Friday, July 8, 2016

Today, I Read Rene Depestre in Cranston, Rhode Island

Today, July 8, I read Rene Depestre.

After a week living here with my Haitian Diaspora family, I came across Depestre's poem, Black Ore

Years ago, back when I was still filing papers that had anything to do with the Haitian experience, I had saved it. A paper copy, it shocked me, enthralled me, haunted me these many years.

It is an English translation, of Haitian-born Rene Depestre's poem Mineral Noir (1956) - the closing lines of which have a strong ring of truth today, July 8, 2016. 

Today, July 8, a black sniper killed at least 7 white policemen
Today, in Dallas.  
Today, in a fury against excessive police brutalities - no, let's not gloss over this, against two murders, two murders of African Americans by uniformed police. 

Today, in Dallas, untrammeled hate rose up.  
Seven policemen dead, a dozen police injured.  The bystanders are no longer innocent, they are witnesses. 

A nation scarred.  A nation scared.

Is there a way to understand?  To assimilate, to digest these events?

To understand demands the impossible: to re-live centuries in a black skin. 

Despestre's words demand: 

Mûris ton grisou dans le secret de ta nuit corporelle
Nul n'osera plus couler des canons et des pièces d'or
Dans le noir métal de ta colère en crues.

"Bring forth your explosive secret body (of) night,
Never again will any dare to cast cannon or coins
From the black metal of your overflowing rage." 

The past week had begun with fireworks at a beach here in Cranston where mine was almost the only white face to redden in the sun.  

Then, a police murder of a young black man in Louisiana, followed by another horrific police killing, witnessed at closest range by a young woman and her child.  She, sitting next to the murdered black man in their vehicle...the 4 year old in the back seat.

And the harsh - to say the least! - harsh, brutal, barbaric treatment of the woman and daughter by the police in the aftermath.  She, on her knees, hand-cuffed.  Her daughter crying out, "Mommy, Mommy, don't worry, I'm here."

This I know:  if it had been me, in my white skin, an ambulance would have arrived at the sound of the bullet.  A PTSD medic would be there.  My daughter would be wrapped in a blanket.  I would have accompanied the slain man, my boyfriend, in an ambulance, not in a police car.

And then, July 8. The...? revenge?  untrammeled rage, penalties, exacted by a black sniper, an Army veteran, lashing out at police during a peaceful protest of the week's police murders. The protest and the sniper held forth in downtown Dallas.

In a sensical translation of Mineral Noir as Black Ore, (or better, Black Gold?)
I read Despestre's fearsome words of more than half a century ago:

"For centuries it has been going on, the extraction
of the riches of my race...
How many pirates have probed with their weapons
The hidden depths of your flesh
How many privateers have hacked their paths
Through your body's rich vegetation of light
Burying your lifetime under piles of dead stalks
And ponds of tears
Despoiled (ravaged) people, people harrowed and heaped
Like earth under the plow
People stripped bare for the profit
Of the great fairs of this world..."

I read, and re-read Despestre's poem.

And yet...

I do not feel that all the understanding one can summon up today, July 8, will ever be able to bridge the hatred, the horror, that has erupted this past summer, 2016.

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