Poetry by Louis-Philippe Dalembert

haiti on my mind

“ooh georgia, no peace I find
just an old sweet song
keeps georgia on my mind”
— stuart gorrell

for edwidge danticat
rooted in the same memory
and for arthur h., who loves this country


you don’t leave this country
you don’t leave it

one day you think you’re going far far away
going away for good
leaving the clouds behind
drunk on wandering
heavy with fragility
letting the towering clouds knot and unknot
arabesques in the sky

one day you think you’re going away
letting the city die
then revive
phoenix overfed with a thousand dreams of despair
rain uprooting the last conversation
between trees with the earth

one day you think you’re leaving
letting the sea
from so much sorrow and waste
letting the rivers fall silent
until they burn up
like the last note of a blues song

you don’t leave this country
you don’t leave it

one day the smells return to you
far off in the world
return from far away
one day the diverted smells
the smells one day resurge
from a distant past
those from childhood and those strong ones from today
mingled until you can’t stand it
hopelessly mingled

one day a woman’s allure
in the faraway world
as she wearily walks past the dust of her dreams
which drown one by one
born in low waters
one day her approach
that drains the futility of life
and majestic its fragrance entwines once more
this song of a bygone time
like a lost sob

you don’t leave this country
you don’t leave it
nor even go away

one day hope and hopelessness merge
like yesterday and tomorrow until you no longer know
like these echoes of day in sleep
sustained until you can’t stand it
these shreds of memory
childhood refrains to the night of the star

you don’t leave this country
nor even go away
from this land
from this woman
go out perhaps
and yet

liège, october 6, 2007


now and again
my senses track childhood
behind the words
childhood of storms and scorching earthquakes
behind the unlivable
rooms of mist

with which rain should I write
the sounds striking my body
as the invisible draws near
with which extinct cloud should I say the being
stowed in his memories

c’era una volta
once upon a time
there was an eternal child of summer
who would have liked to know the man
of drizzle and silenced earthquakes
still this burst of being
in the beyond of myself
in the beyond of ourselves
imperceptible flow
interweaving the seasons of words

which word for this wrenching
which word for this man of winter
unknown to childhood
which word only one
to summon cyclones and fogs
to say bald mountains and eternal snow
like a single river
cold and abundant just yesterday
white and dry today

now and again
set above bullets
that waltz with unending insanity
a small chair of straw
at the foot of a parasol mahogany tree

paris, november 7, 1993

Translator’s note: Stagioni is the Italian word for “seasons.”

the skin I love

I love skin
cracked skin
stretch-marked skin
skin that splits
stretches folds and doesn’t break
that shamelessly flaunts
its wrinkles
skin that’s faced
a thousand and one wounds
and never surrendered
peeling skin
from so many struggles with life

I love skin as smooth
as a barely opened bloom
skin undefiled
by any scratch
skin with a jet-black smile in the dark
by turns dull and glowing
alabaster and rosy skin
skin restrained
by inexperience mixed with modesty
ready to change texture and hue
at the slightest emotion

skin showcasing the intimate
princess-like skin
in the filthiest mire
courtesan skin sprawled in silk
I love skin steeped
in curiosity and lust
skin that doesn’t make a fuss
that gets so dizzy with pleasure
it can’t save its own skin

creaky skin
that keeps moving
skin like an old carrosserie
seasoned with yesteryear’s luster
nostalgic skin
without bitterness
eternally thirsty skin
that says yesterday but thinks
today more than tomorrow
skin that lives believe me
hic et nunc skin
skin adorned with impatience
drunk always from stirring up the blood

I love skin
that smells of ylang-ylang
skin with the smell of lemongrass at daybreak
or when the day hesitates procrastinates
before tumbling into night
musky skin
smelling like mangoes from childhood
skin with the smell of exotic fruits
like simmering peaches or apples
green tea skin fragrant with elsewhere
skin smelling of sweat
then of bougainvillea

I love skin most of all
that has lived skin
that has joyfully rubbed itself
against a thousand other skins
skin that is skin
I love your skin

québec, april 13, 2012


Louis-Philippe Dalembert

Louis-Philippe Dalembert (b. 1962, Port-au-Prince) is a Haitian author whose latest novel was a finalist for the Prix Goncourt. He’s regarded “among the major contemporary voices, not only in Haitian letters but also on the global francophone and international literary scene” (Professor Micheline Rice-Maximin, Swarthmore College). Edwidge Danticat, also hailing from Port-au-Prince, echoes this sentiment, describing him as “one of the most imaginative and prolific writers of his generation.” Dalembert’s work has garnered a multitude of awards, including the prestigious Casa de las Américas Prize and a grant from the Centre national du livre (CNL), and he's been named a finalist for prizes from the Académie française and the Prix Médicis.

“Vagabondage” (wandering) is a theme that pervades his writing, mirroring his own sense of restlessness, which results in dividing his time between Paris and Port-au-Prince, often adding other cities into the mix. Dalembert’s themes run the gamut from lost love and childhood to biting political and social commentary.

Nancy Naomi Carlson

Nancy Naomi Carlson is a poet, translator, and essayist who has authored ten titles (six translated). An Infusion of Violets (Seagull, 2019), her second full-length poetry collection, was named a “New & Noteworthy” title by The New York Times. A two-time recipient of literature translation fellowships from the NEA, and a senior translation editor for Tupelo Quarterly, she has been a finalist for the Best Translated Book Award and the CLMP Firecracker Poetry Award. Decorated by the French government with the French Academic Palms, she has published her work in such journals as APR, The Georgia Review, The Paris Review, and Poetry. Cargo Hold of Stars: Coolitude, her translations of Khal Torabully from Mauritius, is forthcoming from Seagull Books in January 2021. To contact her, please visit www.nancynaomicarlson.com.

“haiti on my mind” and “stagioni.” Copyright (c) Éditions Bruno Doucey, 2017. “the skin I love.” Copyright (c) Louis-Philippe Dalembert, 2012. English translation copyright (c) Nancy Naomi Carlson, 2020.