Andrew Salkey, “For Haiti” (1983)

In Memory of Jacques Stephen Alexis and Jacques Roumain


We’re either cut down, weighted and dumped into the sea

By the savagery of those licensed uncles of woven straw

Or else we’re driven into the ground by their lurking threats;

From both extremes, the headlamps of blue light terrorize us:

tontons-macoutes parading their acumen, proudly, at home,

Auto-zobops cruising, cynically, in sprawls, wherever they fester.

Always being chased by the galloping dread of Bakalou Baka,

We respond, simply, by moving on, while still anchored

To the long-continuing, inviolable Oath of January

Which even the subverting hurricanes of exile can’t silence;

Nor can their prolonged crescendo slacken the stretched skins

Of our Dahomey drums, sworn to the earth like rocks.


We come from a harsh land of mountains, buckled by drought,

A black house of nostalgia for France, a cage of fierce elites,

But also from a hopeful land of mountains, prevailing cacos,

Péralte and Batravaille, Dessalines over their shoulders,

Toussaint waving goodbye, wishing us good luck

We come from rivers of women, persistence, and Makandal.

We remember the long infamy of khaki, la gifle yankee,

The corvée, the gouging of bayonet to bone, the alien salt,

The slaughter at Aux Cayes, the landslides of humiliation,

And the raking thornbush spiraling deep inside us;

But we understand the reassurance of assôtor and açon,

Along with the contradiction and thrust of the scientific climb.


In the meant time, at his desk, in his wedding-cake palace,

The shepherd of terror is busy devising agony and destitution

(he’s not really worried about his steady bonanza of dollars;

that’s usually mined, promptly, whether asked for or not);

what’s bothering him are all those who got away:

the angry dispossessed, the dreaming maimed, and the dead.

Vévé flour on his hands, self-promoting designs on his scratch pad,

He straddles a ceremonial world of murder and endless delight

In notching the lives of the poor with more and more torment

and neglect;

He rules by Papa-echo, midnight decree, slice, and bullet.

Yet, he’s fretful of the open sea and the remembered dead.

The truth is, Jacques, the man’s menaced by the logic of water

and mountains.

Andrew Salkey, “For Haiti,” Grand Street (Winter 1983).

Image: Detail of dust jacket for Andrew Salkey’s Earthquake (Oxford, 1965). Click here for more information.

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  1. Posted October 4, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    Andrew Salkey, “For Haiti” (1983): #haiti #jamaica

  2. Posted October 4, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    "we respond, simply, by moving on" – Andrew Salkey (‘For Haiti’

  3. Posted October 5, 2011 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    … Péralte and Batravaille, Dessalines over their shoulders: #haiti #jamaica

  4. Posted October 7, 2011 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    Powerful! RT @public_archive: For Haiti:Poem by Jamaica’s Andrew Salkey from journal Grand Street: #SSchat #engchat

  5. Posted January 9, 2013 at 11:37 pm | Permalink

    For Haiti. Andrew Salkey, 1983:

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