WBUR

Poem: To Hear And To See Are Two Different Things, That’s True

Jean-Dany Joachim (Bianca Vazquez Toness/WBUR)

Jean-Dany Joachim (Bianca Vazquez Toness/WBUR)

Jean-Dany Joachim, the “poet populist” of Cambridge, recently returned from a family visit to earthquake-stricken Haiti, where he saw Port-au-Prince “with its guts open.” Joachim composed this poem about his experience there.


I went and I am back, tande ak wè se de
It was like in a dream,
or one of those movies that show the after world.
Two hundred years of words I will need to describe
the desolation my eyes have seen.
Two hundred years of memory to heal the scars
many years of labor,
and many more years of relearning.
I saw Port-au-Prince with its guts open,
its bare bones exposed to nothingness.
I saw tangible fear.
I could feel the anxiety and the anguish of the survivors,
but also I saw life waking up slowly.
That reminded me of ants,
coming out of their holes after a heavy rain.

Nothing could have prepared me for that trip:
not the news, not the pictures on the Internet
not what I have made of it in my mind
nor the comforting words of my family.
The destruction is beyond imagination,
but it is not too late…
There is still plenty of time to reshape the future:
there is room for a new beginning:
plenty of possibilities for innovations
plenty of chances to seize the occasion
to see and articulate the future in unity
the same way the quake made the entire country cry.
However, each minute must count.
We must find the voice.
All the heads and the hands are needed for a true coumbite.
We cannot afford to be dragging our feet.

I left Cambridge with fear and anxiety
but my mind was ready to face the unknown.
I traveled with so many names in my head -
so many faces with lots of memories,
so many places and so many dreams.
How many of these names would answer
when I call them? I had no way to know.
How many of the dreams will still be possible?
I had to remain hopeful.
Boston, Puerto Rico, the DR until Port-au-Prince…
Each second was taking me closer to my destination.
The long drive from Santo Domingo to Jimani
really helped to get me in the ambiance of home.
The countryside’s view of the two republics is just identical
the same architecture, the same mountain that circles the island
the same lively colors on the houses,
the same trees, the same way of things,
and the same blue sky that covers all.
By the time I reached the border,
I was fully immersed in a familiar environment.

My family surprised me,
they were there, waiting at the border.
I did not have to face the shock on my own.
That was more than helpful.
Two hundred years of words, I will need to describe
the destruction my eyes have seen.
I saw a different Port-au-Prince.
Tent cities were everywhere:
real tents, and improvised ones too.
Military vehicles and personnel of all foreign countries were everywhere
The flags of almost all nations could be seen.
Not much the presence of the foreign press anymore,
it was already past a month since the quake happened.
I was surprised to see how quickly
my eyes got used to the scenery.
Humans’ greatest strength seems their ability to adjust to whatever their environment might be.
In any case, tande ak wè, se de
Whatever I was seeing, no one could have been able to explain it to me.
Crying at this point would have been inappropriate.
I managed to find comfort in the activities of passersby on the streets.

The first night was strangely quiet.
Although my body was exhausted from my almost two-day trip,
nevertheless, my mind was satisfied from seeing the family,
and talking to so many friends on the phone.
Too bad I couldn’t make the trip sooner.
I slept in my brand new tent, at the steps of our collapsed house.
It was a dreamless night.
My heart was so close to this earth
that trembled on January 12
and caused the disaster I saw.

I woke up at the first cockcrow,
a familiar sound that brought back
memories of my childhood.
It was four o’clock.
The fresh odor of morning caressed my face,
as I unzipped my tent’s door and got outside.
There were still plenty of stars in the sky,
and the moon was slowly stepping out.
The sun still had a couple more of hours before making its appearance.
I got ready. I suspected that everybody else was sleeping.
I went for my first walk through the new Port-au-Prince.
Life was waking up slowly.
I became part of it.

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  • Sandra Dorsainvil

    Mr. Joachim has put it so beautifully in his poem. I had a similar experience, having waited 7 weeks to finally be able to go visit my parents and sister, and have physical confirmation that they were alive. Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw, felt and heard. In less than a minute Port-au-Prince and its surrounding cities were turned up side down for the world to witness. Now that I am back in the States, the journey of healing is going through its own slow transformative process.

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