Five Points, Vol. 8 No. 3Fall 2004
From Michael Longley, “I’m interested in poets who do things that I can’t do.”
Madison Smartt Bell
Beneath the Leaves
In Toussaint’s eyes the low stone outline of the powder magazine took on the aspect of a tomb, and from its farther end there bloomed the black cross of Baron, as it were wrapped in chains. Reasonably there was no cross, but reason had no application. His reason had been unseated by the fountain of dread that gushed up with him, responding to the black-toothed powers that rushed on him from without. Blood was the conduit of the dread expanding with every beat of his pulse. His heart clenched tight; his head ached terribly. The black cross burned against the sky.
He could not think it only a trick of sun or fever or the two combined. Baron was manifest in the cross. Toussaint’s spirit had been sucked out of him. He was nothing, an empty bottle, wind whistling in the uncorked neck. All at once the warmth of fever drained from him too and in the shuddering chill that followed, he sank against the rough set stones of the magazine wall. The darts of pain his chattering teeth fired in his damaged lower jaw struck him from a long way off, though he wanted to reach toward the pain, restore himself in his body. His eyes were closed, the sun red on the lids. The black cross went on blazing behind his eyes. The deep drumbeat of his heart kept pumping out the fear. Within the cross’s junction point appeared Baron Cimitière, wearing the face of Jean-Jacques Dessalines. His lips were parted but his teeth still set together and from behind the teeth came the shill and stuttering gravedigger’s cry—ke-ke-ke-ke-ke—or was it the cry of a hawk overhead? Dessalines has sold me! Toussaint thought, or said. Somehow he had risen, moved away from the wall of the powder magazine; he was no longer cold but hot, his whole head swimming. Dessalines is my Baron…. Had he spoken aloud? …The little white doctor looked at him strangely as he passed, and seemed to speak, but Toussaint did not hear. Dessalines has sold me to the French.
He staggered out the gate, and almost tumbled into a trench in progress that he’d ordered to be done, but at the last moment he regained his balance and wobbled onto the narrow trail that led into the bitasyon east of the fort. High on a cane pole ahead of him was the small red square of a hounfor flag. As he walked toward it, it disappeared, hidden by the branches of the trees. He was passing among the wounded from the battle at Ravine à Couleuvre, and it seemed that some of them stretched out their hands to him and that he heard them call the name they gave him, Papa Toussaint. He did not stop. He must take his weakness out of sight, hide it from all view.