John Warner Smith

Cries Beyond the Mountains

For Haiti’s Children

I. 1611

Before the sun is born and a cry stirs
the shaman’s dream, the gulls give what silence
takes: mating calls fluttering in the soft pelting rain,
scatting inside the sweet cradle of eucalypti
that rise above the cloth-draped masts.
But when the sun dies behind the granite peaks,
and oars push the slave ships back out to sea, 
the birds gather their wings and line the shoal
where footprints of their elders wash away.
Like sand-buried bones, human, broken,
all that remains is what silence gives:
cries drowning in the woodland and churning
in the waves while the feathers of ravaged nests 
swirl in a pitch-black night.


II. 2011

When hunger is the villagers’ anthem and they have
no bread, they curry moons, they break stars. 
Their song is in their hands, so they cut wood,
make fire, let heat stretch the drum skins. 
Only then do they grip the sticks and beat.
And the world that hears, looks but doesn’t see
the children coiled on rock-dirt floors,
their coffins lining the wailing streets
while mothers mourn in evensong, fathers migrate
like the plague they carry womb to womb.
Though the gulls glide over quicksand shores
and drums beat the villagers into flesh,
there is no peace for these voices, this sky,
this precious rock gleaming wildly in the sea.