- My Life in Nerette
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 Nérètte. No running water in these slums. Most people over there will kill over water in the ravine: it’s a trickle and getting some is not like in America— you get a ticket and wait in line. Midday sun down there bakes your brains, sweat blinds you, eyes stung pink like a Zombie’s. Ika’s skirt’s just a piece from a rag; her bucket overflows with water, bathing her face, makes it glow like new shoes.
Ika’s proud! Pain does not stop her, just makes her more mad. Five a.m., you see her going down hill to the Croix-des-Bossales market, in town. She sells roadside food: plaintain, sweet potato, porc. But neighbors have bought bad magic against us; magie! Magie! wherever you turn! Thing is, the more we sell, the less money we have. It’s called rale kob—Ika’s real mad! What does she do?: Smashes all our wares, starts throwing rocks at people’s houses. Neighbors all come out to defend their walls.
In no time, stones are flying like bad birds in all directions. But nothing can touch my happiness: me too I’ll have a son! I want a son! Me too! We live in a one-room mud house! Inside, I covered the walls from top to bottom; all photos from a magazine Madan Blan gave to my nephew Augustin. That magazine’s name is Nasional Geografik. Animals called elephants! Tigers! Zebras, m’gin tout bèt—I have every animal! Even a big poster of a giraffe! In there, it’s Paradise! But, Sezon la pli vini— come rainy season, this is what happens to us: the stream down the ravine swells up like a river with arms that pull everything down to its red mouth. Soon the giraffe in our room has water up to its neck. Our mattress is making its way out the door. Ika!? Ika!? Run! Water’s washingaway all our things! She is playing dominos with our neighbor Pic-et-Coeur, a Rara gang chief; he wears dark sunglasses even inside his room.
My son is born in Augustin’s red tap-tap bus. He painted all the same animals I have on his bus. His tap-tap’s called Merci Saint Yves. Never made it to the hospital. My son’s whole life lasts two months— diarrhea kills him. His life is washed away. We watch him. Don’t know what to do. Me too, me tooI wanted my very own son—pitit gason moin! Ika comes after me with two knives: fout kaka!Salopri! Sa ou vin chache! M’rayi oui!!! It’s in Nérètte she learnt to speak to me like that: Worthless shit! She yells, go back to your mother!I hate your guts!!! I hit her with a chair. That stops her! Ika goes to her mirror, puts rouge on her cheeks, lipstick, adjusts the old red wig on her head, slams the door, walks up to the road with red high heel shoes, sits on a milestone, back straight, hands posed on her knees, legs closed, like a mermaid queen. She chooses to ignore me.
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.