A song for Haiti

Like most people across the globe, I've spent the past few days crying, praying, and learning what I can do to help Haiti. I see images of a broken city and a ravaged people. I hear about young girls fighting with all their hearts to save children who have wonderful futures and of local families holding their breaths as they wait to learn if their children are safe ... and if they can get to them.

My mind turns endlessly, searching for something to do, some way to help this amazing culture rebuild itself -- and do it in a way that shirks off the shroud of war and famine that blanketed the region for decades leading up this disaster. I donate and I tweet and I post links on Facebook. I plan fundraisers and talk to my children about our ability and responsibility to stay with Haiti now and for years into the future.

And then I think about the sheer talent Haiti breeds. Writers, musicians, painters, photographers -- all this amazing creativity that we rarely see or hear because life in that nation is so grueling and soul-crushingly hard. I can't help but wonder what words and songs are buried in that rubble. How many voices and perspectives will be forever hidden thanks to the enormous walls thrown up by this utter destruction? Even among those buddings artists who survive, how many of them will cast off creativity as they claw their way forward, starting fresh every morning with sole hope of surviving just one more day.

I remember living in Boston and meeting so many Haitian writers through my work at Beacon Press. Meeting Edwidge Danticat at a book release party. Sitting in awe of her as she told of her family's struggle to escape the tortures of Haiti and then assimilate into American culture without losing the core of themselves. Reading her short stories and novels and finding myself gripped in yearning to know that culture as well as she does.

There were long talks and dancing. Music and words and stories painting a picture of gorgeous and cruel paradise that was stolen from its people by greed and ignorance. At a different industry party, I met Patrick Sylvain and was mesmerized by his poetry about his homeland. I dare you to read this and not be moved:

Army of Draculas
All the monsters live here
on this half dead island.
An army of Draculas
haunting street demonstration
with diabolical tanks
roaring down
Jean-Jacques Dessalines’ boulevard
to eat children
who dare sing.
I see darkness all around
and hear a hawk’s laughter
ringing in the plains.
I smell urination in the dust
for death is the rhythm
of the ground.
It is not yet midnight
and the skies empty of the moon
I hear wolves wail
And hours creaking
past dead bones.
On this half dead island
the rifle of the Zenglendos
stares death in the eyes
and coughs blood.
I still hear the hawk’s laughter
and crunching bones.
Inside election booths
soldiers carry death
in their mouths
rifles play ballads
and gun butts slap faces
until blood river flows.
--Patrick Sylvain

In the spirit of these brave voices, I have a new prayer for Haiti: May those sharp and soulful voices emerge from this disaster stronger and louder and with all the depth of spirit found in the mountains studding the nation. May the world truly listen to Haiti's voices of song and poetry -- and may those voices awaken inside of us all the burning desire to eradicate that tremendous poverty and cultivate only hope in the Haitian soil.


  • Unknown

    Honestly! This post was SO perfect. Thank you for writing this powerful piece. My heart just hurts so badly when I think of the suffering that is happening there right now. Nice to meet you : )

  • Susan Berlien

    Your words and prayers for Haiti are beautiful. They have meaning and will make a difference even if just in a small way.

  • amber_mtmc

    Kelly, this was beautiful. Yes, so many voices that are yet to be found. So many people looking for a brighter future.

    I am praying. I am hoping. I am thinking.

    Thank you.

  • Kristen @ Motherese

    Kelly, this is a powerful and moving post. And I am grateful to you for reminding me of the rich literary tradition of Haiti. I am also a fan of Edwidge Danticat and am happy to be introduced to the poetry of Patrick Sylvain.

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