May 24, 2012 in Poetry

And though I’ve tried swallowing seven gulps of water
three or four times every twenty-four hours
my childhood comes jolting back
in a hiccup
like a criminal to the scene of the crime
tell me of disaster
tell me of it

My mother wanted a child with good table manners
Hands on the table
don’t cut the bread
break the bread
don’t waste the bread
the bread of God
the bread won by the sweat of your Father
the bread of breads
A bone you eat with slowly and carefully
a stomach must be sociable
and all sociable stomachs
politely burp
a fork is not a toothpick
picking your nose
in plain sight of everyone
is absolutely prohibited
and don’t forget to sit up straight
a high class nose
never grazes the plate
and this and then
And then in the name of the Father
of the Son
of the Holy Spirit
at the end of each meal
And then and then
and then disaster
tell me of disaster
tell me of it

My mother wanted a son at the head of the class
If your history lesson is not learned by heart
you will not go to mass
in your sunday clothes
this child will be the shame our family
this child will be our oh dear Lord
be quiet

Have I not always told you you must speak french
the french of France
the french of the french
the french french
tell me of disaster
tell me of it

My mother wanted a son to belong to his mother
You forgot to say hello to the neighbor
your shoes are dirty again
and I find you in the street
on the field or the savannah
in the shade of the War Memorial
prancing around with someoneorother
with someoneorother who was never even baptized

My mother wanted a son so do
so re
so mi
so fa
so sol
so la
so si
so do

I see your skipping your vi-o-lin lesson
A banjo
you said a banjo
what do you mean
a banjo
No no sir
You know that in this house we tolerate
not ban
not jo
nor gi
nor tare
mulattos do not to that
so leave that to the blacks

By L.G. Damas
translated, from the French, by Courtenay Selden

Courtenay Selden recently graduated with a degree in French Literature from the University of Virginia. She is currently teaching in a first grade Spanish-English bilingual school in Houston, Texas. Léon Gontran Damas (1912-1978) was born in Cayenne, co-founded the review L’Étudiant Noir with writers Aimé Césaire and Léopold Sédar Senghor and is credited as one of the first leaders of the Négritude movement.


Creole Son of the Francophone World

March 8, 2012 in Poetry

Ours are the hills of the old marronnage
ours are the coves and the cobalt bluffs
the sovereign trees blooming
in the eye of the cyclone!

ours are the dark rum beaches
under the moonlight
companion stars facing the sea
warmly dazzling!
ours are the dancing evenings
offering one last glass
of punch to our dead!

ours is the frenzied carnival
the cock fights
the Catholic feasts
so intertwined with the Vaudou
free-spirited at the table and in bed!

ours is the soaring to seventh heaven
at the taste of sweet potato and manioc
of black beans and dion-dion rice,
of akra and little cod cakes,
of fish and plantains–
mischievous guards
of the paradise
of spicy dishes!

ours is the freedom to escape
the outrages of the past: the white-hard
times of hisses, spirt and endlessly shackled feet,
souls and hands
angels burning with lime
and bird pepper
on the wounds of long, long ago
and by the blood that runs even faster
than Somalia’s entire dark misfortune.

A history that is ours at least
sailing through the French-speaking world
a life-lost ocean for us
the sensuous jubilation of a drum
when we drink, eat and climax
to our gourmand and Creole imagination!

By René Depestre
translated, from the French, by Anita Sagástegui

Anita Sagástegui is currently pursuing her Masters in Art Education at the Academy of Art Univeristy in San Francisco. She also teaches visual arts, and has taught with the Center for the Art of Translation. René Depestre (1926-) is a Haitian poet. He lived in Cuba as an exile from the Duvalier regime for many years, and helped found the Casa de las Americas publishing house.