During the night we rode through town on scooters.
Down the alleys, it’s like a carpenter’s yard after
a bomb has exploded. Everyone is white with dust.
The headlights are x-rays that slice through the DNA
of the town. The rhythm of cicadas. The scuttle of eyes.
When Aristide lost power, the Little Machete Army
got hold of a tractor and drove through the prison
walls in Gonaives. I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow
your house down. They flew into the night like howler
monkeys. It was rumoured that the mayor had a hand
in it. The keys are always to be found in the strangest
of pockets. You could be robbing yourself in Gonaives
and hardly know it. Everyone was guilty and a tractor
through the wall was as good as absolution –
an indulgence from a god that’s always on the make.
They would leave rum in the graveyard. Lucky Strikes
for Erzulie Dantor – a sultry translation of the Virgin
Mary. Everyone came out of the wash a little short.
The sleeves of the night could barely cover the skin.
I would like to lay my head on your breast and pray,
but instead I have this picture of Ti-Jean – small time
angel in a local gang – looking down on Gonaives,
he whispers to Erzulie about the guns he bought
in Port-de-Paix. He knows someone in the UN;
everything will be fine tonight. But she’s hardly listening.
When you’re surrounded on so many sides –
you get tired. And sleep is as precious as a bullet.
We went into the hills – the Dominican
side. Rare forest there, tropical and deep,
a twisted place of leaf rot and crumbs.
At dusk we came upon Haitian labourers,
soaping their bodies in a cold stream.
A glow of muscles threshed and torn
that our eyes found a way to acknowledge
and ignore. Down in the village, a local
said: Haitians here, bueno. Up there
(waving to the hills) – malo! Meaning
deep inside the machete ridges were
chimères. In there, heaven and hell
are cracked like an egg. But here
are migrant workers, they might even
be our friends. That night sugary
sweet bachata blared from speakers
in the village below. We fell asleep
in the hills, wrapped in branch
and moon. At dawn, our neighbours
filed down the trail like a folktale
every child should know: no matter
how many crumbs we leave, Haitian,
Dominican, chimère or ghost,
so long as a grain of dissimilarity
remains, we will never find home.
Ciudad del Este
We loved it there, that border
town of crack and cheap electrical
stores with money lenders along
the road to Freedom Bridge.
“She’s fucked” he said in Spanish.
Remember him; the red-haired
German-Paraguayan. We were
drinking litros by a rubbish heap,
the leader of the barefoot street
kids, a girl in a yellow t-shirt,
collapses in a traffic island
strung out on heroin or gasoline.
It’s getting dark now, everyone
is headed for Freedom Bridge.
Except us. Somehow we love it
here. The boulevard is yellow,
now blue, now black.
Laurence O'Dwyer is a graduate of University College Cork and holds a PhD in paradigms of memory formation from Trinity College Dublin. In 2017 he received a MacDowell Fellowship. In 2016 he won the Patrick Kavanagh Award for Poetry. He has also received a Hennessy New Irish Writing Award and been short-listed for the Bridport Prize for Poetry. He is currently a script writer with Asylum Productions.