Breton, poet, painter and founder of the Surrealist movement, lived
in political exile in New York from 1941 until 1946. In December
1945 he began a lecture tour of Haiti.
of all: the black water,
the island’s black interior,
the scramble of lights in its crook.
Then the runway, the man in damp suit
who lopes over the asphalt to meet you,
rain on his face.
Storm-water, warm, sprawls down
the green tiles of the hall.
You and your wife each take a pill;
you hold up the hem of the mosquito net
and she dips underneath,
rolls away above the coverlet.
you wake, you find that day
has worked a blade around the shutters.
You smell the docks, the salt and oil
and hear the gulls,
hear the hooves and wheels.
have been in the camion that noon,
the road molten ahead. To have seen
the turquoise, jade, puce of the rum-shack
flash and pass –
have gone back,
to have stood at the painter’s hut
among chickens, waited for him
to appear on the road.
you knew he would come.
A cockerel bows to the dust.
A thin-legged woman looks over
her shoulder once.
would you like to do,
while you are here?
After so many
canvases, so many shaken hands,
say you’d like one night to take
one of the rough tracks up into the hills.
In time, perhaps, to see the carnival,
drums and bows and spears, no?
And so you lean beneath the sandbox tree
as rum is passed around. Men dance
women sing; and here is
everything you sought: faces
between the leaves, blue feathers,
burnished limbs, the spirit jerking
into flesh. Across the road, still dressed
in uniform, a schoolgirl swings
white-socked legs over the edge
of the veranda. She meets your eye
and smiles, blithe and bored.
Windows steamed and every table full,
every face turned your way,
you could be in the Café Certa once again:
raising a toast or, eyes half closed,
passing around the hot, buffed scraps of dreams;
in that mess of wine and sweat
from where you all set out as one,
leant on each other through the streets –
stopped here for cake, for pastry,
for liqueur, for Kir,
stopped there because the girls looked soft
as freshly-peeled fruit,
laughed at you through white, uneven teeth,
even as you memorised the pulpy pressure
of their breasts beneath their shirts.
happens in those streets, those cafés now?
Perhaps the roads are cracked in two,
holes gnashed from every roof,
life scooped from lofts and attic rooms.
Perhaps the balconies hang loose;
January snow blunts chairs and table-tops
crumples, black, along the kerb.
Down the boulevards, gold hoops of piss
demark the trees, while in empty parks
statues shift the cold weight from their feet
with surreptitious kicks.
years you’ve been cooling your heels in New York City,
four years freezing the skin from the soles of your feet.
In the white sweep of Central Park mid-December,
or with trousers rolled on Coney Island Beach,
you walk leaving no prints:
they scratch their heads miles behind you,
white rind on the Seine.
On the boulevard St-Germain,
the young pretend they never knew what colour was.
If you were there, you’d slake your palms
with pigment, run between the chairs
and quash your hands to each grey pair of lips.
again, why should you care?
Each evening, on the pink sands north
of Port-au-Prince, you lie until a chill
lifts off the sea, then walk in moonlight
underneath the breadfruit trees
towards the lamp where two ways meet,
the tide rich in your ears.
this world and the other intersect:
gods dress themselves in flesh,
the dead come drifting through the field,
and nothing that has ever been is gone.
A sea that once flung up at Brittany,
at Quimperlé or Lannion, grates the beach
Crois-des-Bouquets. Dawn crosses into day;
you dream, you speak, you paint,
you write; you cannot help yourself.
Spirits tread their feet into your eyes:
ink fills the white: the X
quivers and steadies through the Y.