husband-thief!
It’s the wrong fucking corpse in the box.

Now something new is coming slowly down the aisle:
a white three-legged bitch with yellow eyes,
its head low, tail tucked close between the hind legs,
drooped tits brushing the mosaic floor. It pauses,
looks people briefly in the eyes, finally walks
up to where Emmanuel lies. A breeze almost
lifts the veil, but the dog drops a paw on it just
in time, pulls it all off into a pile, thinking
Ha! Human beings and their white veils! Give me a break…
Sits on it, yawns, scratches its fleas with a vengeance.

Cousin Thérèse

Clocks, too many clocks, ticking.
I would like back the first clock
my mother gave me, with gold vines
and torsades swerving like Thérèse’s hair
about her face.

“Go, go down deep…”—she lets
out of water-filled bags gold fish
into the backyard pond. They reach for the dark,
then resurface for a bubble of sun.

Cousin Thérèse helps people die.

At the hospice
she tells the sick how Jesus
stood in water to be baptized
before he could one day walk over it.
In small bouquets, she brings them daisies.
Petite, unfailing, feminine

she sits by the dying.
She knows them from their profiles—
horizontal, ashen traces, printed along
the white echoing strips of cotton sheets.

Which one has clutched her rope-braid
wanting to secure his descent?
How many hands have taken to their graves
the fragrance from her finger tips?
Whose eyes parched by the bland room
still stare at her on the windshield
while she drives home for supper?

Life moves to unexplained fragments
of music.

I miss the laughter
of the old woman who gave us candy
in a blue room overlooking the bay.
She told us those who do not pray
before sleep do not fly in their dreams.
From bullets, knives, or ropes around my neck,
I have lived many nightmare deaths my skin
remembers long after I awake.
“I can help you die too,”

she whispers to me.
Yes, Cousin Thérèse, I know,
with your smile only, you can make me
plunge,
care not.

Haïtian masks

I. Childhood

I thought that death had made him arrogant.
My mother had hung her father’s
death mask where I had to look up high
to that hairless white plaster double,
the only face of his that now seems real,
sealed eyes, lips thin, tight.
High forehead leading to a rough dropping edge. No skull.
Surrounded by Mother’s painted self-portraits
he seemed the rigid heart of a glitter-dappled corolla,
idealized, pained petals,
one of which was her gold-framed mirror.
There she scrutinized her paling face
twice a day, arching bright reds,
black lashes, geisha-like powder.
I grabbed that centerpiece
once for Mardi Gras
and ran with it
hearing mother trail after me with a distinctive howl.

II. Adolescence

for Guslé Villedrouin

Pour water on my head
so the sun might glimmer
on me. It is for hope that God
will pull them up by the hair to heaven
that Hare Krishna followers dance in the cold.

I saw my godfather’s face
on the newspaper’s front page, large,
written out as the rebel, caught
by the blue-vested Macoutes.
He had a new mustache.
I missed his gaze, deep chestnut.
Fat fingers gripped
his young man’s hair
as if it were a big knot
at the top end of a loose rope, his neck
cut off.

III. Womanhood

for Yves Moniquet AKA Delta Acruz

You had fathered me into hope
after nested clawed creatures
gnawed at my heart.

I pull you from the moist shallows
of the bed. Your head
like a fading bouquet your two hands
hold at the throat
is offered on my lap, past use, past hope.
“I am afraid” you whisper with open eyes
in the early morning glare
when the parched burning in your lungs
sucks the last bit of breath
from your recurved tongue.

Now, I move through moon-blanched visions.
Fervor has the color of alizarin for a gravedigger
who wants to keep you from being thrown
into the communal hell-hole of those too damn poor
to afford a little plot of eternal peace
in the crowded downtown cemetery.
I come to get you out, reclaim you,
you, for many months, furrowed in the grave.
I am greeted
by another face
and a smile without lips.
A soundless wave of gleam-corseted cockroaches
scurries down the two sides of your coffin.
Through weeds, they run away with your image.

The Bull at Nan Souvnans

I.

He was brought in yesterday
as an offering
for today’s Easter Sunday rites,
pulled by a rope
to these ancient and sacred grounds of Souvnans,
then tied by the acacia tree, all day, unfed.

Now, noontime, he lies and waits,
his root-like legs make dust enclaves
next to his sweat-furrowed flank.
He no longer shows annoyance
towards the scrawny chick hopping
around and pecking at his flesh.

“PA MANYEN L
SE LANMO W AP GADE!—

DON’T TOUCH HIM!”—
a voice threatens us—
“It is death you’re seeing!”

The bull stands up.
His nostrils reach, breathe in
towards the growing crowd.
Hands with a purpose, now untie him,
take him to another tree. He goes,
as if for his familiar fields.
“DON’T TOUCH HIM!
DON’T YOU KNOW!?”

II.

Now the bull is resisting!
All legs stiffened,
he won’t get close to
this tree! Swiftly,
ropes are wound at the base of
each of his horns,
crossed
on his forehead,
and yanked
on either side.


They force the flat part of his broad face
against the tree trunk.

Men dragging at his tail keep him
aligned. He can’t move.
He can’t see beyond the tree bark,
the roots or his hoofs.
Midday sun stings him.
A man straddles him, he can’t move.
He hears all
where he can no longer look.

The bull trembles.
The ropes are tugged tighter
and fastened behind the tree.
A shiver vibrates down his spine,
his entrails deliver their moist soil—
he defecates. Someone in the crowd… laughs.

“METE GASON SOU NOU!—
WE MUST BE VIRILE!”, Rene
Master of Ceremony—calls out,
flourishing his machete
to the Ounsi—handmaidens of the Gods—
gathered around him in white dresses.
They respond and wave their machetes,
symbolic wooden ones. Now Rene
shakes hands with the executioner
over the stilled body of the bull.
“LET US BE MEN!”

III.

The dagger and the screams
start in the same instant.
Deep, long, helpless bellows;
thick, gray tongue extended,
recurved, stiff and drooling.

The knife misses its aim
for the spine, at the base of the neck,
pulls out and stabs again.
Again, twists, pulls out and stabs again.

Blood gurgles, gushes out,
drawing a red web on the bull’s back
live lava’s hands about to blanket
the city in silence.

The legs falter
then regroup.
The dagger thumps down again.
Again, the legs falter and fold.

Like a great ship sinking,
the rear lowers first—his head
being stuck at the tree.
But he stands up again!

“TO THE THROAT!”, Rene shouts.
The executioner abandons
the spot above, to start
cutting, with a small knife,

into the thick of the throat
underneath, inching the blade
through the feeling flesh, alive.
The wind and the bellows

wrestle into the leaves
above us. More warm dung drops
to the ground. The vocal cords
get cut. A last gurgling hiss…

He can no longer voice what he feels.
Shut in. Further removed.
Hung by the horns, the great
black body slumps and kneels
to the live tree. The last
that the bull sees is not
this immaterial blue,
a tropical Easter Sunday sky,
but his own red blood’s swamps.
The crowd cheers.

Haiti, April 1993

(All extracted from Crossroads and Unholy Water, Southern University Press, USA, 2001. See the review of the book, in Creole, by Takodo)

Saint Ursula’s Passion, oil on canvas, by Marilène Phipps

Saint Ursula’s Passion —by Marilène Phipps

Poems by Tontongi

Ballads For The Killing of Diallo

(dedicated to Amadou Diallo who, in 1999, was fatally hit nineteen times by forty-one bullets shot by four New York City cops)

Tontongi reading “Ballads For The Killing of Diallo”, May 14th, 2000

Tontongi reading this poem on May 14th, 2000

Diallo died at the frontal
of his house a certain night
his smile survived intact
amidst pierced arteries
body showered in blood
but peaceful as a yoga’s siesta.
The four policemen were blown
in an ecstasy of bang! bang!
claiming masculinity in terror;
the beauty of their guns
the perfection of the fire power
the gymnastic glory of their move,
quick, precise, mathematical
enhanced by the poetry of the night
had avenged all that was lost
but thrived to be regained;
regained was the purity of the race,
calm security trust and repos d’esprit.

Diallo died one night
for the salvation of the land
for the grace of the Stock Exchange
but his village was mourning
his passing on a distant universe
they shed tears for his going away
from his mother’s matrices
and his premature return to ashes.
The goods he sold were his mantra,
forced entry by sacrificial means
in the sanctum of all-market USA;
he was an angel of delusion
a real brother from the Bronx.

Had they known each other
Diallo would tell Abner Louima:
brother in blood and cry
the non-sense has a sense
eternal purgatory
of an ever-unreachable Promised Land
heading to a fake heavenly splendor
the guns won’t stop
but all will still be there.

Had the killed met his killers
instead on the somber New York street
in a carnival in Rio or in Port-au-Prince rara
together virile and deflated
burst by the Ogoun’s fervor
joyful in carnal delirium
blessed and bathed in the animal sweat
Thanatos and Eros in fusion
living a last rite to life
they would surely be friends.
They would say to each other,
co-bacchanals in before-death ecstasy:
“we are all pawns in a global madness —
let’s celebrate the fugitive moment.”

And the violence of the lost time
gave way to a new day of light,
spleen, stress, blues, nightmare,
white fear and black distress
were relocated to Nothingness’ trashes
the village cried one last time
its conscience was now its only respite.

On the first day of the trial
as a last sacrificial offering
the people had demanded the hanging
for mayhem of the four vicious policemen
the rich cried their loss of safety net
and the poor the continuing hell.
But the jury handed to the Diallo’s killers

the medal of valor for their sense of danger.
Diallo’s death saved the day,
sad day.

The last poem

(dedicated to Aldo Tambellini)

I shall write a poem that will tell it all,
sing the nightingale’s nightly song,
penetrate the labyrinth deep inside,
unveil its mystery’s inner soul.

I shall turn on the light
and open up the doors and the ceilings
to the immense oversight of infinitude;
I will tell Cedye’s story
his slow pace to the martyrdom’s state
where his spirits were lost to Aganman.
I will tell how Marie Lagone was defeated
and ceded to the worms never again
to regain her glory in our world.

My poem will revisit Ti-Gerard painting
the belly of the Beast with beautiful colors;
I shall make it a Pantheon from Hell,
the twist in the depth of quiet indifference
toward a destiny made to cry alone
yet screaming to help the baby from dying.

I will tell the travails of Magdalena, proud Amazon
losing her universe on a flip of a dice, here and there
there were losses because no one was there to help
reinvent our cosmos anew;
there was suffering all over.

When Hell governs the celestial values
our empty frailties are gone to the abyss;
I will tell what it was that went wrong,
reenact the primal nurturance of the land
before Good-Feet killed himself on a binge;
I shall tell what should never be told.

My poem will tell my story
both my glories and my pains;
I will tell my nocturnal wonderments
my lonely rêveries at the Saint Andre Park
behind the eerie colossal shadow
of the Reims Cathedral;
I will tell my love for Christina
the beauty once lived before Armageddon;
I shall tell of my youth consumed by my dreams.

My poem must reveal the horrifying
degeneration of life toward irrelevance;
I shall tell why all looks so normal
in so dimmed everyday life’s nightmare;
I will tell the loss by my country
of its nutrients, eroded from its roots;
I will sing and curse all the same
the serial death of my brothers and sisters
sacrificed to the altar of natural selection,
murdered by Haiti’s murderous poverty;
I shall tell the unfairness of their fate.

I shall write the ultimate poem
the silent cry of the Zebra’s complaints,
the trap of the vast multitude
within the infernal coercion of exploitation;
I will tell the alienation of the policeman
whose gun is a curse dreaded by his own conscience,
perishing in the Great Void of Contingence;
I will sing a song,
a simple melody for the no man’s land.

My poem will be made of tears
for those who have no more left to shed;
I will tell what happened to Michel
crossing his entire youth’s path from
running to running for his life
until he was found dead at midday
no one ever knew what his story was.

I shall tell of my purgatory
just like Mumia Abu Jamal told of his sojourn in hell;
I shall tell of the police brutality victims suddenly
transformed to Attila the Hun to cover the mayhem.
I shall tell of the banning of poetry in State affairs;
I shall tell The Amadou Diallo’s story
the Louima’s and Dorismond’s stories,
I will tell it all in one verse.

My poem must expurgate my manhood
unveil the animality of the best of my being,
reveal both the monster behind the friendly smile
and the humanity of my most evil deeds;
I shall undress the species to its pure nudity,
relegate our vanity to the dustbin of time;
I shall tell a new story.

I shall write a poem that will destroy it all
the beauty as well as the ugliness
the love as well as the hate;
my poem will start from the scratch
from the point where nothing is cursed or blessed
from the point of total innocence.

I shall write a poem that incites a global destruction,
a new Big Bang giving way to a new nothingness,
an original feast where all splendors are there,
there, at easy reach to the human frailties.
I shall write a poem anti-poem
a poem that will not be read to the king,
a poem for all that is not there and should be.

I will write a poem to cry,
cry the waste, the losses and the non-sense;
I will write a poem to tell you I was there
in blood and in flesh witnessing both the calvary
and the great potentials for a work of beauty;
I shall write a poem for happiness
the kind only kindred spirits have experienced;
I shall write a poem just to be.

I shall write a poem for only the pleasure
I extract from my state of total freedom,
for the ecstasy in conquering evanescence;
I will write a poem for the glory
from the smile of a beautiful child;
I will write a poem to celebrate the cerebral,
and yet subliminal cadence of the sexy gal
crossing the street with celestial wisdom
mixed with sweat, blood, contemplative sins.

I will sing the freshness of the dawn,
the sun’s majestic and ever peaceful sleep,
the pubertal elegance of the spring roses,
I will sing the beauty that is already there.

The poem I will write
will be hurting inside and boasting outside
just like my life has been;
it will radiate of the multiple splendors of the spleens,
turning the drought to a generous spring
and the desert of hell to a fertile Eden;
my poem will embrace the Grand Canyon,
recompense the artist’s inner pace,
and plant flowers along the lonely road.

I shall write a poem that will end it all,
all that contributes to the engine of hell;
I shall write a poem just to say nothing,
simply to be there.
I shall write a poem to destroy poetry
and put in its stead a big proclamation:

No more unnecessary death
No more anti-woman testosterone
No more Wall Street speculation
No more bosses that boss people around
No more bastards who hate life
No more rich people that live off poor people
No more whites that kill blacks
No more blacks that kill whites
No more schools that produce dummies
No more idiots with a license to be idiot
No more superwomen that become hyperbitch
No more misogynous heroes
paternalist monsters
libido destroyers
No more abusers of children
No more people who choose death over life
No more zombies aiding zombie-makers
No more innocent people in death row
No more refugees dead in high seas.

I will write a last poem
a poem of love
a poem for you to read
a poem that will tell who we are
I will write a poem
to incite multiple impulses
a Big Boom of creative happenings,
a renaissance since the primal vision.

—Tontongi Boston, February 1999

Poems by Ella Turenne

The meaning of my feelings

Riding, by Ella Turenne

Riding. —by Ella Turenne

What is it like to be emotionally aloof?
To feel from the inside in,
imploding from the inability to convey emotion?
Like the opposite of emotionally amplified…
a comedy and tragedy
splitting sensations and sentiments.
You accuse me of being guarded,
and guiltily,
the impulses take control,
and before I know it there I am again,
whimpering,
denying vibes that are clearly
on the tips of tongues and
fronts of lobes.
Charged and submitting to
the unreal demands of emotional experiences,
my rational self isn’t strong enough to look past
the mistrust
the betrayal
the pain
that lingers from instances
of guised love.
What do you do with a busted heart
patched in all the right places,
flaunting all the right moves,
speaking with all the right vocabulary
once its old wounds are revived
at the moment of truth when
the genuine identity presents itself
only causing more rifts and deceit
rendering the receiver dubious of
potential motives and
said emotion?
I attest:
fronts protect a weak and worn heart
from extra baggage,
potential falls, and
supposed powerlessness.
How to hear that word
— love —
without trembling
from the anxiety,
from the thrill,
leaves me open,
confused,
and without sanctuary?
I, not wanting to be aloof,
am machined into the motions.

Reasons

Woman fleece, by Ella Turenne

Woman fleece. —by Ella Turenne

I can’t not be me.
Those who choose to be alive
and not live,
not take risks,
fail to discover themselves
and live with the mask
society has brainwashed us to believe.

I can’t not be black.
Breathe black.
See black.
Be black.
Mind, body, soul black.
Everyday
Black.

I can’t not be emotional.
Big,
No littles or subdues.
Sensations amplified to the 13th power.
Deep giggles.
Dense cries.
Bubbling with energy.

I can’t not be militant.
Living nightmares
engulfing my world
are enough to drown my optimism,
suffocate my passions,
scorch my dreams —
unless I self-revolutionize.

I can’t not be truth.
We’ve learned to live lies.
Recognize:
The truth will set you
a p a r t.
Knowledge is power.
Deception is the precursor to downfall.
Empowerment doesn’t lie in lies.
 

Neg Maron, by Ella Turenne

Neg Maron. —by Ella Turenne

I can’t not be Haitian.
The Pearl of the Antilles
is displayed on my skin
for everyone to see and celebrate.
A history rich and mixed
with struggles and joys,
pains and passions,
is lodged in the shell of my soul.

I can’t not be a womyn.
I will be seen, heard, remembered.
I will be mother, leader, daughter, inventor,
sister, healer, friend,
scholar, lover.
I am above, below, in front, in back, within.
Timeless.
Womyn I am—
with or without a man.

I can’t not be an artist.
The hits come every day.
The acceptance is rare.
The praise is scarce.
But,
the love from my soul
is infinite and
ever growing.

It’s how I be.
Why be black?
Think melanin.
Why be emotional?
Think L.A. riots.
Why be militant?
Think 41 shots.
Why be truth?
Think Tuskeegee.
Why be Haitian?
Think first black republic.
Why be womyn?
Think Nikki.
Why do black art?
Ain’t I black?
Don’t I do art?
Why be me?
Who do I know better?

—Ella Turenne

Poems by Doug Tanoury

(Five August Poems)

Autumn In August

The unthinkable came to me
One night,
I felt her gone as a dream vanishes
Upon rising and gathers up its memory
In its wake.
Her touch is summer wind
In autumn trees,
A passing out of season,
Like leaves in August
Turning brown and crimson
And dropping off
On to still green lawns.
A thing out of step,
An order confused,
A long pattern of seasons
Broken and gone.

“She is not dead…
But only sleeping.”
I say out loud,
Certain that
Autumn cannot arrive in August,
As I make loud radio static
And breakers on the beach
By walking alone through dead leaves
That bury the grass gone dormant
In days of dark clouds
That sit on the horizon
Like cats on a window sill
In the zenith of twilight.

August

Late on these August nights,
I sit on my front porch
Unable to sleep,
And watch the stars,
But mostly I watch
The wind in the trees.
There is an elm a few doors down
That has branched out
Around the street lamp
So that the leaves glow
Translucent green in the night.
The wind moving branches
And leaves making it look
Like a carved jade sculpture
Come to life.

And I think that this has been
The summer of cut jade,
I have never seen grass so deeply green,
Or trees more ornate in their foliage,
And the sky has never been painted in
Finer shades of skyborn blues.
And I think too,
That this is what Icarus saw
And felt just before…
So if my wings fail now,
Let me fall, for I have kissed the sky
As if it were a holy icon
And filled my lungs with the
Pure whiteness of clouds, so
If I fall there will be no splash,
No sound except a sigh lifted
Airborne by the waves.

August Rain

I remember an August once
When I could talk to him
But didn’t and each word unspoken
Rested like a brick on the silence
That lay thick as a layer of mortar
And grew into hardness between us

These day’s I think of him
Mostly when rain falls in gray sheets
With a soft hiss as droplets
Paint the pavement with color
Of an overcast sky and collects
On the road in pools in brought to full boil

In summer storms with the
Sound of thunder on my skin
I recall in the air’s smell and
The wind cool in my hair
An August once when rain fell
In mortar gray hardness on our silence

August Leaves

Leaves of green
Foliage
Dancing lively and
Synchronized
In sunset skies

Sycamores in full
Silhouette
Are slowly changing
Magically
Transformed and stained

In subdued hues
Resembling
Weak tea tint
Evening’s
Watered down light

In sunset skies
Foliage
Dancing lively and
Synchronized
Leaves of green

Signs In August

As the mornings grow cooler in later August
I notice flowers grow more vivid
Each blossom wears a brighter shade
Each bud promises a more vibrant hue
And leaves grow a lusher green

In these evenings of late summer
The crickets seem to call louder
In a meter more pronounced
And becomes to me as I listen now
The very heartbeat of night

And in these signs I see
The season’s end foreshadowed
And I reflect on its last days
As rain falls in the afternoon and
Ends in white bursts across the pavement

Making leave and blossom twitch and tremble
As if animated the flowers awaken
From dreaming colors of summer mornings
And trees listen and sway silently to songs
That fill an August night

And I too am now awake

And wear a new more full awareness
Of the signs and signals of a season passing
And the significance of small and tiny symbols
Like a raindrop glistening
On a cricket’s charcoal back.

—Doug Tanoury

Poem by Marie-Hélène Laraque

To Find a New Land

To live my old dream
my homeland
to return to Haiti
to make a good life there
enjoy the weather and people
the plants and land
to bring something to my land
to see it thrive once again
to help the land be covered with
green again
to plant trees, food trees, flowers
to work with like-minded people
to bring new life to the old land
to be part of something worth-while
and good
to bring peace and to be a peace-maker
to help others to find a new way
a good path
to walk that path too
to know the heat and warmth,
the fog on the mountains,
the smell of the wet earth
my earth
my home
mine once again
in the home of my ancestors

To live my old dream
to know freedom
to live it
and accept it, and practice it
unchallenged by the endless choices
calm and sure and knowing
to others on my land
living their freedom too
in peace
and security
to feel truly secure
on every level.

To walk on my mountains
to discover the water places
in between the hills and the mountains
to walk into the cold water
feel the rocks under my feet
to walk among those rocks
pick watercress and mint
and feel my ancient people
with me
within me
and smile at the knowledge
and sureness of this.

To ride on horseback
in these mountains
and see for the first time
places I have wanted to see since childhood
the smells and tastes
of mountain-peoples’ food cooking
spit-out sugar cane, having
chewed it white, dry
sucking every drop.

To hear the old greetings of
the mountain people
as they pass each other walking
their Creole talk
the words and responses
I enjoyed so much as a child
feeling their connection
and mine.

To feel the connection
with the people
beyond our separations
and differences
our sameness, our spirit
our love
as it is given to me
each time.

To sleep there in the darkness
in the total blackness
but for the moon
and the candles
in the house of my childhood
up in the mountains
to rise and see the sun come up
through the mist
toes on wet grass
smells and sounds of home.

To know what to do with the land
to feel good about it
to plant it
to bring new life to it
to know it is well.

To know and accept my children’s
place there
or not
knowing they are well
and will be well
to be at peace there
to write and read
to rest
to walk
to know the silence
and the sounds.

To build something
a little caille in the traditional style
mud and sticks
and an earth floor to sit
and lie on
and a fire in the middle
to cook corn and coffee
and keep us warm
give us light and comfort
a knowledge of home
what it means to be alive
and a human being.

To bring encouragement and
new hope
to see my land used in a good way
thriving, green
to plant with my hands
gather, and share and eat
to know and understand the
things that grow
to know about the plants
and what used to be
to see how things are made—
baskets, earthen vase, djakout,
and where they grow—
tobacco, roucou, thyme,
seeds for necklaces.

To pick up flat stones
stones for carving
sea shells with holes in them
to wear in a sacred way

To see night fall
near the sea
palm trees
and the soft hot air
to breeze
the sun setting
the day is ending
the smell of the sea
the warm sand underfoot
the mountains in the distance
dark and full of mystery
the feeling—like nowhere else,
that painful beauty of home—
my beautiful land like nowhere else: Haiti.

—Marie-Hélène Laraque Boulder, Colorado, July 1997

Marie-Hélène Laraque passed away on March 30, 2000, at the age of 52. Anthropologist of profession, she devoted a big deal of her work to the cause of the rights of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, notably those of Canada’s Northwest Territories among whom she had lived during the last years of her life.

Marie-Hélène Laraque, avril 1948–mars 2000

Marie-Hélène Laraque, April 1948–March 2000

In an eulogistic essay dedicated to her memory, her friend Marie Wilson painted a woman of action animated by a great passion for life. Reported Wilson: “As recently as a year ago [1999], through the Dene chiefs here in the Northwest Territories, she arranged for the National Assembly of First Nations [an assembly of indigenous chiefs] to pass a motion recognizing a 1533 treaty between a hereditary Taino Chief, Guarocuya (Cacique Henri) and the crown of Spain. Through her motion, the Canadian chiefs recommended that a United Nations Special Report on Treaties and Agreements with indigenous populations around the world acknowledge this 1533 Bahoruco Peace Treaty as the very first treaty in the Americas between Indigenous people and Europeans.”

Further in the essay, Marie Wilson affirmed that Marie-Hélène was so much devoted to her activist work that one week before her death, still optimistic, she was making plans “to lobby on behalf of the dedicated health workers” she had met while undergoing cancer treatment: “She believed in the interconnections of people, and of our shared responsibilities to and for each other,” said Wilson.

As we feel in the internal music of her poem, she was manifestly the passionate for life depicted by her friend: “She had, said Wilson, “ a smile that could light up a room, and a beauty that was inescapable.”

Her poem, printed above, is a beautiful poem which waves its simplicity as a badge of honor, uniting the earth, its seed, life’s zest, and even life’s rubbish in a grand Whole, a sort of cosmic unity which would collapse without the continual renewal action undertaken every now and then by some of us.

It’s elating to see how the picture of her depicted by her friend, a Hélène generous of her time, “a caring and passionate sister to the world,” is vividly reproduced in the poem, like in the passage where she said she would like to return to Haiti to “enjoy the weather and people / the plants and land,” and further, “to bring encouragement and new hope / to see my land used in a good / way, thriving, green […] to know about the plants / and what used to be”.

“The death of my daughter Marie-Hélène was a blow that was devastating to me,” confided her father Franck Laraque, professor of literature at New York University, a well-known activist in the Haiti liberation movement. “She left Haiti when she was ten years old,” said Laraque, “to rejoin my wife and me in New York. She returned after the overthrow of the Duvaliers, more than thirty years later; but she had never forgotten the country of which she had retained a tenacious and luminous memory, as attested one of her poems written in English that I translated into French”.

—Tanbou July 2001 [Read the French version of the poem in “Poèmes en français”]

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