In December 1972 I visited Port-au-Prince with my family. I remember the wide smiles, the narrow streets, the marketplaces, the palace. The sun shone down hillsides; from our taxi's windows my cousin and I watched a cockfight that seemed a blur of brilliant colors; and at the end of the day we stopped outside the city while the sun set and our parents sampled the local rum.
As I became older, knowledge of the island's political strife, poverty, and the writings of Edwidge Danticat and Jacques Roumain, among others, replaced my childhood memory of the Haitian capital: what was once a watercolor in my mind became a charcoal drawing with complicated lines. The January 12th earthquake has made me call up memory again, and I find myself stumbling.
Madison Smartt Bell, in Sunday's New York Times "Week in Review" article, "Haiti in Ink and Tears: A Literary Sampler," ends with a passage from Jacques Roumain's "Masters of the Dew." In literature one can find one's bearings. For Haiti recovery, balance, and the writing that comes of all this will take a very long time.
"It was a sad song - I mean to say that she was sad and that she didn't know any other kind of song. She didn't sing loud and it was a song with no words, her mouth shut the song sticking in her throat like a moan... so what do you want? She sang as the black girls do, as if you're smothering a sob, and this song always ends by beginning again because it is made in the image of misery, and tell me, will misery ever end?"
Jacques Roumain, "Gouverneurs de la Rosée" ("Masters of the Dew") Translation by Mr. Bell
- from The New York Times, Sunday, January 17, 2010