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Understanding Haiti’s Disaster Through a Poet’s Eyes

February 5, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Michele Voltaire Marcelin, an artist, poet, spoken word performer and teacher, was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Since the earthquake struck that country last month, she has been struggling to make sense of the destruction.
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JEFFREY BROWN: And finally tonight: the catastrophe in Haiti through the words of a Haitian-born poet.

MICHELE VOLTAIRE MARCELIN: My name is Michele, Michele Voltaire Marcelin. I’m an artist, a poet, a spoken-word performer. I’m a teacher. I’m a mother, a daughter.

I live in Brooklyn, New York. I was born in Port-au-Prince. We lived in an area in Port-au-Prince which was called Corlage. It was by the sea. I lived with five siblings, my mother and father, but very extended family, because we had uncles and aunts who also lived in the neighborhood.

My mother is still there. When the catastrophe happened, the very first thing I did was call her number. And this is all I kept on doing, calling the number until I had reached her. It was a few days when I did.

And she just kept telling me how everything was OK. Everything was fine. She was going to handle it all. It wasn’t about her. I shouldn’t worry about her. I should worry about the country.

Haitians have this incredible solidarity with each other, which makes it possible for them to — to survive this, those who have survived. But it’s been there for as long as I can remember. I don’t think this island could have stood without it.

I wrote a few lines that came to me after the earthquake, which I think were very important to me, because, before the earthquake, we had been talking so much about how we were divided as a people, and how we needed to be together.

“Underneath the beauty was a rift. In the heart of the land was a rift. And the rift in the land reached the rift in our hearts. And we lost our people and the land.”

It is so sad when I go back and read the poems that I wrote. There was a major hurricane called Hurricane Jeanne which hit the city of Gonaives, which left 5,000 dead, houses engulfed in mud, children dead.

And I wrote this poem. And, after the earthquake, I went back and looked at it, and I said, my God, if I changed just the words water to the words cement or earth, it will have been the same.

“Life is split at the seams. No one knows the exact number of the dead. They were ours. They were yours and mine. Yet, we let them die. So, I will write a poem, and you will write a letter, and he will send some money, and she will say a prayer, but we will forget, as we have forgotten before. We closed our eyes, covered ourselves up, when this island without secrets, this island caught upside-down, spread open by the great storm, went belly-up, exposing memories and guts. Disaster on disaster, mud on mud. Life is split at the seams.”