"There are things human eyes should not see, human ears should not hear. You do not witness certain things, even second hand, even a month later with impunity. After visiting the downtown area, I felt feverish and laid down sick two days after my return home. There was little left of the Port-au-Prince I knew, but rubble and broken buildings, still a few corpses in the streets, entire areas where Godzilla seems to have stomped indiscriminately. Monster. "Thing", which destroyed my city leaving the ghosts of more than two hundred thousand hidden among the smoke, the debris, the steel dust, the sand." "Two hundred thousand ghosts follow my footsteps. . . ." The footsteps belong to poet, spoken word performer, actress, novelist, and painter Michele Voltaire Marcelin, who was born in Port-au-Prince in 1955. She was not in Haiti when the earthquake struck; she lives and teaches in New York City. Her 89-year-old mother, recovering from a stroke, was. Marcelin writes movingly here about finally reaching her by phone. She lost other members of her extended family, their names now forever linked to a too-long list of 200,000 other names to be spoken forever now in past tense only. Yesterday is what she tries — "obstinately" she says — to not let go of. In "rift", Marcelin writes:
underneath the beauty was a rift
in the heart of the land was a rift
and the rift in the land reached the rift in our heart
and we lost our people and the land…
Of "yesterday" she entreats:
say this is only a dream and afterwards morning
say i will emerge from this shadowy darkness
obstinately i grab the day in my teeth
taking steps back growling
but life pulls it away tearing it to shreds
blindfolded in my dream
i summon up names of streets
places that witnessed my life and youth . . . .
The complete poem is here. You must read it slowly, out loud. It is witness. It is about what is "hidden among the smoke, the debris, the steel dust and sand". Be sure to read "The Thing" on Marcelin’s site and sit still with the images before you. There, of things she was told, she repeats: "Take them as you will. There is no proof offered, there can be no refutation. The truth is an earthquake hit my land and each person lived this experience differently. . . ."
Marcelin lives the experience of the quake through words:
do not talk to me about prayer
talk is cheap
and my anger supersedes my grief
remember . . . .
Marcelin reads "Le Gout Des Larmes (The Taste of Tears)" here, where the text also is available. You may also read and listen to Marcelin recite her "La Promesse (The Promise)", from which the excerpt above is taken, and "Life Is Split at the Seams". (The video also is provided at the end of this post.) A video of a reading by Marcelin can be accessed here. Marcelin’s reading is powerful. In a PBS NewsHour profile, Marcelin helps us in "Understanding Haiti’s Disaster Through a Poet’s Eyes". (Reprinted from Maureen Doallas’s blog: writingwithoutpaper)