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Mud Mothers

By Lenelle Moïse


the children of haiti
are not mythological
we are starving
or eating salty cakes
made of clay

because in 1804 we felled
our former slave captors
the graceless losers sunk
vindictive yellow
teeth into our forests

what was green is now
dust & everyone knows
trees unleash oxygen
(another humble word
for life)

they took off
with our torn branches
beheaded our future
stuck our breath up on pikes
for all the world to see

we are a living dead example
of what happens to warriors who―
in lieu of fighting for white men’s countries―
dare to fight
for their own lives

during carnival
we could care less
about our bloated empty bellies
where there are voices
we are dancing

where there is vodou
we are horses
where there are drums
we are possessed
with joy & stubborn jamboree

but when the makeshift
trumpet player
runs out of rhythmic breath
the only sound left is guts

& we sigh
to remember
that food
& freedom
are not free

is haiti really free
if our babies die starving?
if we cannot write our names
read our rights keep
our leaders in their seats?

can we be free
really? if our mothers are mud? if dead
columbus keeps cursing us
& nothing changes
when we curse back

we are a proud resilient people
though we return to dust daily
salt gray clay with hot black tears
savor snot cakes
over suicide

we are hungry
creative people
sip bits of laughter
when we are thirsty
dance despite

this asthma
called debt
legendarily liberated

Added: Wednesday, June 25, 2014  /  Used by permission. Lenelle Moïse performs the poem "Mud Mothers" at the 2010 Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation and Witness which took place at the Bell Multicultural High School in Washington D. C.
Lenelle Moïse
Photo by Vanessa Vargas.

Lenelle Moïse is the author of Haiti Glass (City Lights/Sister Spit, 2014), a winner of the 2015 PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award. She was the 2018 Playwright-in-Residence at Ithaca College, a 2017 Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist Fellow in Dramatic Writing, the 2017 Lakes Writer-in-Residence at Smith College, and a Huntington Theatre Company Playwriting Fellow. Her plays include K-I-S-S-I-N-G and the Ruby Prize-winning Merit. She also wrote, composed and costarred in the Off-Broadway drama Expatriate. Moïse has been published in several anthologies including Word Warriors: 35 Women Leaders in the Spoken Word Revolution. She was the 2010-2012 Poet Laureate of Northampton, MA. Learn more about her poetry at Lenelle's website.

Other poems by this author