Reprise - Haiti on my mind

Haiti still on your mind I hope - A list of resources from the tri-lingual Haitian magazine Tanbou available at The following poem from that magazine is used with the permission of the author.


Poem by Tontongi

The Port-au-Prince I Knew

It was a sonic, dreadful, shocking blow
the scoop, the news that day
for them it was—alas!—reality
those seconds of horror
a terrible moment
hell on Earth magnified
the cement-brick walls protecting my refuge
against the elements and my security ceilings
suddenly have become destroyers.

Your most trusting hut or lovely home
can any moment collapse on your head
disposable cadavers you become
in those seconds when your destiny is made
amid a long desert of suffering
hell on Earth magnified
ten-times multiplied.

Hell on Earth
a sea of blood and tears
where even survivors are not safe:
“I don’t know if we can make it,”
my nephew said after surveying
the long Calvary of broken bones
human humming as a trailing pain slope.

Amid the unending real-life nightmare
daily consumption of vivid tragedy
history is remade—Did you know
people on this island always die stupid death?
Unnecessary deaths for lack of nutrients
lack of water to drink, cook or bathe
lack of medicines to sustain wellbeing
lack of everything that saves life.

My people are always dying
they die on a Monday morning
without any obvious causality
slow mass dying in silence
outside the glaring eyes of CNN News
they die outside human consciousness.

Even after deadly, repetitive tremors
Haiti has not disappeared, not ever.

The skeletal remains of the majestic Cathedral
whose spectral and eerie shadow
charmed my childhood soul
feel like slow, painful kicks on my wounds.
In my remembrance of our first encounter
she was a revelation
a discovery of a new space
joined with atemporal grace
she existed as in a dream
a furtive moment in passing.

She was the place for great Te Deums
also where things happen unexpectedly
her high silhouette seen from afar
hid unseen truth from sinners and saints
her odor of burned, wet candle
mixed with rum and sorrowful tears
conferred a peaceful, existential mystique.

Hotel Montana was destroyed
in a swirling fury just like the Cathedral
I remember going there almost every Sunday
with my sister Mimine a regular loyal fan
to hear the mini-jazz band Les Fantaisistes
and dance the melodious Compas Direct rhythm;
I remember I went there on a November 1st
a teenager in search of thrills and peer cachet
and enjoyed so much the Gede Vodou feast
that I drank myself to total oblivion
Hotel Montana was the place.

The agony of Port-au-Prince is painful
but my Port-au-Prince was already long dead
long before this extra-destructive quake;
she had become a neglected, mistreated city
a monster slum eating up the whole land
she had become a beauty turned ugly
a dirty and unsafe and toxic Port-au-Prince
a place where people die in slow but sure death;
she was no longer the Port-au-Prince I knew
she was overpopulated and dreadful
she needed a revolution or a quake.

Still I mourn sacred human bodies
suddenly violated by Nature’s madness
I mourn those innocents’ entrapment
in the great void of contingence
those who already had nothing
who now lose even that nothing
those suddenly transformed as cadavers,
human rubbish for the mass pit.

Yet I enjoy the genuine togetherness
even amid Big Brother’s reflexive antics
Somalia replay in 2010 except this time
the Haitian people will early see the light
they would remember 1791 and before
and what came after and beyond
and the people of the world will stay vigilant
to preserve centuries of valorous struggle
to gain what we have so sacrificed to gain:
real-life freedom
the dignity of being.

I would welcome our neighbor’s grace
in bringing water and firefighter
to extinguish the fire in our house;
I would welcome his goodness of heart
in providing sustenance and comfort
yet I would still resent him if he stays
against my will in my house in a guise
and tells me what to do like a master;
I welcome genuine solidarity and empathy
from those who care and share my sorrow
I welcome the helping hand
and not the holding grip.

Even from the distance of exile
I feel the unending tremors of the quake
the daily nightmares remaining reality;
in the mortal incineration of my home town
an important part of me has joined the ashes
I mourn my people’s anguish
yet my heart even in the absence of joy
is full of the hopeful wind of change
full of the creative energy even chaos
sometimes entails in its infinity
my soul takes pride in this human togetherness
and is full of hope for a better Haiti
a Haiti rebuilt on sounder and more just grounds.

Those who come from afar
and the land’s children who stay put
the survivors who endure utmost calamity
the doctors, the nurses, the vigilant reporters,
those who feel and care
those who want to continue
until human decency is achieved
I salute your great sacrifice
at the end that’s what counts
human solidarity in action
I salute you
I salute your sharing my dream.

—Tontongi January 28, 2010