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Crossroads and Unholy Water

Marilene Phipps

Publication Year: 2000

Marilene Phipps’s poetry invites the reader to share sharp slices of Caribbean experience: Haiti is both stage and backdrop for people who move in various strata of the social scheme and through the three stages of life, in lieu of answers to the Sphinx’s riddle. Through voices, nostalgic and tender, denouncing and shrill, we journey to a mythologizing Caribbean land populated with people whose dramatic intensity and fights for life are turned into sometimes funny, sometimes disquieting, and always richly evocative, palpable poetry.


Published by: Southern Illinois University Press


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pp. 1-3

Title Page

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p. 4-4


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pp. 5-9


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pp. 10-11

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Special Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xii

To the memory of my father, Delmar Phipps. And to my mother, Viviane Pauchet. Without them there is no life. To my daughter, Valentine, who shows me living poetry, and to my brother, Gaëtan, who reminds me that we are notes from a divine song...

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pp. xiii-xiv

I would like to thank the following anthologies and journals in which poems in this collection previously appeared...

I. Caribbean Beginnings

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Man Nini

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p. 3-3

Man Nini was queen of the coal kitchen, standing within six square feet of soot, in front of four pits glowing with embers, churning the bubbling bean sauce, beaming...

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Caribbean Childhood

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pp. 4-5

Hopping around with a different sense of weight, freshly cut bangs, uneven, won’t lie flat except when pressed wet on my forehead,...

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Outdoor Birthday Party—Father’s Fortieth

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p. 7-7

Stars had gone to lie on the swimming pool. Tables gleamed with white linen. Eight years old, crouched on the second floor balcony, I see when Oksilya sends the food from the kitchen...

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p. 8-8

Little Gaëtan wanted our mother to paint the walls black so he would not see shadows...

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pp. 9-10

Aunt Frances taught me how to rescue drowning men. All shivering from rum cocktails, she entered the pool with her rubber daisies cap,...

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pp. 11-12

In Dieudonne’s room, my finger foraged in crumbling holes for small matted balls of her own hair placed there to attract protecting spirits...

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Run for the River

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pp. 13-15

Father has fought the river all his life. It cracked his walls, dug its tongue in, split them apart, sucked his land...

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Marasa Spirits of Haïti

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p. 16-16

Maël! Four years old. Dancing! All delight, dimples and dough! Hungry! Giggles as she sings for the Marasa spirits...

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p. 17-17

Lying in the darkness of sightless eyes, Oksilya waits for company, tending every noise. I come and find her in a buttonless gown, out of which one old...

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Aunt Frances the Pianist

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pp. 18-19

In the rough rivers where she swam, Aunt Frances liked to anchor herself with one hand to a rock, then wave...

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The Gold Watch

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p. 20-20

“Just have it melted and make something else,” my father said, giving me his gold watch. He had taught me how to read time with it...

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p. 21-21

“For You!” you’d say, with outstretched arms offering me flowers cut short at the stem you had been holding so tightly...

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Queen of the Meadow

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pp. 22-26

The house was green and white. Coconut trees fanned themselves over the termite-hollowed balcony...

II. Life in Nerèt

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Pigs and Wings

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p. 29-29

It’s not the “oink, oink” you read about in children’s books but a claustrophobic scream that pigs let out, with a sisal...

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Sunday Knife

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pp. 30-31

The clock outside the church of the Sacred Heart, downtown Port-au-Prince, has shown ten of six for years. No one cares. Time cannot be read. Here people...

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Ti Kikit

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pp. 32-33

Ti Kikit puts on some pink lipstick, stands on the Place Saint-Pierre in Pétionville. For this evening she has borrowed a friend’s...

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My Life in Nerèt

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pp. 34-35

Me too I’ll have a child, me too I want a son! Me too, me too . . . Ika is pregnant. She’s my woman. You know her, skinny sixteen, tough. We are dirt poor in Nerèt. No running water in these slums...

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pp. 36-37

The I Love New York and silver heart you see on my T-shirt is not what I like most about it. It’s the pink....

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Family Tree

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pp. 38-39

Alone at my father’s gate stands the peanut tree. Burly branches spread over the land and house where I grew up. At the tree’s foot, there is always some Zombie...

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Elzir’s Advice

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p. 40-40

As soon as your husband is dead, slap him and cross over his body three times! This way you let him know you are no longer friends. When he’s in the coffin...

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Caribbean Corpses

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pp. 41-42

Midday. The family sits behind Emmanuel’s corpse. His adolescent granddaughters, self-conscious, their bursting nipples squeezed in white...

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Out for Some Bread on Flatbush Ave.

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pp. 43-46

With open lips like a gray rose, a cloud hung over the church of St. Rose of Lima in Miragoane. Sunday Mass...

III. Vigils

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Keeping Vigil

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p. 49-49

Frogs were green, with a little red when we smashed them against a stone wall, and only a brown heap after they had fallen below...

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Cousin Thérèse

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pp. 50-51

Clocks, too many clocks, ticking. I would like back the first clock my mother gave me, with gold vines and torsades swerving like Thérèse’s hair about her face...

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Waiting Room

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p. 52-52

Pain is a songless bird pecking at the ears. An animal which howls when the moon flares. In the dampness...

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Two Letters

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p. 53-53

With scissors, she cut herself from the man in the photograph. Just one hand is left and part of his smile. This had been their most beautiful photograph celebrating...

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Frozen Feel

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pp. 54-56

The hand which had clutched the brake in the wrecked car, later at the morgue rested over his heart, yellowed and gray, in the frozen last gesture of a sworn witness to an unspeakable sight...

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Haïtian Masks

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pp. 57-59

I thought that death had made him arrogant. My mother had hung her father’s death mask where I had to look up high to that hairless white plaster double...

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Old, Useless and Ugly

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pp. 60-62

“Old, useless and ugly . . . old, useless and ugly . . .” she mumbles as she hurries to the place she knows she has to re...

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Blue Amani

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pp. 63-64

There was no need for God to make people! Why? Just so we can see each other die? Wait here so teeth can rot...

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The Bull at Nan Souvnans

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pp. 65-68

He was brought in yesterday as an offering for today’s Easter Sunday rites, pulled by a rope to these ancient...

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Niska and the Snake

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pp. 69-71

. . . honey you are a dead duck! You can do all the glou glou glou under water you want and look at me with those yellow bald beady eyes of...

Other books in the series

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p. 72-72

Back Cover

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p. 73-73

E-ISBN-13: 9780809390410
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809323067

Page Count: 88
Publication Year: 2000

Series Title: Crab Orchard Series in Poetry