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René Depestre

Caribbean Mother

From the very beginning
the sea puts you in cosmic harmony
with all beings, all places,
all plants and animals, rocks and rain,
and all of the world’s enchanting stories.

It is the original uterus
the amniotic past
the initial warm spring
magical realism
wound around the umbilical cord.

At your school desk
the sea teaches you
to always be in cahoots
with butterflies and dragonflies
fish and hummingbirds
the waters and pebbles of rivers
revelries and sufferings of life.

The school sits atop a cliff
the Gulf of Jacmel is its vast blue neighbor
in class the Caribbean Sea
offers us the elsewhere which with its aura protects
the indigo wonder of the sky and waves
the contagious radiance of the foam
tied to the fascinating mystery of the French language.

The sea washes away the life in each word
that Christopher Colombus’ adventure
passed onto blackface minstrels or to
whitewashed semantic traps: Indian,
white, black, mulatto, yellow!

There is a grand arc that vibrates
with a double Creole and francophone bow‐string;
there is the sea, mediator of French speech
that like a mother unites in joyful measure
islands and terra firma, flavors
and spells of the homeland;
there is the sea’s maternal abc’s
placing underneath
your sandal‐clad poet’s feet
its vital impetus of salt and freedom.


Here I am Damballah-Wedo
Water Black Stream Black
I am the beating heart of the water
I am the taut sex of the water
A thunder rock in hand
I drench a small branch of basil
In a glass of white wine
And I spray your shallow faces
I spray your pale hysterias
I water the cardinal points of your vices
I crawl on my back I spin out my rada
I glide I dance my Yanvalou at your house
If you see a green snake
Dance with the eldest of your daughters, it is me!
If you see a rainbow passionately embracing her groin,
it’s me once again!
I change the eldest of your daughters into a rainbow!
Now she slithers with my seven snakes
Now she undulates in the sun of my vigor
Now she makes the rounds of my sweet waters
Now she kisses three times my Damballah
And my We do my Wilibo my Wilimin
I am Voodoo’s rainbow: I am vaudou-l’arc-en-ciel
And the eldest daughter of an Alabama Judge
Is going to lose her white bonnet on my shores!

In front of the night

The lady was not alone
she also had a husband
very stylish husband
talking about Rakina and Corneig
and Voltaire and Rousseau
for the elder Hugo and the young Musse
for Zid and Valery
and a lot more

The lady was not alone;
She had a husband,
A husband who knew everything,
But to tell the truth knew nothing,
For you can't have culture without making concessions.
You concede your flesh and blood to it,
You concede your own self to others;
By conceding your gain
Classicism and Romanticism,
And all that our souls are steeped in.