Iron Flowers

by Kalam Salaam

A note from Bob Corbett

I've just stumbled on a most unusual book of poetry about Haiti. The book is: IRON FLOWERS A POETIC REPORT ON A VISIT TO HAITI by Kalamu ya Salaam. Publish in New Orleans in 1979. (I don't own this book, but would love to. Anyone know where to find a copy?)

Salaam, an African journalist and poet, was sent to Haiti to write a feature article. He visited Haiti more than once over a couple of month period. His experience was one where he was overwhelmed by the poverty and hardship of Haiti, though he saw the beauty too. However, I know from past experiences that the sum of his experience, as expressed in the poems, might be much too much concentration on the misery for some of you. It is a book of a "first visit" to Haiti.

However, the poems seem to me to be extraordinary in power, form and content (for what it is). I will share two of the poems, the title poem, Iron Flowers (which refers to those hammered metal circles of flowers that one sees in the cemeteries) and one that concerns the beauty he does see in Haiti.

Iron Flowers
sluggish, semi-stagnant
the water in Haitian gutters,
small gullets, trickles green,
sewerage green, here even
the dirt is poor and
there is a cloying dullness
camouflaging even strongly
persistent colors
in squared, white walled
funeral flowers are made of
painted iron/ i see no roses
rising through this Port
Au Prince poverty
i hesitate to take pictures
it is like thievery
almost like
i am stealing precious light
that these, my brothers and sister,
need to live

Whoops, sorry, he doesn't have a poem of the beauty of Haiti. But, there is some hope in the lessons to be learned from the Haitian revolution and Haitian experience. I'll share that one.

Tomorrow's Toussaints
this is Haiti, a state
slaves snatched from surprised masters,
its high lands, home of this
world's sole successful
slave revolt. Haiti, where
freedom has flowered and flown
fascinating like long necked
flamingoes gracefully feeding
on snails in small pinkish
sunset colored sequestered ponds.
despite the meanness
and meagerness of life
eked out of eroding soil
and from exploited urban toil, there
is still so much beauty here in this
land where the sea sings roaring a shore
and fecund fertile hills lull and roll
quasi human in form
there is beauty here
in the unyielding way
our people,
colored charcoal, and
banana beige, and
shifting subtle shades
of ripe mango, or strongly
brown-black, sweet
as the such from
sun scorched staffs
of sugar cane,
have decided
we shall survive
we will live on
a peasant pauses
clear black eyes
searching far out over the horizon
the hoe motionless, suspended
in the midst
of all this shit and suffering
forced to bend low
still we stop and stand
and dream and believe
we shall be released
we shall be released
for what slaves
have done
slaves can do
and that begets
the beauty
slaves can do


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