Wednesday, August 26, 2009

We Live Up Here

When you are an immigrant or the child of immigrants, there rests on your heart and thoughts what must be done in the name of dual loyalties. The home and new country do not war for affections, only space in your memory, space in your creations. Lenelle Moise is one such poet who finds that the integration of Haiti and the United States into her pieces elevates her work to a whole new level. Originally born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, her family migrated to Massachusetts while she was young enough to remember and later recall its impact. Primarily a slam poet, she finds her background has made her pieces more definitive. Her poetry spans topics like Haitian politcs, pomosexuality, feminism, migration, and much more.

I first heard of Moise from Word Warriors: 35 Women Leaders in the Spoken Word Revolution, which I picked out while shopping for books for class. In it, she details a story of how she was first introduced to poetry through her uncle, Sergo. Sergo is described as being "cruelly handsome, a bit of a philanderer and slightly effeminate...blend[ing] three different women's perfumes to create a potent, aura-outling signature scent." Sergo performed his poetry in Creole for their church congregation. Though services were performed in French, the "standard" or formal language, Sergo delivered his poems in the langue-lakay, or home-tongue.

Lenelle continued to write, taking the advice of her somewhat eccentric uncle. He later disowned her when she admitted she was a pomosexual. Despite that, she still credits her uncle for showing her that the marriage of words to performance is as natural as able-bodied lovers.
"If [Sergo] could see me now - one hand punching the air with my fierce, feminine, feminist fist - perhaps his heart would sing. If he could hear me now, singing protests songs in our langue-lakay, I think my crazy, troubled uncle would be so proud. "

"we live up here" is one of my favorite poems by her, hopefully you will enjoy it as well. To find out more about Moise's work (she's also a playwright and performance artist), check out her website, She also has a blog of her own, subscribe to it,

we live up here by: Lenelle Moise

roxy has a secret and i know it.

from the dominican republic--
lives on the first floor
and me--a haitian talking
american-- i live
on the third, she's twelve
years old
and i'm nine but we're friends cuz
neither of us is allowed
to go outside. there is no play

for the daughters of immigrants
who rest under project ceilings.
we are our parents'
only investments.
in their dreams, we birth
second-story houses in the suburbs, strong
fences and theft-less streets, jewish
neighbors walking well-groomed
dogs, graffiti-less
two-car garage doors.

there is no room
in our parents' fantasies
for the brown
folks of our dreary daily lives
who work or loiter
or die around us. who don't know
coconuts and guava, mango
and kenepas. who don't muse over
lost motherlands and ancestral languages
the way we do.

here we are kept
away from the dark
men who grab
their nuts, blare
boom-box blasphemy and deal
medicinals that never heal. i say,
there are great expectations
and no play
for the daughters
of immigrants.

so when roxy and i get in from school
or church, we poke protected
heads out of our respective dense,
scraped windows and watch
hood rat games of tag, ambulance
arrivals, dss departures, welfare
check elation, various evictions
and arrests, we watch our people
who are not our people
from the safetry of our homes.

roxy's english is still
thick with spanish
and mine's so thoroughly bred
in cambridge, massachusetts, that we avoid
speaking to each other. instead we communicate
by lifting bored brows, frowning or rolling
our eyes, sometimes she asks me
what curse
words mean -- slut, asshole, screw --
and when i tell her, sometimes she smiles.

but most times roxy hates me
cuz i am her
mirror: trapped and also brown.
i throw down
the drawings i make of her.
she winks
up at me, fellating
and in this way, we
are close.

roxy has a secret and i know it:
while her parents are asleep or out waging
their undocumented minimum,
roxy has a white boy
in and out of her
first-floor window.
he's irish and athletic, in high
school and cute. he
brings beer.

roxy sticks sepia
arms out -- pulls
him through her plastic pane,
into her prison
which i imagine is painted pink and stinky
with perfume, cluttered
with neglected porcelain dolls, purple
diaries plastered with stickers of fake
locks and keys
that probably never get used.

for hours, i wait, missing
the top of roxy's head
as i imagine moans and firm
bananas going mushy
on her thighs, inside. eventually,
it is time for him to leave and i spy
his lean body withdrawing
from her bedroom, his tongue
fast-knocking the roof
of her tongue. she says,

te amo and he whispers
tambien like
tom-ben and she giggles
like the girls do
in the movies and me and roxy
rest rapunzel-like
elbows on our sill--palms
crushing the faint chin--hairs
wewill later pluck to feel
more american. we become

women as we study
her boyfriend's flat butt, fleeing
our end
of this broken world, back
to his house in the 'burbs.

one day my mother says, i'm so glad
we live up here. and that's how
i guess roxy's secret
is out. i hear noises
through her window
now: an aging mother hailing
mary loudly, a father
weeping then breaking
things, beating her.
and when she finally hangs her head

out of the window again i say, hi
over and over then ask where
is your boyfriend? to which she replies,
screw you, asshole, and i think
slut but dare not pitch it.

these days, roxy wears
the sweatshirts the missing
boyfriend gave her
to conceal the swell of her
belly, these days, roxy
wears headphones, repeating
the standard inflections she hears, trying
to sound like the new
american duaghter
she's expecting in the fall

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