These four poems come from a series of poems that explore the injustice of the world, especially when it comes to the poor of Haiti. The poems exist within a tension of the relief efforts that attempt to bring comfort to the poorest of the poor and yet offers a critique of how the relief efforts my continue to reinforce the poverty they are trying to alleviate. The poems in addition reflect the joyful nature that exist among the Haitian people that they find in nature (although nature can be cruel) and in community as two sisters stitch a uniform for their younger brother as "they thread goals" and "stitch their dreams into the seams riding the needle forward." In essence these poems critique the theological dilemma of providing help without creating a symbiotic relationship between the giver and the receiver.
Tim Gavin is an Episcopal priest, serving as the head chaplain at The Episcopal Academy, located in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania. He oversees the school's volunteer service cooperative and its partnership program with St. Marc's School in the Central Plateau of Haiti, which he visits three to four times a year. His poems have appeared in many journals and most recently in The Anglican Theological Review, About Place Journal, Chiron Review, Digital Papercut, Screech Owl Review, HEArt On-Line Journal, The Lake, decomP magazinE and Blue Heron Review. He lives with his wife and sons in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania.
This brown river (splitting a gash in the country from west
To east) is more than a god, for god's are myths that twists
And plots, unrefined unlike this river running abreast
At high tide and wide unlike a god that dwindles as it slips
From its pedestal as its clay feet break; but
This river brown and strong, broad as truth, deep
As sorrow furrows to the depths of justice,
Buries infinity, shrouds flesh, packs spirit, tombed in a rut,
Vaulted and concealed for no one to see but the banks
Of this brown being of its own course broadened, unrestricted
In convulsions and contractions as the heat rises and
And falls, fluttering into a heartbeat devoid and nicked
To bring up the dead that the gods merely have forgotten,
As it rushes and washes, gushing over all that's rotten.
Two sisters are sewing a blue uniform
For their brother. They pin and hem and scissor
Material back and forth until arms form
And a neck opens and buttons descend
The placket in their neat row of ideas.
Blue is their favorite color. They thread
Goals. Making money. Food. Books with hope
Of a new school. Shelter from rain
And malnutrition. Rape. Arrest and
They stitch their dreams
Into the seams riding the needle forward
With their tiny fingers and laugh
Each time the pin pricks their thumbs.
We climbed toward the summit, the trees
Groaning from thirst; their leaves
Shimmer - a foil scorching wilderness;
Their roots - foot like - solder in cracked earth.
I squint at sun-bursts of broken bodies
And shy away from intensity.
Longing for dark breaking west.
A long trot from the closest road, our necks
Ached. Our lips burned as we downed Coke's
And sucked on ice, hoping the parasites couldn't
Survive the freeze; we trudged. Upward with our
Culture squeezed into our backpacks,
We hoped to leave part of ourselves at the feet
We cleaned. Wiped dry with our shirts.
So what is a conquered mind? Is it
Simple? A question that we ask while shadows
Dance on the walls? While the candle flickers?
A light wind blowing off the Artibonite River? Ships
In the bay? One shadow seems to be chasing another
While third plays blind man's bluff.
It listens to some far off
Radio station playing gospel,
with a piano that has its middle C broken. The hammer hits thin air.
Off balance. This evening as poverty enters the witness
Dock and play tricks.
Two lovers merge
To quench, leaving each broken.
Spinning off balance. The conscience
Of one is not of the other.
The two return to their spouses empty - shadows
Trying to catch rainwater.
Interrupting another draught.
Battered and conquered, tempting all to deny it.