A Candle for Lina

Her skin is like mud, where horses trample O Can’t you see it, Her skin is like mud, where horses trample O can’t you see it, can’t you see it?

In Haiti, misery makes everything pale, grungy, weathered, attenuated, wasteful, sallow, dumb, grinded down, pocketed. When it’s done, we swap grinning for crying, we trade tragedy with our brothers so that we can continue to cling to the thinning hairs of the fading forests while gaunt dogs bark defiantly at the scarcity.

When I was a little boy, running around in the rain with my cousin Ti Bob, I could always count on Lina to wait for me by the door with a towel in her hands; waiting to dry me off. She was my Restavek; what is known as Nanny here in America. Girls like her get sent to the city from the country, the land of scarcity; to the city, the land of plenty. There they live with middle to upper middle class families in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital city. Lina was born in 1960, when the then president Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier still towered over Haiti like an overgrown palm tree; a time when fear tore souls to pieces and the Haitian vernacular was in handcuffs. The tongue of oppression lived at the bottom of an empty well; waiting for an echo, waiting for an echo waiting for an echo… to give her voice a chance. She was a short and buxom gal with big African lips and pigeon feet. Her skin so dark, her teeth almost looked florescent when she grinned. She loved to laugh and even laughed sometimes in her sleep; probably while dreaming impossible dreams; only to come awake in the sunny reality of Haiti; amongst the anxious muffles of democracy.

As the sun set over Port-au-Prince, over Haiti’s restive weather, young girls like Lina are sent over from Jacmel and various parts of Haiti’s countryside. They tumbled down the Rocky Mountains of Haitian terrains and into the arms of servitude. They are the discarded daughters of misery and scarcity; I watched them cry through their masks at carnivals. I watched them dance the music of political parables made to educate the illiterate. I watched them laugh at their own funerals like zombies in disbelief! Today, I remember how we used to play long after they’d turned to clay; forever preserved so that I can remember and so I remember Lina.

Lina worked like a mule, but a grinning mule. I don’t even remember her without a smile on her face. She worked from dawn ‘til dusk but never without a smile on her face. She woke me up in the morning, helped me get ready for school, made my breakfast and walked me to school, while my mother and father slept in absolute oblivion. Then shortly after noon, she came grinning like the sun to pick me up after school. Once home, she helped me undress, gave me a snack, then cooked my dinner. Then, she fed me dinner, gave me a shower and watched over me as I played with my cousin Ti Bob; running and flying kites in our front yard. On occasions when I would fall and scrape my knee, she’d rush to my side, scooped me up in her arms and cradled and rocked me while I cried. Come night time, and often during black outs and especially when the moon was out, she would gather up all the kids in the house and regale us with stories of Bouki and Malice, the equivalent to Boris and Morris here in America.

Then one day, long after I left Haiti for America, I heard that Lina went back to the countryside where she came from and died. They said that a voodoo queen killed her over an argument about food in a country where food is scarce. I think she died of a broken heart after I left. But now, she’s but a distant memory. But I remember her. I will always remember her completely, her grotesque kind of beauty and her wondrous sense of levity. Now she’s heavenly and most likely grinning down at me; she will always be a part of me and the following words are in her honor and memory:

I often stop and look at you Lina; you blow my mind; your nappy head don’t lie it’s where doom takes a nap; Oh, Lina! your breath is bringing down trees you are destroying our planet you are poisoning our wells your children once so much brighter, are still playing with hunger; now you watch them as they grow dimmer ; a box of moonlight

shines upon one leaf in need of relief; the moon man has your list; no woman of darkness can resist! Oh, Lina; when will you start to wean? your ghosts are disappearing fast; pieces of skies are falling in your lap; the trees are rising and dancing at the funeral you’re holding, some people think you’re entertaining; thunder’s roars are fading substituting our youths for weapons yanked out and fired bang bang bang! your history will rise

to watch the offense that offends you take a stand; pandemonium plays in your band; a piece of sky falls cutting the back of your head where your vision center lies; roaring thunder stumbles I could feel it in my gut scorching pieces of weather swim around in your blood; feel free to stab me wear me out and cast me off; you can torch me i’m black so use me like charcoal and burn me; animals will continue to nest in your roots optimism will go on without you; i am a flower so i will continue to blossom; je suis un poet

(i am a poet) my roots are embedded deep within the bowels of infinity;

When a 3 a.m. plant is damaged at exactly 3 a.m. on the dot it dies of malnutrition simple as that; when some leeches bleed they bathe in their own blood the mockingbird screeches simple as that; but when a mother hen cackles all the cocks fly to be by her side

simple as that; in ostracism you start wailing across the Atlantic; you weep an homage to those you left drowning and feeling bereft their breath imports their stories;

Word of mouth spreads but your ears are burning so you can’t hear their cries of fear when Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier comes near; Every time darkness has a nose drip you get a bowl full of biting dark liquid in your blood stream; mud oozes from your pores; your vision stands stupefied spotting your white coat while you stand protruding from your moat; crows suffocating the epoch pokes at the sun’s crux; the day ignites and slants to the right as if on cue before clarity extinguishes it from view; all of our rights are under arrest all of our aspirations can be stuffed in a math box; our voices are weak our tolerance meek but to the weatherman who test northern climates who prepares you for your morning grind in all dimensions who warns you of impending doom– thunder strikes many times before a storm; when your shrieks break your vocal cords who will be there to operate? when all the surgeons evaporate who will be there to think themselves the man of chance? when thunder finds the rhythm of destruction who will be left to dance? So Lina, start flashing CAUTION! CAUTION! CAUTION!

Her skin is like mud, where horses trample

O Can’t you see it,

Her skin is like mud…

…can’t you see…?

Jacques Fleury’s book: “Sparks in the Dark: A Lighter Shade of Blue, A Poetic Memoir” about life in Haiti & America was featured in the Boston Globe. Sample or buy the book at: www.lulu.com. 20% of proceeds will go to Haiti charity Partners in Health. For personal appearances or comments contact

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