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Letter to Haiti: A Love Poem

5 years ago
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Desire....The opposite is death. So do you wonder? How could you possibly wonder!
-Blanche DuBois

Dear Haiti,

I thought I would write you as
A beautiful but destitute woman:
Everyone wanted you; no one would marry you.
No one dared marry you,
Not that you cared for marriage.
But you are not that woman.

So, then I tried Hemingway-
No, better Graham Greene-
Breakfasts of kumquats and rhum-coke calm;
A strange epoch in which time stood still
Save for the slow decay of the gingerbread porch.
But that was all just picked up from what I read later.

Next, I looked for something in your shapes:
There was your physical form, a Siamese twin
Trying to wrest herself free, to be on her own;
Or, there was the way your name sounds like Hades in English,
And in French, like high,
And when you say it, like I.
But no accent or point of view quite captured you.

The truth is I don't remember you in a word or a story.
And, being away from you for so long,
My memory has had to filter through all the talk
Of impatient longings to write your ending.
I thought I would write you tragically,
But that too was a borrowed impulse.

Still, there is a tone, a quality of sound,
Of air, a sensibility that stays with me.
You taught me to see colors
I cannot find anywhere else.
The closest I've come-
A dusty turquoise, let's say-
Is always slightly too muted or too dark.
The pinks are too aggressive - not your pink.
But sometimes, when the daylight is warm and wide,
I'll notice I'm wearing your colors,
Painting the streets with them,
Giving them away to friends.

You are a gorgeous one. Everyone agrees.
I remember your beasts and your flowers,
Though I can't recall their names.
I can still hum pieces of your lullabies,
Though I couldn't sing them from start to end.
Even now I can ask for ice cream in your creole,
But I wouldn't know how to write it down.
And, after all this time, I can still picture
Your steamy mountains,
Your beaches of black sand
Sparkling like powdered onyx,
Your women carrying
Heavy loads on their heads. No hands!
In your care, I learned to do it too.

Now I see you. There you are
Walking up the hill
Balancing a basket of fruit on your head.
You cannot find your children.
You will keep looking, I know.
I was a sensual child in your lap.
We are all like that with you.
We all love to touch your world.
You will keep walking up the hill.
I have seen you do it before.
You are stronger than your buildings.
Your head is level. Your babies are laughing.

Nelly Lambert, a Ph.D. student in English and American literature at Catholic University, lived in Haiti as a child, from 1983-1987

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