I received my copy of The Caribbean Writer in the mail a few weeks ago and I was pleasantly surprised at how thick it was. It’s a textbook! I used to carry around my Norton Anthology of African American Literature back in college when I decided I was going to be a serious writer. If worshippers could haul the bible, I could certainly claim the Norton as my sacred text of all texts.
The Silver Anniversary/Volume 25 is certainly a sacred text–a literary documentation of post-earthquake Haiti. It’s a hefty 640 pages of poetry, essay, and fiction all themed around Haiti/Ayiti. I’m sharing the pages with my good friend and award-winning writer & poet, Mirlande Jean-Gilles, Edwidge Danticat once again, M.J. Fievre, Evelyn Truillot, and Sonia Sanchez to name a few.
“Earthseed” is a fantasy story set during the earthquake complete with an inverted parallel universe, shapeshifting Vodou loas, and an Egyptian/Greek god/goddess hybrid. I’m extremely thankful that the editor, Opal Palmer Adisa, who has a story in Nalo Hopkinson’s So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction & Fantasy, understood the vision I had for the this story.
Here’s a snippet:
Nathalie would’ve survived had her neighbors not dragged the old, broken, piece of furniture up the two flights of stairs in the house next door—having hauled it onto the back of a taptap just days before from a sidewalk in Petionville where Tant Lisline worked as a cook in a fancy chateau—and pushed it up against the far wall of Tant Lisline’s bedroom, placed a cracked mirror above it, and covered it with bottles of cheap perfume, talcum powder, photos of relatives abroad, and a small TV. It was as if Tant Lisline and her two grown sons knew that on this day, the earth would part and Nathalie would be removing the clothes on the line in the yard they shared right after she came home from secondary school, and right before she fixed herself a plate of cornmeal and beans and waited for her mother to come home from selling caramel cashew treats and hygiene products Downtown.
The woman had it in for her, was the last thought on Nathalie’s mind before death showered down from the heavens in the form of concrete, rusting steel, and an old armoire imported straight from France decades before Nathalie was born. She figured Tant Lisline was punishing her mother for months of arguing over the avocado tree that stood in the yard. The two market women fought over the fallen unripe avocados, one accusing the other of taking more than their share. And at the center was Nathalie, barely fourteen, obedient, polite, and full of life—until this day. It wasn’t the cinderblocks that came tumbling down from Tant Lisline’s two-story house that killed her; but when the wall gave in, the vintage French armoire that her mother had admired while watching the men carefully take it from the back of the taptap, took her body, her breath, but certainly not her soul—the seed that remained.
It was the trees that called them forth in Gaiab’s world; the deeply rooted ones that reached down low, dug deep until they reached their counterpart, the perfectly symmetrical mirror image reflected in the much broader, more complex known world. Only the trees replicated here, and the bodies that were taken from any of the elements: fire, wind, water, or earth.
This was Gaiab’s world. This world that could be seen by demi-gods who only understood the known world’s natural disasters if they turned it over bottom up and watched all the wandering souls sprout new lives from seeds that were either buried in the soil, floated in with the tides, blew in with the storms, or descended in the form of ashes on a blisteringly hot day. She understood the nature of humans and their births and deaths and knew that in the center of all that they’ve perceived themselves to be—with a mother, a father, a name, and an identity—was something much greater. She recognized it to be like the very tiniest element that could be found everywhere in the universe she had come to know—the burning star, a mere remnant of her sun, the other planets, and a portion of herself, perhaps, and the seed from which all things sprout and in the end, the form in which everything must return to.
Gaiab knew that hundreds of thousands were coming from one single place, one single catastrophe that elapsed in mere seconds. It was from the earth, and the things built on that earth. The soil in her world had been thirsty, starved, longing to be fed new life. It had been a long time coming and it was as if a storm had been brewing in the ground forming a geyser and it was going to rain earthseeds.