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  4. where our protest sound by Lenelle Moïse
where our protest sound

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jazz is underwater
vodou atlantis mute
aborted ultrasound
fetal fish in flood
haiti's first cousin
forcibly kissed
by a hurricane called
katrina. hot winds
come one fat
old levee leak
explodes. fixing funds gone
to homeland
security. soldiers
stationed in iraq. said,
jazz is underwater
days like laissez-faire
manna does not fall
saviors do not save
hunger prays to rage for
resilience, improvisational genius
implodes, anarchy duets
with despair.
bassist fingers loot—nimble
like a deft pianist. said, vodou
atlantis mute. the fragile
eardrums of instant orphans get
inundated with someone else's mama's
soprano saxophone screams.
(meanwhile televised tenor
voices report monotonous
drone to drown out)
the deafening beat
of funeral marchers
can't swim.
bloated trumpet
carcasses, a singer swallows human
sewage. her last note, a curse
on america. aborted
ultrasound. cacophonous
warnings scatter brains.
pedestrians hear calls to
evacuate, escape, and think, how
fast can on-foot run? the poor, the weary
just drown. abandoned elders
just drown. people
in wheelchairs just drown. the sick
in bed cannot leave. their doctors stay
behind too. new emergencies engulf
the e.r. swamped hospitals ain't
hostels, ain't shelters.
resources slim
like hope. nurses stay
behind too. their loyal partners
will not leave. ill-fated
rejects just drown. said, fetal fish
in flood. outside, a breaking
willow weeps like a father
on his rooftop, murmuring
his wife's last words: clutch tight
to our babies and let me
die, she had pleaded, you can't
hold on to us all, let me die.
she, too, like jazz, is
underwater. her love,
her certainty, will
haunt him. their children's
survival, a scar. sanity also
loses its grip, guilt-weight
like cold, wet clothes.
eighty percent of new orleans
submerged. debris lingers, disease
looms. said, days like laissez-faire.
manna does not fall. shock battles
suicide thoughts.
some thirsty throats cope,
manage dirges in cajun, in zydeco.
out-of-state kin can't
get through.
refugees (refugees?) remember
ruined homes.
a preacher remembers the book
of revelations. still saviors
wait to save.
and the living wade with the countless
dead while
a wealthy president flies
up where brown people look
up where
brown people look like
spoiled jambalaya, stewing
from a distance
in their down-there
distress, said,
he's free—
high up—far up—
vacation fresh—eagle up, up
and away
from the place
where our protest
sound started, still
sings. american music
gurgling cyclone litanies
man cannot prevent, the man
cannot hear.

Lenelle Moïse, "where our protest sound" from Haiti Glass. Copyright © 2014 by Lenelle Moïse.  Reprinted by permission of City Lights Books, www.citylights.com.
Source: Haiti Glass (City Lights Books, 2014)
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where our protest sound

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  • Poet, playwright, and performance artist Lenelle Moïse was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and grew up in the suburbs of Boston. She earned an MFA in playwriting from Smith College. When she was 20 years old, Moïse wrote the screenplay for Bolivian director Rodrigo Bellot’s film Sexual Dependency, which has been screened at numerous international film festivals. Her first collection of poetry, Haiti Glass (2015), won the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Literary Award. Her poetry and prose have appeared widely in anthologies such as Word Warriors: 35 Women Leaders in the Spoken Word Revolution (2007) and We Don't Need Another Wave: Dispatches from the Next Generation of Feminists (2006).
    In her work, influenced by both jazz and hip-hop, Moïse explores the intersections of race, gender, sexual identity, and memory. Her most recent one-woman shows include Word Life, an autobiographical coming-of-age story, and Speaking Intersections, an investigation of queer poetics and prose. She...

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