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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Haitian Poet Lenelle Moise-Mud Mothers

I’ve been watching on TV what’s happening in Haiti. My grandfather, who loves history, has been trying to explain Haiti’s history to me, to help me understand why he has always admired Haiti and why Haiti has always had a difficult time. It was the first post-colonial, independent black-led country in the world. Haiti fought against Napoleon, the French and won it’s independence in 1804. Wow!

I got an even clearer picture of who Haiti is and what its audacious, brave spirit has cost this amazing island country. Here is a poem by the Haitian writer Lenelle Moise. The example of her poem is why poetry has the biggest teeth. She sums up the truth in a few stanzas. I am still rereading this poem and holding my breath.

Mud Mothers
By Lenelle Moise

the children of haiti
are not mythological
we are starvin
or eating saltycakes
made of clay

because in 1804 we felled
our former slave captors
the graceless losers sunk
vindictive yellow
teeth into our forests

what was green is now
dust & everyone knows
trees unleash oxygen
(another humble word
for life)

they took off
with our torn branches
beheaded our future
stuck our breath up on pikes
for all the world to see

we are a living dead example
of what happens to warriors who -
in lieu of fighting for white men's countries -
dare to fight
for their own lives

during carnival
we could care less
about our bloated empty bellies
where there are voices
we are dancing

where there is vodou
we are horses
where there are drums
we are possessed
with joy & stubborn jamboree

but when the makeshift
trumpet player
runs out of rhythmic breath
the only sound left is guts

& we sigh
to remember
that food
& freedom
are not free

is haiti really free
if our babies die starving?
if we cannot write our names
read our rights keep
our leaders in their seats?

can we be free
really? if our mothers are mud? if dead
columbus keeps cursing us
& nothing changes
when we curse back

we are a proud resilient people
though we return to dust daily
salt gray clay with hot black tears
savor snot cakes
over suicide

we are hungry
creative people
sip bits of laughter
when we are thirsty
dance despite

this asthma
called debt
legendarily liberated

- Lenelle Moïse
©Lenelle Moïse 2009
Used with permission/Women Arts
Photo of Lenelle Moise

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