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The rebels set us free today, some stately dance
involving dams and promises to swing the vote.
They gave us time to call our families, a chance
to bathe and trim our nails before the rescue boat
arrived with senators and diplomats whose hats
sat jaunty on their heads. Hugs all around, and pats.
Good job, you have survived! Now, tell us how you feel.
They fed us well that night, a patriotic meal,
a speech from the new President who’d paved the way.
The shyest of us said to him of our ordeal:
Did anyone write poems while we were away?


We meet at noon on Tuesdays in High Park, Bonnechance
and me. I come from a volcanic isle, remote,
a goatherd’s daughter; she, from Port-au-Prince. First glance,
you know the squealing children in our care who float
like seahorses from slide to swing, are sometimes brats,
from our sweet wombs they did not fall. Our little sprats
wear shoes because their Mamas tend to kids well-heeled.
Aunties sing them lullabies. They know us by sealed
envelopes with cash. Tears and necessity pay
their way. One day, Mercy will answer our appeal:
Did anyone write poems while we were away?


The virus creeps along, alert to circumstance,
fast wed to civil wars, they clutch at groin and throat,
agreements reached beneath the veil, a small distance
from the mission camp, draped in white. A tattered note
hangs in surgery, a psalm above the reed mats.
The young doctor from Santa Cruz sold river rats
to live; she knows and listens for the subtle wheel.
Though outwardly she treats them equally, the deal
of who survives and who moves on does not dismay
her. All patients dream of home, their favourite meal.
Did anyone write poems while we were away?


The officer in camouflage, he prays to chance,
and sure enough, he finds two kids beside the boat
behind the school. I ought to grab you by the pants
and drag you back. You wanna be like me? A goat
too dumb to read? The girl cowers; the boy, he pats
on the shoulder. We need smart men at the salt flats,
unafraid to fight injustice. They watch him peel
open a pack of smokes. Your Mama, how’s she feel,
you skipping school? The little girl’s too tough to sway.
The boy, scratching words in sand, is easy to steal.
Did anyone write poems while we were away?


The President’s daughter texts her cheating ex, stance
on her stilettos wide apart. I burned your coat
and alligator shoes, you pr***, don’t try to prance—
A skinny arm, a pistol at her pretty throat,
a trembling whisper. No quick moves. The rebel that’s
obliged to prove himself throws her into a flat
bed truck, tries not to think of Mama eating veal
off fancy plates. The effing princess liked to squeal,
then caught the virus, botched their Proof of Life display.
A strafe of bombs, the boy’s tattered journal reveals:
Did anyone write poems while we were away?


Give up the battle to control what others feel
and say. The greatest war is that which you conceal,
the fear of disrespect distorting hearts by day,
each night dissolves to peace and whispers her appeal.
Did anyone write poems while we were away?


Some of you will recognize the rhyme scheme and repetition of a Chant Royal in this piece. By dividing the stanzas into cantos, I’ve diluted some of the “chant” experience in favour of the narrative’s underlying thread.

The meter is duodecasyllabic, twelve syllables per line.

© Elaine Stirling, 2014
Image comes from Wikipedia.