Edwidge Danticat: on the day of the dead

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Edwidge Danticat was born in Haiti and moved to the United States when she was twelve. She is the author of several books, including Breath, Eyes, Memory, an Oprah Book Club selection; Krik? Krak!, a National Book Award finalist; and The Farming of Bones, an American Book Award winner. She is also the editor of The Butterfly's Way: Voices from the Haitian Dyaspora in the United States and The Beacon Best of 2000: Great Writing by Men and Women of All Colors and Cultures.

Danticat earned a degree in French Literature from Barnard College, where she won the 1995 Woman of Achievement Award, and later an MFA from Brown University.  She lives in Miami with her husband and daughter.


on the day of the dead

this november 2 feels like the 2nd day of the dead

the other one came too soon so we had no time to prepare

no time to call on la flaca, the lady of the dead

no time to call on le bawon, the guardian of the cemetery

no time to clean the gravesites, yank the weeds

repaint the mausoleums and cover the tombstones

with garlands of cockscomb or beds of carnations

or wreaths of marigold, the flower of four hundred lives

no time to make pan de muerto or pen patat for our deceased

or pour tequila or babancourt rum as libation on their heads

no time to set off fireworks to rouse our angelitos

or ti lezanj from their premature rest
no time to burn incense to lure them back this way

if only for a while
no time to gather up a wash basin, a towel and soap

for them to bathe if ever they should return

no time for a mariachi or rara band to think up a good song

only time for llorada—the weeping
only time for kriz—convulsions the body uses to mourn

only time for the plaintive chime of somber church bells

only time to recite the rosary under our breaths

only time to ponder our three deaths

the one that happens when our breath leaves us to rejoin the air

the one that follows when we are given back to the earth

and the most final one of all

the one that ultimately erases us

when no one remembers us at all





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For the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks, we asked New Yorker contributors to look back on how their work, and their lives, were changed. Here are Edwidge Danticat’s answers.

1. What were you doing the day the attacks occurred?

I had just returned from a long trip abroad and I was jet-lagged and asleep when my father woke me up to tell me what had happened. I spent the day on the phone, trying to make sure my friends and family were O.K., including my brother and cousins who were working in the city. I know someone who was working in the World Trade Center and thankfully she was able to get out, but she was in shock for days and could not even speak.

Of course on the anniversary you think of all the people who died, but you also think of all the survivors, the people who walked down the smoke-filled staircases and what these past ten years must have been like for them, the children who grew up without their mothers and fathers. I have a friend who was an immigration reporter at the time, covering the story for an immigration beat, and one of the things she discovered in her reporting was how many people who were the only ones in their family in the United States died in the towers. Initially their families could not get visas or get remains or any kind of help because these people who had died in the towers along with the others were undocumented and it’s like they were never here. I am thinking of those families, too; what it must have been like to live with that over the past ten years.

2. Are you different than you might have been because of 9/11?

It’s hard to tell whether I am different or not, but I did suddenly feel a certain urgency about life. After deciding that I never would, I got married a year later. I was a lot more open to love and commitment after that day. Suddenly not being alone seemed important and love was a bigger priority for my life than career. Later, losing my father and uncle—two very pivotal people in my life—deepened that feeling. Besides what I wrote about in my Talk of the Town piece, one of the things that deeply moved me about 9/11 was how many people called their loved ones to tell them how much they loved them. From the towers, from the planes. You have a feeling that seeing death so close strips everything away but this one feeling: I love someone and I want them to know it. We can all imagine ourselves in that position, though we hope we never have to be.

3. Is New York a different city for you now?

A few years ago, I wrote an essay for The New York Times called “New York Was Our City on the Hill.” When I was a girl in Haiti, I didn’t even know about other cities. Not even Miami. New York to me was the United States because all my family members in the States were living there. I no longer live in New York. I live in Miami now, but many of my family members are still in New York, so I come back often. I still have my 917 cell-phone number, and I think I have done a good job passing on my love for New York because my six-year-old daughter always tells people that when she grows up she wants to live in New York. New York is of course a different city for me now, but it’s probably more because I am different. In a way New York is like Port-au-Prince, another city I have a deep attachment to. There is a lot of heart and love there, but you always feel a bit like a visitor in any city where you don’t have a bed you sleep in every night, even if you have very deep bonds there and love it tremendously. But there is a romance with this city for me that began with my imagining it as a little girl, and it’s a romance that continues to this day.

4. What piece of work to emerge from 9/11, by another writer (or photographer, filmmaker, or artist), has stayed with you the most?

Michael Richards with Tar Baby vs Saint Sebastian

The sculpture Tar Baby vs Saint Sebastian was created by the artist Michael Richards before the 9/11 attacks. Michael Richards had a studio in one of the highest floors of one of the towers of the World Trade Center and was working there that morning when the plane hit the building. He was fascinated by the idea, and obviously the horrors, of flight, and used a cast of his own body for that sculpture. One of them perished with him in the towers but another exact copy was at a family member’s house and was saved. This is the piece of 9/11-related art work that has stayed with me the most. It’s as if he knew how he and so many other people would die.

As for books, soon after 9/11, I read and wrote the foreword to a book that I think spoke to how immigration was affected by 9/11, which is still a relevant topic today. It was written by Tram Nguyen and is called “We Are All Suspects Now: Untold Stories from Immigration Communities after 9/11.” I just began reading a book that I am enjoying very much called “Color Me English: Thoughts about Migrations and Belonging Before and After 9/11.” It’s by my friend Caryl Phillips, who is as brilliant a novelist and essayist as they come.

Read more http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2011/09/september-11th-ten-years-with-edwidge-danticat.html#ixzz1XBcAbV7h