TO BREAKING SEA CHAINS
Come, glide up my heart. Slide down my
blood. And yes, open a vein before the appointed autopsy hour...
i'm in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. it's April 1995 and there is this one
U.S. hero-general always turning on the intimidation, striding about
with his 20,000 US troops, his show of force, his cultural biases, his
imperial light eyes. Thank goodness i'm a dancer and knew how to do
the pirouette. Thank goodness i was an athlete and know i'm the only
one who can psyche myself out. And one night in Haiti, i did just that.
it's 3:00 a.m. in the morning. i am
in my hotel room at the El Rancho, exhausted by the days blazing heat,
still trudging through these old Haitian laws. The tiny bed is laden
with papers. i'm drafting a proposal for the Minister of Justice to
try and get some solid judicial infrastructures done, not just the training
of old judges who are about to get fired soon. That very afternoon i
spoke to someone who made a contact for me at the IDB. While i
am thinking this might be a decent funding avenue, i fall asleep. The
computer is still on. i dream i am five years old again - simply a
baby bronze girlchild with big dark eyes, ashy knees, a love for the
sea, chasing fireflies. i heard my childself. She was asking me a question.
"Why did you come back here?,"
she sighed. "Couldn't you have just left
me undisturbed in your memories: playing with dolls, chasing little
green and brown lizards, eating mangoes and sugarcanes. Dancing up the
road at that colorful Mardi Gras festival with the man on the tall stilts.
Enjoying the drumming rara bands passing by? Why did you come back here
and stop my laughter?"
i don't know why i said it. But in the dream i reassuringly told my
childself that i came back because i remembered something. i remembered
blood spurting i told her. i remembered the first time i smashed my
head on a rock.
We were still living in Petionville.
Mama was out of
sight, last seen in her bedroom, seated in front of the dresser mirror
- a gilded kwafez in finely carved cherry wood with those very
ornate hand-carved chest of drawers. Azibob, the Haitian carpenter next
door, a friend of Papa's, had handmade it and sold it to us.
While mother was putting on perfume, powder and brushing her long loosened
black hair, readying herself for bed, i snuck out. Peeping to be sure
no one saw me going up the road. i was following drum sounds and
When i reached the chalky rock boulder
i scrambled to the top, scraping bony knees and skinny legs. But
on top there i could see the people on stilts, the vivid colors, the
costumes, the drums, whistle blowers and cavorting dancers. i was only five
but i remember i was jumping around, dancing my butt off.
Next minute i'm slipping down, falling off the boulder head first. Blood
spurted everywhere. i was so scared. There was so much blood.
i wasn't supposed to be out of bed. The pain was so fierce, i thought
i was hemorrhaging on the inside. i got this scar on my right temple
from that fall.
"Oh yes!," My childself clapped. "i
was there too." Then she grimaced. "That
first fall makes our big Diane Carol-Lynn Whitfield forehead even more
prominently lopsided, huh? Doesn’t it? We thank Granmèt
la – the Master of Breath – for many things, most especially
for bangs, don't we?"
And just as i was going to wake up
from this weird, double consciousness dream, the childself pulled at my skirt in great agitation.
"Spend the night," she pleaded. I waited in silence.
"Take back the key," she said
mysteriously. "Smile. Be cheerful and silent, remember?
Nice, that's who you are."
Tenderly i embraced the trembling form. "Relax little girl. i'll
keep you safe, happily jumping rope and playing jacks with rocks and
marbles 'till eternity dawns."
She slaps my arms away.
li kriye - she yelled. "i don't
want to come to the place where dreams perish, you hear babies wailing
for food, sisterwomen and mamas are routinely exploited, underpaid,
tortured and raped. And the people die of malnourishment, curable diseases,
dirty water, imported-gun violence, white drugs or, are imprisoned without trial, conviction
or any defense. i want to play."
"Touch our duck. Isn't he cute? Look at the green lizard. Our jar
of fireflies. Remember our jar of yellow-polka dot butterflies, caught to set free? Come on, let's
play together again. Fly free. Find your smile again. Take off your shoes. Run
barefoot with me in the sudden summer rain downpour, okay? The sun shines brightest after. Come on. Pretty please? Here's your
favorite ice fresco."
i knew she was trying
to get me to remember a time before time. Instinctually. A time before this glaring
wakefulness, this radiant blindness; the illusion before. The time i was closer to, had a
sublime sense of fulfillment and self-confidence. But i couldn't lie
to her, faking a cheeriness i could no longer reach.
"i can't". "Why?"
she said. "Because we have to share this place now," i told
her. She wasn't buying it. So i said: "Don't be like that.
i didn't come down memory lane to hurt you". "Right!"
"Believe me." "No,"
Trying to explain, i pointed at our suffering cousins. "Listen,
i came so that they wouldn't have to live like that anymore. i came
so another five-year-old will get to laugh like you did."
"Don't drag me out here with you,"
she said, finally pulling out of my grasp. "i
don't care about no other kid. No people. Besides, nostalgia won't bring back lost
innocence and perished dreams."
"Listen," i said in a frantic tone: "You'll have the
tears i've lived trickling in our laughter, sifting across our heart,
our minds, your innocence. Life gets like that when one lives long
enough. But you'll be fine. Granmoun-yo, the Ancestors, they'll
make sure of it."
"i don't want to think about unknown Haitian
children eternally feeding, biting on venom, torment, starvation and
obscurity. Leave me alone."
"Leave me alone, will you? This
fear that you're merging with the insanity you've found and disillusionment is messing
with me. Don't you realize you can't save the world. Can't save me and
you in this world. it's not possible. You're not big enough, cunning
or insightful enough."
This cannot be your final resting place yet. Even though i hate a pity
party, i went back, i came back to Haiti to touch my own cultural source,
my own innocence - the North Star's promises. And touch, maybe, hope
in humankind - that most precious of intangible divinities.
Faith, Hope and Invincibility, yesterday grabbed them from me. i can't
set them free without my little girl innocence.... What is happening
to our people, to the Abner Louimas, won't let me believe wholeheartedly
again. Patrick Dorismond's mother, Amadou Diallo's mother, Haiti mothers. Black mothers. When i think
of their experiences i hear things. Listen. That's a wail let loose
from an African woman who has just, once again, lost her child to official
police violence and status quo brutality. Do you hear what i hear? How
it has no bottom to it. it's endless, scorching and unbounded by time....
i know you guys have heard lots about Elian
But i'm worried about my babies, the shipload of Haitian children no
one cares about, being sent back without even a hearing.
When i got
to Port-au-Prince there was that one U.S. general always turning on
the intimidation. There were the armies of U.S. military and government
lawyers, the innuendoes, the sexism. But amidst all the political and
economic complications, retarded sexist hassles and bleak difficulties;
amidst the legal technicalities and over-complicated mumbo jumbos, it
is those people, the simple Haitian fathers, sons, mamas, sisterwomen,
and babygirls, breaking sea chains, who held my attention.
My worst nightmare i think was to stare, do nothing for our people,
lose my soul connections 'cause i settled for bourgie freedom, suburban
amnesia and joined Prozac-land's unfeeling throngs, cynics and trained
in the dream, the last thing my childself said to me was: "What
you want lives in the present, not in memory. You've got it already.
Just see that!"
Well, if i could see, i wouldn't be here writing these pieces, right?
i wrote this (Breaking
Sea Chains) piece when i woke up:
BREAKING SEA CHAINS
(Sound of water and waves are sloshing about.)
i returned.....so they wouldn't HAVE to live like that....i went to
Haiti so they wouldn't have to leave like that again. But the American
general, with eyes in his head like stones, said, "When are you
going back to Connecticut?"....(Go to:
Breaking Sea Chains)
(c) 1997 by Ezili Dantò. Excerpted from The Red, Black &
Moonlight monologue series based on Kenbe La! Crossings of a Vodun-Roots
Woman by Ezili Dantò/(formerly, colonially named Marguerite Laurent). All rights reserved.
Bernadel Laurent, my mom,
elegant, sweet, poised, always a lady and always beautiful,
inside and out. Mama was about 24 years old in the first
picture (far left), and took the last photo to send to Papa,
who was in the US working and saving so he could bring her
there. Mama would say it was a curse to be attractive, have
your own mind and be from a very poor rural peasant family
in Haiti. Poor Haitian women have no protection. Before
immigrating to the US, Mama once had to work, as a domestic,
for one of the bourgeois monopoly "Arab"
families in Petionville,
where if it were not for the serendipitous intervention
of my Neg Ginen father, she may have been one of
the rich eldest son's numerous young girl victims. Mama,
though, would not be anyone's victim and her
tales of bucking the sexism, racism and harsh life of poverty
in Haiti, passed down to her four daughters raised in America,
were lessons that a woman had to have the tools and education
to look out for herself in this world. (See, The Bloods:
Distant Shores, Ancestral Grounds in The
Kenbe La books: Crossing of a Vodun-Roots Woman
by Marguerite Laurent/Ezili Dantò and Flashback
to Autumnal Equinox).
This photo montage of our mother was put together by my
sister, Chantal Laurent (See, The
Manman, on your shoulders we stand.
lives invisible....so many dreams including our own, all
of us must carry, keeping the faith of our African mothers
and fathers, so we can pass on the torch of Haitian love,
beauty, reaching for justice, peace, independence and co-existence.The
continues for us, for them all: from the past,
the present and for the future...
the entire African Diaspora, beating at the earth's drum,
eroding Womb's wall in a desperate toss at rebirth... It
takes everything. Coalescing all Africans, all lives rinsed
in endless aching pain... It's collective memory. The frustration
of generations of minds, generations of Africa's souls piling
up, swirling in the vortex, crying tears, tears, tearing
the ozone, tears urging recall. Of things. Crossroads. Of
the forgotten spaces making possible the symphony. Of the
messengers - those torn pieces of the mountains' debris
- come to tell of the way, not of the impossible dream.
" (Excerpt from Ezili Dantò's So
Much Like Here; See also, Ezili
live in Miami).
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