by Kyle Laws
In dining room, on formal Haitian couch,
high back carved with flowers & leaves,
I read George Sand’s Lettres D’un Voyageur.
Ever present goat baas under the window
heavily draped in lace until I tie it with
twine in hope of 3 o’clock breeze, hottest
part of the day, after lunch of rice and
a Gonaives green cooked with goat & crab
& onion, served with limeade, not sweetened,
and thick bread.
Around neck, a green fan with blue shield,
recommended to sleep with propped on chest,
needed less during night than listless afternoons.
Hours each morning on balcony of old prison,
now school, overlooking Independence Square.
Today, with Prestige, Haitian beer, party day
at school. Speakers blare in schoolyard,
and we dance before walking to University.
They would like a written promise of money,
or willing to agree.
The dog scratches at fleas, less hair on back
than when we arrived, and kittens leave
when drawn curtains are unavailable to climb.
Birds twitter from palms. Gate to courtyard
always closed, and path through wall to front
door is bricked by concrete block of which all
is constructed, holes carved for ventilation.
In shed, Celinianna’s begun dinner, after
hanging wash on the line, sleeveless T-shirts
we sweat into each day and shorts we wear
around house, long skirts for public view.
The gate creaks open; the red Isuzu Trooper
diesel cranks over; Pere Max leaves for Friday
cooking school. I replace batteries in neck fan;
it vibrates against my Prestige belly with new life.
“Gonaïves Friday” appeared in Exit 13 and in George Sand’s Haiti (Poetry West, 2013, co-winner of their chapbook award).
PHOTO: Gonaïves, Haiti, by Michael Laughlin, All Rights reserved.
NOTE: Gonaïves is a commune in northern Haiti, with a population of about 300,000 people (2011 census). Gonaïves is known as Haiti’s city of independence, because it was the location of Jean-Jacques Dessalines declaring Haiti independent from France on January 1, 1804. Dessalines was a leader of the Haitian Revolution and the first ruler of an independent Haiti under the 1805 constitution. Under Dessalines, Haiti became the first country to permanently abolish slavery. He is regarded as one of the founding fathers of Haiti.
IMAGE: Jean-Jacques Dessalines (1758-1806) depicted as Emperor Jacques 1 in mural, Port-au-Prince, Haiti (19th century).
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I made four trips to Haiti, both before and after the 2010 earthquake. During my first visit, I had only one French book on my shelf, George Sand’s Lettres D’un Voyageur, that seemed appropriate to the trip. George Sand was born the same year, 1804, that Haiti gained independence from France. I was to spend most of my time in Gonaïves, birthplace of the revolution. I was born in Philadelphia. The juxtapositions were interesting. I stayed in the rectory of an Episcopal priest in Gonaïves, a former retreat in Montrouis, and housing for aid workers in Port-au-Prince.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kyle Laws is based out of Steel City Art Works in Pueblo, Colorado, where she directs Line/Circle: Women Poets in Performance. Her collections include Ride the Pink Horse (Stubborn Mule Press, 2019), Faces of Fishing Creek (Middle Creek Publishing, 2018), This Town: Poems of Correspondence coauthored with Jared Smith (Liquid Light Press, 2017), So Bright to Blind (Five Oaks Press, 2015), and Wildwood (Lummox Press, 2014). With eight nominations for a Pushcart Prize and one for Best of the Net, her poems and essays have appeared in magazines and anthologies in the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Germany. She is editor and publisher of Casa de Cinco Hermanas Press. Visit her on Facebook.