- First Departure-February 1973
The boy who kissed me when I was twelve was living in the same house with his brothers who hadn't left or died. He showed me my old playground at St. Anne, took me to a museum stocked with photos of artifacts. He asked what I found beautiful about home. I pointed to the mountains browning in the heat, the merchants who made songs when pricing their goods. Standing with his back to the rail on my hotel balcony, he said his father was killed by ten assassins on his doorstep, bullets piercing the beige khaki that had been armor under Duvalier. He listed his losses, attempts to flee, and asked me to think more of him, to marry him. Here, where U.N. soldiers guard the streets from gun towers, no gesture is without purpose. The men who line the road will smile and invite you to browse, then become angry when you do not buy the peeling leather or the bread shaped like fish and covered with flies. An unmarried woman, a resident of the States, should be ready to wed a man, if she really means to help. No gown of Thai silk, just a civil ceremony. An expression of friendship and thanks, at the very least, for three days of company and safe passage. [End Page 968] I went home for particular colors, the iron pots grating on burning coals as conch meat simmered, goat bells mingling with car horns, to find words that I have forgotten. I gave what I could, tracing the scars he received for being his father's son, his skin familiar, like warm water clinging to my navel after a bath. At sunrise, a moss green lizard skittered along the window, then paused as if it, too, heard the engine of a plane in the distance, heading toward the airport where I entered and would leave.
Phebus Etienne (1966-2007) was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and grew up in East Orange, New Jersey. She graduated from Rider University and received the MFA in creative writing from New York University. Before she passed in 2007, some of her poems had appeared in The Butterfly's Way: Voices from the Haitian Diaspora in the United States, Crab Orchard Review, Poet Lore, Mudfish, Caribbean Writer, Beacon Best of 2000, Callaloo, Making Callaloo: 25 Years of Black Literature, and other periodicals and anthologies.