Story Publication logo December 13, 2010

Mother of Mothers


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Last January's earthquake destroyed Haiti's health care system, once at the forefront of the...

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Multiple Authors
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Image by Andre Lambertson, Haiti, 2010.

When a brave woman's out walking
she's Mistress Life's spitting image
(Michel-Ange Hyppolite)

The faces of mothers of mothers,
their cheekbones gleaming against
taut skins; their eyes glazed
with the scarring of so much loss.

In Haiti, the mothers
of mothers have lamented for so
long—all that is left is the
sturdy presence of grace,
the wide open heart of knowing
how much a casket weighs, how
it feels on the open palm.

The mothers of mothers
march through the congregation
while the children of men
clap their hands, beat
tambourines, scratch the grater
and sing the flat harmony
that shivers the air.

Beneath a cascade of flame yellow
and red flamboyants,
she stalks the outskirts of the
feet worn worship ground—
the outer limits of the congregation
where the weeds and stones
have accumulated, here, where
the excavation of rubble takes
us as far as weary arms
and the creaky wheel barrow
can go.

These women draw a pattern
of circles with their heavy planted
feet, their arms raised high, their
voices continuing with greater
ceremony and occasion;
that conversation that began
with Jesus at four in the morning.

Oh, the mothers of mothers
who know too well the hottest
sorrow—the broken bodies
of children, the boy who covers
a jaw full of maggots, and the
tall lanky son, whose spine
gives under the weight of concrete
before he is pulled out,
laid under the soft blue light
of a wayside clinic, waiting
to go; and quietly, with the flies
returning to his skin, he is
still, though he must wait
there until dusk, before they
notice, before a procession
of mothers leads the body out
into the night, and mother of
mother, she hears her child
wake, look around, and speak:
"How nice the air is out here,"
before he dies, this time for good.

Mothers of mothers,
in your bandana and with your
holy testament, you must
draw the line of defense
around the beleaguered souls,
and speak a torrent of curses
on the beast lurking in the shadows.



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