From the border hill,
surrounded on three sides by Haitian mountains,
I can see the prison, the old mansion,
the market on my side of the island.
On the other side, nearly invisible in the dust,
is a twin prison, a twin market town.
Our rain and our sugar can cutters
come together from Haiti,
twin black clouds bringing the French island’s
wealth to eastern Hispañola.
And Haiti becomes dry and lonely,
like an old tin cup turned over
until all its blood has dripped out.
Haiti’s colors explode in Santo Domingo’s streets,
purple-skinned boys asking,
in patois-tinted voices,
“Tengo dinero? Tengo dinero?”
Purple-painted canvases declaring,
with their sharp shapes and rounded lines,
that life was vibrant in the twin market.
He brought his gray horse down through the trees
to drink at the stream we were swimming,
two miles into Haiti, unknown to swaggering soldiers.
His rough patois was strange
to my high school French,
but together we learned that he hadn’t eat in two days,
that work restrictions on the rich half of the island
were harsher than ever before,
that a nickel-a-day on Dominican fields
was still shinier than hunger in Haiti.
Old blood still clogs the streams
running north and south across Hispañola,
clotted into a bridge for bare feet
looking for rain and sugar.
The relationship between Haiti and Dominican Republic has been strained and often bloody. In 1937, the Parsley Massacre killed 17,000 to 35,000 Haitians living in the borderlands. (The Dominican soldiers used parsley–perejil to the Dominicans, pèsi to the Haitians–as a shibbeloth to identify their victims).
When I was in the Dominican Republic, we often saw Haitians in the town market, and in the cane fields. One day we ventured a little ways into Haiti, and it was clear that though the Dominican Republic was impoverished, it was a city of gold compared to Haiti.