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quaking conversation

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i want to talk about haiti.
how the earth had to break
the island’s spine to wake
the world up to her screaming.
 
how this post-earthquake crisis
is not natural
or supernatural.
i want to talk about disasters.
 
how men make them
with embargoes, exploitation,
stigma, sabotage, scalding
debt and cold shoulders.
 
talk centuries
of political corruption
so commonplace
it's lukewarm, tap.
 
talk january 1, 1804
and how it shed life.
talk 1937
and how it bled death.
 
talk 1964.  1986.  1991.  2004.  2008.
how history is the word
that makes today
uneven, possible.
 
talk new orleans,
palestine, sri lanka,
the bronx and other points
or connection.
 
talk resilience and miracles.
how haitian elders sing in time
to their grumbling bellies
and stubborn hearts.
 
how after weeks under the rubble,
a baby is pulled out,
awake, dehydrated, adorable, telling
stories with old-soul eyes.
 
how many more are still
buried, breathing, praying and waiting?
intact despite the veil of fear and dust
coating their bruised faces?
 
i want to talk about our irreversible dead.
the artists, the activists, the spiritual leaders,
the family members, the friends, the merchants
the outcasts, the cons.
 
all of them, my newest ancestors,
all of them, hovering now,
watching our collective response,
keeping score, making bets.
 
i want to talk about money.
how one man's recession might be
another man's unachievable reality.
how unfair that is.
 
how i see a haitian woman’s face
every time i look down at a hot meal,
slip into my bed, take a sip of water,
show mercy to a mirror.
 
how if my parents had made different
decisions three decades ago,
it could have been my arm
sticking out of a mass grave
 
i want to talk about gratitude.
i want to talk about compassion.
i want to talk about respect.
how even the desperate deserve it.
 
how haitians sometimes greet each other
with the two words “honor”
and “respect.”
how we all should follow suit.
 
try every time you hear the word “victim,”
you think “honor.”
try every time you hear the tag “john doe,”
you shout “respect!”
 
because my people have names.
because my people have nerve.
because my people are
your people in disguise
 
i want to talk about haiti.
i always talk about haiti.
my mouth quaking with her love,
complexity, honor and respect.
 
come sit, come stand, come
cry with me. talk.
there’s much to say.
walk. much more to do.

Lenelle Moïse, "quaking conversation" 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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quaking conversation

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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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