Survey at Body #33
For Jean-Marc Paillant (1956–2010)
January 2010 Earthquake, Haiti
His brand new car, metallic blue, waiting
For his return. His quickened steps
To the second floor of his ex-wife’s home
Brought dust in, on his black shoes—
Later removed and stolen.
His sealed mouth never revealed
The taste of billowing earth, nor his screams
For mercy. His life evaporated
On the dojo of poverty
The way hot air vaporizes water
On those unmerciful streets.
I’ve walked those streets, once lined
With palms and flowers, now sepulchral
With unwanted bloated bodies.
A bloated nation made junk,
And skunking the air with corruption.
Even microbes and insects grow full.
Cousin Jonas, an angiographic poem is my lament
For the pus-laden bodies ceasing to bleed.
That January afternoon, the earth drum-rolled
A discord underneath innocent feet,
Becoming a macabre marching band cloaking joy,
And choking the national anthem to moans.
The Palace lay gutted and twisted, as you were,
Dumped into a common grave, now sprouting wild grass.
The children’s voices dive
With the crashing waves
And hollering west wind.
The old folks with kachimbo
Pipes puff tobacco
As their toothless mandibles
Masticate on the memories
Of promising words.
Silence, the cemeteries here
Are hungry pelicans
And there’s no symphony
That would sing
Requiems for dead fishes.
Dead fishes, we are.
The gluttonous sea
Vomited us here
On these wailing islands
And the seagulls fear our shrills.
Patrick Sylvain is a poet, writer, translator, photographer, and academic. He is on faculty at Brown University’s Center for Language Studies. Sylvain graduated as a Conant Fellow from Harvard University Graduate School of Education, where he received his EdM, and he also holds an MFA from Boston University, where he was a Robert Pinsky Global Fellow.