completely obnoxious riff on KATHY GOES TO HAITI from winter 2010, which i used to raise $ for the association for trauma outreach and prevention, (ATOP) a UN-affiliated team with which i worked, utterly uncredentialed and with no right or real reason to be in haiti at all, in march 2010.
PLEASE come to BEYOND RELIEF this wednesday at 6:00, at poets house in nyc. BEYOND RELIEF is a reading and conversation on poetics and the politics of “relief” with poet and activist celina su and me, moderated by alissa quart, and presented by BELLDADONNA*
there will be a limited-edition chaplet
rsvp on facebook here
For some reason because my guts are boiling and I am menstruating I am doing a thing I used to make much of, but haven’t done in so long: writing something big directly into the internet. Writing while not thinking because I am yielding completely to the burning blood and I am fusing with it, and I do not feel the pain because I AM it which is also why I don’t even need to talk about it. I can not notice what my body feels like because I choose not to use my perception like a periscope. I smash my perception to smithereens, I smash the crystal lithium until it melts into water, I let it drench my interiors; I force it to fuse with the mute shimmering blackness of my language-free innards.
It is a kind of flaming, mystical elation, but one wrapped in cotton in a manner that feels somehow adult; related to the cotton in a jar of vitamins; cotton tampons: because this thing at the core could break I guess, or because I am grown enough to know how to protect a thing or two. Because this thing has no age, but I am a woman now. What I mean is, unlike times before when I swung between identifying with/feeling like/cherishing the space of being a kind of hag and being a destructed girl, I feel totally disconnected to questions of or anxieties over identity now. Including questions of kinds of girl/woman/person/poet/slave/knight errant it was or was not possible [for me] to be. ”I” exist but it’s the thing that bleeds that’s writing now and I’m glad about it because somehow I guess my books and things started to catch up with me and more people seem to take them seriously which has been inhibiting to me and a problem because the space of writing truthfully can no longer in this day and age be only private or stay totally or only private until it becomes public I don’t think, at least not for me. I mean I am not coyly writing fiction here but incising the present with my whole heart and body. It has bothered me a lot to feel inhibited but there are other ways that I in fact do not feel remotely inhibited I just feel less subjective. No, that would be a chauvinistic thing to say. It is not that I do not feel subjective or that I do not experience the world as such-and-such a person, but rather that I feel less attached to explicating stages and modes of lived sensation and more attracted to devoting myself to my prayers, to the people I love, and to art. In that order these days.
I should say that the addressee of what I’m writing now is my old tumblr, my first one ever, which was called YES. Because I was scrolling back and back through it searching for two drawings that an orphan named Esdras made for me and which haunt me, two drawings I’ve rarely seen in person in these three years I’ve lived all over the place and nowhere in particular for very long, because now that I have a home (I have a HOME I have a HOME and I never ever thought I would I never thought I would) my modest and very cherished dream of finding the notebook from my first time in Haiti and putting these two delicate drawings into a frame and living with them every single day could become real, but I was only searching for those pictures of those drawings because I have been writing a poem called TWELFTH NIGHT and because it has been three years since Haiti convulsed the world into relation with it, three years since the shot that was not heard round the world when Haiti won its independence began to be heard round the world, but the exhausting thing is, not really, not enough, not really. A strange thing which I never thought of until just now is that I started that tumblr when I came back from Haiti and that my experiments with writing on YES began because I was so suddenly so radically and so absolutely uprooted in my psyche from everything that had previously given my life meaning, and I felt so totally estranged from the romances and friendships that had formerly ruled my life, that I had no idea how to write anymore not that I ever had, I mean I had no idea how to do anything anymore not that I ever had. In a way I was trying to find my way back to the United States even though I didn’t want to be in the United States and had never known how to be and never thought or intended to exist for long. Maybe also I started the old tumblr because I didn’t know where my home was but I had a laptop and some kind of continuity that was not private notebooks might help to reattach me to the world in maybe a more liveable or more splendidly honest or more generous way.
What I mean to say is I have never in all this time written in public, written anything for anybody other than myself or one friend at a time to read, about what Haiti was and is really about for me, even though I have written so much about Haiti, and maybe I have never once written lucidly or intelligently about Haiti, but this isn’t about what you think it’s about what I think and what I am trying to tell you is I have never said what was and is really important. The core of it is and has been so precious to me that I could never show that thing, but instead had to train myself to learn what it might feel like to be a zealot or a fool and accept that and deal with it the same way one accepts that one is lovely some days and hideous others and everything that happens is the truth and must therefore be welcomed & likewise given a wide berth to pass by. Anyway I had always wanted to learn to be a really good fool for love in the same way that I suppose one could long to be a poet and even if one actually is a poet one could nevertheless just basically long to be one, which has nothing to do with publishing books or reading poetry at poetry readings or writing poems that are poetry but which has everything to do with a yearning, a shriek in the blood to pour out one’s soul and identity straight into the gorge that is the language itself and just be it. Be with it. Or in it. Or. I mean that is not a very experimental feeling. I mean I am talking about a primal essential feeling that can become a million things any number of things in the actual world. But it is the feeling behind poetry for me. It is something totally indescribable. Nevertheless on I go. It is so much like love it might as well be love. And incidentally love has always had the power to turn fools into poets and vice versa and also to make poets long to be poets and to make despots squeal and tremble like girls. But those sentences are lame and from the old world. But I am trying to write about the old world because I am really feeling the new world right now. I am feeling The New World.
I took this picture in April 2010 with my crappy phone. This map of Haiti was the second of two gifts the orphan Esdras made for me. I could not draw such a picture of my country. I couldn’t draw such a picture of any person or place that is in my heart. There is a way that writing can be like sheets to the wind, more and more, more sheets, more wind, I mean writing prose, which is something that I want to do truthfully and well, but what it is that makes my heart tremble like a flame is when I am faced with something that is the very picture of a person’s heart. It is very easy if you have not been there and possibly even if you have been there not to understand how people could possibly love such a place with such passion. Haiti is loved and loathed and longed for by Haitians inside and outside of Haiti in ways that even though I know I will never really understand I do not think are different from the way that I feel. There is a reason, I mean I have always thought there must be a reason why in the veve for Erzulie Freda the heart has wings. The kind of love Haiti exerts is romantic love and it can be very very pure and it can be very very fucked up. I realize all anybody hears about in the news is rape and poverty and misery. And all that is real. But it is not the real truth, the core of the truth of who people are or what really rules reality, the sun behind the sun, the moon behind the moon, the essence around which the real botches and smashes and fumbles and kills. It is what is called a mystic truth. Maya Deren drew the connection with great aptitude: she showed and explicated exactly why, in Haitian thought, it is romance that separates the human from the rest of the terrestrial world. Romantic love is not only the source of poetry and art and courtesy and everything that exceeds the merely genital or gastrointestinal. Romantic love in Haitian thought, I mean in Vodou, is the origin of everything that makes civilizations civilizations, which is to say not only the arts and their refinements, but also philosophy and science and mathematics and law and debate and courtesy and dignity and disputes managed with care and humanity and buildings of all the flora and fauna that flourish under the care of the human hand. That Haiti has caused and will continue to cause foreigners to fall madly in love with it and its miserable bald hillsides like the charred naked haunches of women and its wizened little onions and its morgues in which the dead may not really be dead and its chalk streets that are like the guts of worms in formaldehyde when you drive through them at night and the aristocratic perversity of some of its customs they are so alien they might as well be french and its stupendously luxuriant and its miserable fruits all so forbiddingly and forreal expensive and its geysers of incommensurate but all variously absolute truths and quirks and charms and pretenses and horrors packed into such a small space that the whole job of the place vis a vis the rest of the world seems to be just has to be TO BREAK YOUR FUCKING MIND ASSHOLE is a transparent fact: almost nobody knows what this place really is. The evidence is everywhere.
Pitying Haiti is as stupid as pitying Planet Earth. Just because it’s largely our fault the whole thing is fucked doesn’t mean the fucked thing has grown somehow weak or won’t kill us. We have made the mistake of confusing pity with the terrible sorrow of not wanting to see go what we have raped beyond all recognition. The ineptitude with which we humans such as we are have done what we have done on behalf of what we already destroyed bespeaks nothing if not some half-conscious desire to defer or at least to veil some of the horror which though with them now we know is coming for us.
But I won’t fuck around anymore here at the frontier that divides trauma from vision, vengeance from justice, rage from possession, psychosis from prophecy. Those boundaries have never been clear anywhere. Especially not in my blood or in Haiti.
One of the things I used to think might happen to me was that I might go crazy since several people in my family are officially at least what is called certifiable. Part of what I am surveying as I write this and I reckon over the last three years which were a total reconfiguration of the cells that compose me after a bomb called Haiti went off inside me is 1. that I wrote on tumblr the way a dowser carries a dowsing stick, 2. that I used to dread that I would probably lose my mind like most everybody else in my family but I don’t think I will lose my mind and that is an incredible feeling, 3. that having borne witness to the blossoming of a deep and sometimes obsessive religiosity in me I got a taste of what it can feel like to be crazy/misunderstood/a fool for love on a much higher level than some of my earlier and comparatively cowardly experiments with public ugliness and let’s admit it rather tawdry willingness to objectify, jerry-rig, and magnify various modes of negativity because for whatever reason it seemed easier/more important to write that way.
But in this moment as I survey what I have seen and things I have done, many of which were crazy and stupid or just lame and not good enough, I perceive that it is simple that I would feel at home in tent camps because my mother’s family was murdered in concentration camps and my grandparents met in a displaced persons camp and it was for their sake my mother went insane and it was for my mom’s sake goddamnit I told myself and not for my own sake that I had to be a writer but I was just telling myself it was for her even though it also was. Because I felt guilty I wasn’t a lawyer so I could give her all my money. But that isn’t the point.
I’ve written so much again and I still haven’t come close to saying it. Even though all of this is true it is the core of this that is the most true and that matters the most to me, which is why I wanted to put it here even though this tumblr has over thirty five thousand followers and that is completely incomprehensible to me and even though I may not ever feel like writing this way here again—
When I went to Haiti without intending to I found a lot of things that I had only ever dreamed of and when I found them I was almost embarrassed to discover that things I’d dreamt of were real or that when I realized that what I had done was made a kind of religious pilgrimage like what people do when they go to India or Mecca or Santiago de Compostela which was cloaked in a universal paroxysm of empathic desire (i.e. the relief worker phenomenon; the amazing fact that over 50% of American households donated money to Haiti even though it is doubtful even half that number could have located the country on a map much less known the tritest most memorizable facts about its glorious history before or since January 12 2010) but what I really found was the only thing, the only person in the world there was for me to search for, which I had no idea was a thing I mean an entity for which I could possibly search or possibly want to search or in any way pitch myself into any endeavor toward reaching because not only was I not aware of it but had I been aware of it I never would have admitted it in a million years. I can’t believe I’m going to say it but I had better get it over with. I went to Haiti for one reason and for one person only. My father.
Which is a thing it would have offended my total rejection of my real father and his total rejection of me ever to admit. But Sylvia Plath already existed and got through with her Daddy and gave us all an electric very large charge for the viewing of her scars. In the world for me was a father which is a thing if you ever told me it I would have spat in your face for. Like fucking Telemachos I fucking found my father whom I did not know I was searching for and never ever would have admitted to anyone I was searching for because I could not have possibly known in spite of my great self-awareness that I needed a father since I had a father who hated me and I hated him. What I mean is part of why it has been difficult for me to write about Haiti and all the other stuff like I would like to write about the affair of the allegedly zombified baby and I would like to write about the artist Kenold and the mean girls of the Parc St Pierre and I really want to write about Leogane and Anacaona and Haiti’s other earhquakes and seeing the real face of Gede like a flame and I would like to write about an air so charged with electrified spirits it might as well be merengue. Maybe hyperbolic-sounding shit like what I am about to write is what people felt about Patthabi Jois or Gandhi I don’t know I gave up trying to justify my experience by comparing it to anything that has ever happened. I’ve been fortunate to know gigantic joy and misery in my life but I never felt anything like the bliss and lordly humility of that wisdom. And yet something in me somehow so resented that what it really all came down to for me was this trite search for a father, and then miracle of miracles finding him without even trying, the wisest person I have ever met, the only person who could see right through me ever, who day in day out made me weep with joy because the truth came whole and unblemished out of his mouth and it was like living in a stained glass window in Chartres on Atlantis in the eye of Horus in the flaming sephirot or you know just serene at the center of the earth.
And nothing could have been more simple, more actual, or more real.
I won’t write anything he ever said here. And I don’t know why I’m troubled by a kind of embarrassment that isn’t that different from the embarrassment I felt when I found the witch’s broom in Paris or when I found the tarot deck at Columbia or the trash bag full of ugly astrological jewelry in Bushwick or the magic wand shaped like a bird with a dick and seven arms in Bushwick, but I feel a tinge or an echo of that embarrassment and hilarity that would flood me when I used to find witchy shit in the street even though it was not my fault that I happened upon whatever it was and everytime I looked around and nobody seemed to have deliberately placed the thing in my path in order to taunt my fragile self-respect with intimations that whatever talents I might have possessed were worse than mediocre they were disgustingly gooey and feminine and rooted in the “occult” and not just any occult but the occult at its most cheesy and tacky. I don’t know why but right now I can’t think of the ultimate myth about father and daughter except for like Antigone? And maybe that’s more about the brother. Anyway it is not going to fucking cut it. Maybe I finally understand how I have never felt enough like a woman insofar as in former times I often felt too much like one. I guess I was a boy from an ancient story looking for his father. I guess that’s a fucking story. And I have never told the best parts. Once I found him nothing that was real around me in the world was ever real enough again except for him and what glowed in his vicinity.
I know that sounds maybe gross and hyperbolic but I am reckoning the past three years with my blood and I’m sorry it’s accurate. And now everything is growing realer and realer every second. And I am so glad. I think I will be able to do things that are good. Things I have never done before. Maybe I won’t write about Haiti here ever again. Or about anything here or anywhere. It’s unbearable to write “about” anything. You know what Boris Pasternak said: There is no such thing as a subject in the world. A subject is a limitation of the world.