- The Bull at Nan Souvenance*
He was brought in yesterday as an offering for today’s Easter Sunday rites, pulled by a rope to these ancient and sacred grounds of Souvenance, then tied by the Acacia tree, all day, unfed.
Now, noontime, he lies and waits, his root-like legs make dust enclaves next to his sweat-furrowed flank. He no longer shows annoyance towards the scrawny chick hopping around pecking at his flesh.
“PA MANYIN’L SE LANMO WAP GADE!— DON’T TOUCH HIM!— a voice threatens us— “It is death you’re seeing!”
The bull stands up. His nostrils reach, breathe in towards the growing crowd. Hands purpose, now untie him, take him to another tree. He goes, as if for his familiar fields. “DON’T TOUCH HIM! DON’T YOU KNOW!?”
Now the bull is resisting! all legs stiffened he won’t get close to this tree! Swiftly, ropes are wound at the base of each of his horns, crossed on his forehead, and yanked on either side.
They force the flat part of his broad face against the tree trunk.
Men dragging at his tail keep him aligned. He can’t move.
He can’t see beyond the tree bark, the roots or his hoofs. Midday sun stings him. A man straddles him, he can’t move. He hears all where he can no longer look.
The bull trembles. The ropes are tugged tighter and fastened behind the tree. A shiver vibrates down his spine, his entrails deliver the moist soil— he defecates. Someone in the crowd, laughs.
“METE GASON SOU NOU!— WE MUST BE VIRILE!” Rene Master of Ceremony—calls out, flourishing his machete to the Hounsis—handmaidens of the Gods— gathered around him in white dresses. They respond and wave their machetes, symbolic wooden ones. Now Rene shakes hands with the executioner over the stilled body of the bull. “LET US BE MEN!”
The dagger and the screams start in the same instant. Deep, long, helpless bellows; thick, grey tongue extended, recurved, stiff and drooling.
The knife misses its aim for the spine, at the base of the neck, pulls out and stabs again. Again, twists, pulls out and stabs again.
Blood gurgles, gushes out, drawing a red web on the bull’s back live lava’s hands about to blanket the city in silence.
The legs falter then regroup. The dagger thumps down again. Again, the legs falter and fold.
Like a great ship sinking, the rear lowers first—his head being stuck at the tree. But he stands up again! “TO THE THROAT!” Rene shouts. The executioner abandons the spot above, to start cutting, with a small knife,
into the thick of the throat underneath, inching the blade through the feeling flesh, alive. The wind and the bellows
wrestle into the leaves above us. More warm dung drops to the ground. The vocal cords get cut. A last gurgling hiss . . .
He can no longer voice what he feels. Shut in. Further removed.
Hung by the horns, the great black body slumps and kneels to the live tree. The last that the bull sees is not this immaterial blue, a tropical Easter Sunday sky, but his own red blood’s swamps.
The crowd cheers. Haiti, April 1993
Selected Poems by Marilene Phipps
• Haitian Masks
• The Bull at Nan Souvenance
• My Life in Nerette
• Selected Paintings by Marilene Phipps
• Selected Paintings: Thumbnails Only
• Houses of the People and Houses of the Self: An Interview with Marilene Phipps
Marilene Phipps, a native of Haiti, has studied at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California (Berkeley) and has been a fellow at the Mary Ingraham Bunting Institute. Her paintings have been exhibited in galleries and museums in Port-au-Prince, Boston, New Haven, New Orleans, Aspen, Dallas, Philadelphia, Paris, Los Angeles, and Rio de Janeiro. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
* This poem was initially published in compost #5.1.