Tag Archives: haiti

Haiti

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.

Drought

I.

The bean plants fall into the cracked clay
like the damned into some pit,
their dusty leaves writhing arm-like
in displays of supplication.

When the mud from the last rain dried
it buckled up in the middle of the street
like a small range of sharp mountains
stamped into craters by goats’ feet.

Drought clings to my hair and shirt
when I walk along the mountain road,
turns to thin mud when I stand under
the rusty pipe in Mercedes’ shower.

II.

The expectant sky breathes hard and shallow,
moist air from a straining bellows
shaking dry cornstalks.
When the drenching birth of rain finally comes,
we all run out to midwife the storm,
Bachanal dancing.
The rain feels like snow in the hot air,
stinging the skin with its cold,
steams when it strikes stone.

The dust mountains in the streets burst
and spill into rivers that wind through
the garbage in the roads,
save the burning bean stalks only to drown them,
and pull the hillsides down into valleys
to carry them into the sea.


My month in the Dominican Republic was the “rainy season”; every afternoon, so regularly you could set your watch by it, a downpour flooded the streets. All the kids in the village, and the gringo visitors, ran out to play in the rain and mud, while the adults made sure the rain barrels were positioned to collect water. The government controlled the water that came from pipes, and we could only be sure the faucets would work until about nine in the morning.

The region had been so badly deforested that the downpours were more a cause of erosion than replenishment; it was worse over the border in Haiti. Farms clinging to the steep hills were always in danger of washing away, and the mud turned back to dust by evening.

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