Where are your monuments, your battles, martyrs?
Where is your tribal memory? Sirs,
in that gray vault. The sea. The sea
has locked them up. The sea is History.

First, there was the heaving oil,
heavy as chaos;
then, likea light at the end of a tunnel,

the lantern of a caravel,
and that was Genesis.
Then there were the packed cries,
the shit, the moaning:

Exodus.
Bone soldered by coral to bone,
mosaics
mantled by the benediction of the shark’s shadow,

that was the Ark of the Covenant.
Then came from the plucked wires
of sunlight on the sea floor

the plangent harp of the Babylonian bondage,
as the white cowries clustered like manacles
on the drowned women,

and those were the ivory bracelets
of the Song of Solomon,
but the ocean kept turning blank pages

looking for History.
Then came the men with eyes heavy as anchors
who sank without tombs,

brigands who barbecued cattle,
leaving their charred ribs like palm leaves on the shore,
then the foaming, rabid maw

of the tidal wave swallowing Port Royal,
and that was Jonah,
but where is your Renaissance?

Sir, it is locked in them sea sands
out there past the reef’s moiling shelf,
where the men-o’-war floated down;

strop on these goggles, I’ll guide you there myself.
It’s all subtle and submarine,
through colonnades of coral,

past the gothic windows of sea fans
to where the crusty grouper, onyx-eyed,
blinks, weighted by its jewels, like a bald queen;

and these groined caves with barnacles
pitted like stone
are our cathedrals,

and the furnace before the hurricanes:
Gomorrah. Bones ground by windmills
into marl and cornmeal,

and that was Lamentations –
that was just Lamentations,
it was not History;

then came, like scum on the river’s drying lip,
the brown reeds of villages
mantling and congealing into towns,

and at evening, the midges’ choirs,
and above them, the spires
lancing the side of God

as His son set, and that was the New Testament.

Then came the white sisters clapping
to the waves’ progress,
and that was Emancipation –

jubilation, O jubilation –
vanishing swiftly
as the sea’s lace dries in the sun,

but that was not History,
that was only faith,
and then each rock broke into its own nation;

then came the synod of flies,
then came the secretarial heron,
then came the bullfrog bellowing for a vote,

fireflies with bright ideas
and bats like jetting ambassadors
and the mantis, like khaki police,

and the furred caterpillars of judges
examining each case closely,
and then in the dark ears of ferns

and in the salt chuckle of rocks
with their sea pools, there was the sound
like a rumour without any echo

of History, really beginning.

 

Source

Voices from Haiti: Storm (English Version) by Kwame Dawes

English version of the visual poem Storm with poetry by Kwame Dawes, images by Andre Lambertson.

For Malia Jean

From here the mountains around
Port-au-Prince are green; too
far to see the denuded hillside,
too far to see the brown wounds,
too far to see the layered
city of sand bags, wooden
reinforcements, heavy plastic
tents, the gravel, the dust,
the narrow lanes, the gutters,
the stolen power lines,
the makeshift clubs, the cinema,
the internet café, the phalanx
of shower booths, the admonitions
to keep the place clean, as if
someone hopes to restore
this stripped down hillside
to its glory as a golf course
for expatriates, the moneyed,
the diplomats, too far
to see the constant cloud
from wood fires and coal
factories tucked into
this city of improvisation; too far
though from here you can smell
the rain gathering at dusk.
Tonight the deluge will heal
all sores, clear the air of dust
from the crushed stones;
tonight the alabaster ruins
will gleam through the tender
mist of rain; and this body
that has grown weary with living,
will hope for a flame of prophesy;
for even the smallest ember
must keep the heat from slipping
away. This is my world,
these days; this and the ritual
of pills, the cycle of nausea,
the relief at three in the afternoon,
that hour when I feel as normal
as I was before all of this.
The blackness at the edge
of my eyes returns by five o’clock;
and here is where my prayers
are stripped of all ostentation,
here faith is tasteless
as unleavened bread; here
hope is a whisper from a dried
mouth, and I know what
the presence of God is. The cool
silence of a cemetery at twilight
is my comfort; the resignation,
the calm presence of mountains,
like these dumb tombstones.
I long to make deals with God.
The transaction the weary
and heavy laden make: Take
this body, it is used up now,
let it rest, dear God, let it
rest. Take this body, it is
yours now, let it rest, Lord,
let it rest. The storm covers
the earth. I stand in the rain.
It comes like the sound of grace,
soaking me to the bone—first
the taste of salt, then the clean
flow of healing slipping in my mouth.

Reading may differ slightly from text

This video is part of a multi-media series "Voices from Haiti" (http://bit.ly/rdk0fp) exploring life after the quake, focusing on the lives of those affected by HIV/AIDS.