Translated by A. James Arnold and Clayton Eshleman
At the end of the small hours burgeoning with frail coves the hungry
Antilles, the Antilles pitted with smallpox, the Antilles dynamited by alcohol,
stranded in the mud of this bay, in the dust of this town sinisterly stranded.
At the end of the small hours, the extreme, deceptive desolate eschar on
the wound of the waters; the martyrs who do not bear witness; the flowers of
blood that fade and scatter in the empty wind like the cries of babbling
parrots; an aged life mendaciously smiling, its lips opened by vacated
agonies; an aged poverty rotting under the sun, silently; an aged silence
bursting with tepid pustules
the dreadful inanity of our raison d’être.
At the end of the small hours, on this very fragile earth thickness
exceeded in a humiliating way by its grandiose future—the volcanoes will
explode, the naked water will bear away the ripe sun stains and nothing will
be left but a tepid bubbling pecked at by sea birds—the beach of dreams and
the insane awakening.
At the end of the small hours, this town sprawled—flat, toppled from its
common sense, inert, winded under its geometric weight of an eternally
renewed cross, indocile to its fate, mute, vexed no matter what, incapable of
growing according to the juice of this earth, encumbered, clipped, reduced,
in breach of its fauna and flora.
At the end of the small hours, this town sprawled—flat. . .
And in this inert town, this squalling throng so astonishingly detoured
from its cry like this town from its movement, from its meaning, not even
worried, detoured from its true cry, the only cry one would have wanted to
hear because it alone feels at home in this town; because one feels that it
inhabits some deep refuge of shadow and of pride, in this inert town, this
throng detoured from its cry of hunger, of poverty, of revolt, of hatred, this
throng so strangely chattering and mute.
In this inert town, this strange throng that does not huddle, does not
mix; clever at discovering the point of disincasement, of flight, of dodging.
This throng that does not know how to throng, this throng, one realizes, so
perfectly alone under the sun, like a woman one thought completely
occupied with the lyric cadence of her buttocks, who abruptly challenges a
hypothetical rain and enjoins it not to fall; or like a rapid sign of the cross
without perceptible motive; or like the sudden grave animality of a peasant,
urinating standing, her legs parted, stiff
In this inert town, this desolate throng under the sun, not connected with
anything that is expressed, asserted, released in broad earth daylight, its
own. Not with Josephine, Empress of the French, dreaming way up there
above the nigger scum. Nor with the liberator fixed in his whitewashed
stone liberation. Nor with the conquistador. Nor with this contempt, nor
with this freedom, nor with this audacity.
At the end of the small hours, this inert town and its beyond of lepers, of
consumption, of famines, of fears crouched in the ravines, of fears perched in
the trees, of fears dug in the ground, of fears adrift in the sky, of piled up
fears and their fumeroles of anguish.
At the end of the small hours the morne forgotten, forgetful of
At the end of the small hours the morne in restless, docile hooves—its
malarial blood routs the sun with its overheated pulse.
At the end of the small hours the restrained conflagration of the morne,
like a sob gagged on the verge of a bloodthirsty burst, in quest of an ignition
that slips away and ignores itself.
At the end of the small hours, the morne crouching before bulimia on the
outlook for tuns and mills, slowly vomiting out its human fatigue, the morne
solitary and its blood shed, the morne bandaged in shade, the morne and its
ditches of fear, the morne and its great hands of wind.
At the end of the small hours, the famished morne and no one knows
better than this bastard morne why the suicide choked in complicity with his
hypoglossal jamming his tongue backward to swallow it; why a woman
seems to float belly up on the Capot River (her luminous obscure body
submissively organized at the command of her navel) but she is only a
bundle of sonorous water.
And neither the teacher in his classroom, nor the priest at catechism will
be able to get a word out of this sleepy little picaninny, no matter how
energetically they drum on his shorn skull, for starvation has quicksanded
his famished voice into the swamp of hunger (a word-one-single-word and
we-will-forget-about-Queen-Blanche-of-Castille, a word-one-single-word,
for his voice gets lost in the swamp of hunger,
and there is nothing, really nothing to squeeze out of this little brat,
other than a hunger that can no longer climb to the rigging of his voice,
a sluggish flabby hunger,
a hunger buried in the depths of the Hunger of this famished morne.
At the end of the small hours, the disparate stranding, the exacerbated
stench of corruption, the monstrous sodomies of the host and the sacrificing
priest, the impassable beakhead frames of prejudice and stupidity, the
prostitutions, the hypocrisies, the lubricities, the treasons, the lies, the
frauds, the concussions—the panting of a deficient cowardice, the heave-
holess enthusiasm of supernumerary sahibs, the greeds, the hysterias, the
perversions, the harlequinades of poverty, the cripplings, the pruritus, the
urticaria, the tepid hammocks of degeneracy. Right here the parade of
laughable and scrofulous buboes, the forced feeding of very strange
microbes, the poisons without known alexins, the sanies of really ancient
sores, the unforeseeable fermentations of putrescible species.
At the end of the small hours, the great still night, the stars deader than a
The teratical bulb of night, sprouted from our baseness and self-
denials. . .
And our idiotic and insane stunts to revive the golden splashing of
privileged moments, the umbilical cord restored to its ephemeral splendor,
the bread, and the wine of complicity, the bread, the wine, the blood of
And this joy of former times making me aware of my present poverty, a
bumpy road plunging into a hollow where it scatters a few shacks; an
indefatigable road charging at full speed a morne at the top of which it
brutally quicksands into a pool of clumsy houses, a road foolishly climbing,
recklessly descending, and the carcass of wood that I call “our house,”
comically perched on minute cement paws, its coiffure of corrugated iron in
the sun like a skin laid out to dry, the dining room, the rough floor where nail
heads gleam, the beams of pine and shadow across the ceiling, the spectral
straw chairs, the gray lamp light, the glossy flash of cockroaches in a
maddening buzz. . .
At the end of the small hours, this most essential land restored to my
gourmandize, not in diffuse tenderness, but the tormented sensual
concentration of the fat tits of the mornes with an occasional palm tree as
their hardened sprout, the jerky orgasm of torrents and from Trinité to
Grand-Rivière the hysterical grandsuck of the sea.
And time passed quickly, very quickly.
After August and mango trees decked out in all their lunules, September
begetter of cyclones, October igniter of sugarcane, November purring in the
distilleries, there came Christmas.
Christmas arrived, announcing itself first with a tingling of desires, a
thirst for new tendernesses, a burgeoning of vague dreams, then with a
purple rustle of its great joyous wings it had suddenly flown away, and after
that its abrupt fall out over the village making shack life burst like an
Christmas was not like other holidays. It didn’t like to gad about the
streets, to dance on public squares, to mount the carousel horses, to use the
crowd to pinch women, to hurl fireworks into the faces of the tamarind trees.
It had agoraphobia, Christmas did. What it wanted was a whole day of
bustling, preparing, a cooking and cleaning spree, endless jitters, about
then at evening an unimposing little church that would benevolently make
room for the laughter, the whispers, the secrets, the love talk, the gossip and
the guttural cacophony of a plucky singer and also boisterous pals and
shameless hussies and shacks up to their guts in succulent goodies, and not
stingy, and twenty people can crowd in, and the street is deserted, and the
village turns into a bouquet of singing, and you are cozy in there, and you eat
good, and you drink heartily, and there are blood sausages, one kind only
two fingers wide twined in coils, another broad and stocky, the mild one
tasting of wild thyme, the sharp one spiced to an incandescence, and
steaming coffee and sugared anisette, and milk punch, and the liquid sun of
rums, and all sorts of good things that drive your taste buds wild or dissolve
them into subtleties, or distill them to the point of ecstacy or cocoon them
with fragrances, and you laugh, and you sing, and the refrains flare on and
like coco palms:
KYRIE ELEISON … LEISON … LEISON,
CHRISTE ELEISON … LEISON … LEISON.
And not only do the mouths sing, but the hands, the feet, the buttocks,
the genitals, and your entire being that liquefies into sounds, voices and
At the peak of its ascent, joy bursts like a cloud. The songs don’t stop, but
roll now anxious and heavy through the valleys of fear, the tunnels of
anguish and the fires of hell.
And everybody starts pulling the nearest devil by the tail, until fear
imperceptibly fades in the fine sand lines of dream, and you really live as in a
dream, and you drink and you shout and you sing as in a dream, and doze
too as in a dream with rose petal eyelids, and the day comes velvety as a
sapodilla, and the liquid manure smell of the cacao trees, and the turkeys
shelling their red pustules in the sun, and the obsessive bells, and the rain,
the bells. . . the rain. . .
that tinkle, tinkle, tinkle. . .
At the end of the small hours, this town sprawled-flat. . .
It crawls on its hands with the slightest desire to drill the sky with a
stature of protest. The backs of the houses are frightened by the sky truffled
with fire, their feet by the drownings of the soil, they chose to perch
shallowly between surprises and treacheries. And yet the town still advances.
It even grazes every day further beyond its tide of tiled corridors, prudish
shutters, gluey courtyards, dripping paintwork. And petty hushed-up
scandals, petty unvoiced guilts, petty immense hatreds knead the narrow
streets into bumps and potholes where the wastewater grins longitudinally
through the turds. . .
At the end of the small hours, life prostrate, you don’t know how to
dispose of your aborted dreams, the river of life desperately torpid in its bed,
neither turgid nor low, hesitant to flow, pitifully empty, the impartial
heaviness of boredom, distributing shade equally on all things, the stagnant
air unbreeched by a limpid bird.
At the end of the small hours, another little house very bad-smelling in a
very narrow street, a miniscule house that harbors in its guts of rotten wood
dozens of rats and the turbulence of my six brothers and sisters, a cruel little
house whose demands panic the ends of our months and my temperamental
father gnawed by one persistent ache, I never knew which one, whom an
unexpected sorcery could lull to melancholy tenderness or drive to towering
flames of anger; and my mother whose legs pedal, pedal, day and night, for
our tireless hunger, I am even awakened at night by these tireless legs
pedaling by night and the bitter bite in the soft flesh of the night by a Singer
that my mother pedals, pedals for our hunger both day and night.
At the end of the small hours, beyond my father, my mother, the shack
chapped with blisters, like a peach tree afflicted with curl, and the thin roof,
patched with pieces of gasoline cans, which create swamps of rust in the
stinking sordid gray straw pulp, and when the wind whistles, these odds and
ends make a noise bizarre, first like the crackling of frying, then like a brand
dropped into water the smoke of its twigs flying up. . . And the bed of boards
from which my race arose, my whole entire race from this bed of boards,
with its kerosene case paws, as if it had elephantiasis, that bed, and its
kidskin, and its dry banana leaves, and its rags, yearning for a mattress, my
grandmother’s bed (Above the bed, in a jar full of oil a dim light whose flame
dances like a fat cockroach. . . on this jar in gold letters: MERCI).
And this rue Paille, this disgrace,
an appendage repulsive as the private parts of the village that extends right
and left, along the colonial road, the gray surge of its “shingled” roofs. Here
there are only straw roofs, spray-browned and wind-plucked.
Everyone despises rue Paille. That’s where the village youth go astray.
It’s there especially that the sea pours forth its garbage, its dead cats and
croaked dogs. For the street opens onto the beach, and the beach alone
cannot satisfy the sea’s foaming rage.
A blight this beach as well, with its piles of rotting muck, its furtive
rumps relieving themselves, and the sand is black, funereal, you’ve never
seen a sand so black, and the scum glides over it yelping, and the sea
pummels it like a boxer, or rather the sea is a huge dog licking and biting the
shins of the beach, biting them so persistently that it will end up devouring
it, for sure, the beach and rue Paille along with it.
At the end of the small hours, the wind of long ago—of betrayed trusts, of
uncertain evasive duty and that other dawn in Europe—arises. . .
To leave. My heart was humming with emphatic generosities. To leave. . .
I would arrive sleek and young in this land of mine and I would say to this
land whose loam is part of my flesh: “I have wandered for a long time and I
am coming back to the deserted hideousness of your sores.”
I would come to this land of mine and I would say to it: “Embrace me
without fear. . . And if all I can do is speak, it is for you I shall speak.”
And again I would say:
“My mouth shall be the mouth of those calamities that have no mouth, my
voice, the freedom of those who break down in the prison holes of despair.”
And on the way I would say to myself:
“And above all, my body as well as my soul beware of assuming the sterile
attitude of a spectator, for life is not a spectacle, a sea of miseries is not a
proscenium, a man screaming is not a dancing bear. . .”
And behold here I am come home!