January 2020. For long months, the burning heart of Haiti has been stirred by protests. State corruption isdenounced in the PetroCaribe affair. Port-au-Prince, the capital city of fire — the epicentre and echo chamber of global upheavals. This is where the members of The Living and The Dead Ensemble meet to inhabit an endless night and imagine an evening gathering populated by the living and the dead, hopes and ashes in the wake of the furious figure of fire. “Those who have experienced the fire” edits together fragments of a work in progress, of a chaos wherein the images of an upcoming film are being created, a polyphony of voices inspired by the fragmented narratives of the great Haitian poet Frankétienne.

1. The location of the fire is thereby created (chant).

Deep within the Earth, I lay down my home

OBATALA I am the

Original fire

I maintain the stability of Earth. 

OLICHA ALEGBA, I dwell at the door. 

Whoever demands fire

Comes across me

Between fire and water

Ogou Balendjo

Between fire and air

Ogou Balizay

Between fire and earth

Ogou Feray 

Ogou, the fire of war

Source of strength and victory.

2. Thereby the living enter, thereby the dead enter (chant).

We exist, here — that is, we are fighting daily

We exist, here — that is, we are playing with fire

We exist, here — that is, we are walking on fire

We exist, here — that is, our dreams go up in smoke

3. Hence the poet sets up the night.

Even when the sun is shining brightly at noon, slavery is nocturnal… 

And the entirety of slavery has been a series of night fringes enveloping one’s being. To evolve in the space of slavery, one is forced to get used to nighttime, to discover invisible and elusive beings that do not instantly manifest themselves… The night is the time of conspiracies, of protest, it is the space where protest finds the vigour to later come to light, for we cannot achieve light if we do not first have darkness.(1)

4. The world is burning. The starving General is eating everything that hits the social media. Stomach and passport on fire, he pierces the night. 

Fire, fire, fire, fire!

O fire, fire, fire, fire!

Fire, fire, fire, fire!

Fire, fire, fire, fire!

Forest, fire!

Carrefour Marassa, fire!

Croix-des-bouquets, fire!

La Saline, fire!

Marché Hypolite, fire!

Bel Air, fire!

Martissant, fire!

My guts are churning

Swallowing each other

Donald Trump, my little barbecue

Jesus, my pikliz

I am gobbling plastic 

Stones under my teeth

The United States, my pot of boiled peas

With France, I act picky 

President Macron, the bone of my poulet pays
Poutine, my little dry gratin

China my tonmtonm

Canada, quick my calalou sauce

Glug, glug!

I am swallowing a doll’s foot 

Glug, Glug

I am swallowing forests

My Throat: madan Deboure!(2)

Fire, fire, fire, fire!

Fire, fire, fire, fire!

I am eating clogs

I am eating ears

I am eating toes

Fire, fire, fire, fire!

Fire, fire, fire, fire!

Haiti, complete country, capital of fire

The hot country is not for me

Passport of fire

Africa for me

Africa for you

Africa for all of us

Long live the hatless country!(3)

5. The city is exhausted. No more day, no more night.

Dust city 

Whirlwind city

After one hell of a dance move

Some no longer had hips

Nothing but a dance 

In a few seconds 

Everything had gone up in smoke

Gunpowder smoke

Venom smoke

A viewer of one’s own film 

We no longer know if reality is real 

A nameless nightmare 

We scream but still remain trapped in it 

Sprinkled city 

Zombie-teethed city

Cracked city 

Dragon city spitting out ashes 

Hallelujah city

City whose memory has been forgotten 

Whose culture has been scorned 

Without a patronymic 

We yell after a father who is deaf to our woes

Indifferent to our pain

Breathless

Arid throat 

There is no longer a way for the voiceless 

We no longer have a choice 

This is only the beginning 

We simply hope for a brief end to the end

6. In the morning, the capital city wakes up from its own nightmare.

In a dark room where the light of dawn passes through a single window, General fire is seated before a mirror. He is combing his hair. 

GENERAL FIRE.— My eyes, fire, my tongue, fire, my mouth, fire, my back, fire…

THE NAMELESS MAN. (staggering into the room, half asleep) — Already up at that time! Don’t you ever stop!

GENERAL FIRE. — I’m working. 

THE NAMELESS MAN. (Looking out the window) — And what a job you have, General! There’s nothing left to burn in this goddamn city. Piles of bones and piles of stones!

GENERAL FIRE. — Fire, my bones, fire, my stones… and what do you think of my hair?

THE NAMELESS MAN. (smoking) — The city is walking through a nightmare. 

GENERAL FIRE. — I find that very beautiful, when it will be longer! Fire, my hair, fire, my head, fire, my leg, my fist is a flame, my head is a Molotov cocktail! Fire, my throat, fire, my throat! 

THE NAMELESS MAN. — Thirsty! You’re even burning my saliva! (he pauses, and sits on the bed) Damn, I’m hungry now!

GENERAL FIRE. — I’m knocking on the door of the mansion with fire! (he claps his hands) I’m knocking on the door of the mansion with fire!

THE NAMELESS MAN. — (he gets up again and looks out the window) I wonder when the day is finally going to rise. 

7. The nameless man goes out to smoke in a world where General fire has left only desolation. 

The Earth is lulled by your blows

You left your mark

You wrecked Australia 

You screwed up the Amazon

So fire, evil runs through your veins, General!

Every time you show up, you knock off everything

Dead animals

Uprooted trees 

Ey dife ou flanbe fè 

Ou flanbe bwa

You’re still super thirsty 

You’re never quenched with water

Oh yes

Your presence frightens us!

And when your anger strikes 

The ecosystem vanishes 

The Earth is shattered 

Everything is withdrawn

When your rage is unleashed 

Well, fire, tell us where to take shelter?

Wesh wesh my nigga

You lack any sense of coexistence 

It seems that your ego is overflowing

From Hong Kong to Haiti

Your Molotov cocktails, your bombing 

Frankly, we escape from you here but over there you’re hanging out 

In short, you’re following us!

So fire, tell us where to take shelter?

8. Only one young rebellious woman still braves the forces of the dark kingdom of fire.

Publicly, pyromaniacs have declared their love to fire. 

Tokyo

Marché en Fer

Croix-des-Bossales 

Gunshots!

Houses are burning.

Calling the police or firefighters is pointless.

In these circumstances, our addresses don’t appear on the map anymore. 

Dreams are carbonised

Our perpetrators blame us, they victimise themselves 

Outraged, our claims have made us highly flammable. 

When prices explode, even domestic rocks are used as barricades. 

Meanwhile, the prevailing public policy is that of

air when it comes to expanding the fire of media manipulation 

of water when it comes to putting out the fire of our anger, of our rage,

in short, the torch of mass mobilisation. 

Flash fire 

A flash of fire 

Raging storm 

Kalfou Rezistans — the sun isn’t the only thing that shines and burns.

The police are paranoid,

Firearm 

Tear gas

Port-au-Prince 

mercenary, political and military city.

9. General fire never sleeps. He throws away his horde of kids in the last suburbs and settles his empire. 

Crouching in the confused night, quenching my thirst with light from weakening embers 

I do not know how to stand up anymore

I have given up my vertebrae to the dry woodlands 

my chant to their crackling

When the flames will brandish

I will rise up with them

I will restore in their arms 

I contract my empty belly

I tense my tired lips 

I tighten my ass until my anus gets sucked in

I condense all my resources 

and let out a goddamn blow: magic!!!

I spit out a ball! 

Fire! 

I yell, O fire!

And this wakes up the lighters, the torches, the kerosene lamps, the flamethrowers, the Molotov cocktails, the matches and the candles going with the flow

All this arsenal to hoist the flames! 

But the candles did not get

that to succeed in their affair

no need for a prayer

Rather set the altar on fire 

10. The dead speak to the living and the living speak to the dead (Chant).

It smells of gunpowder and Clairin. From the heights of the city, the young man with a machete looks at the twisting fumes in the morning. 

THE YOUNG MAN WITH A MACHETE.— O evil fire!

- Go and tell the families what you are doing with their livelihood!

THE CHORUS.— Isn’t smoke?

- Go and tell the mothers what you have done with their kids!

THE CHORUS.— Dead bodies on the pavement?

- Go and tell La Saline what you have done with its sons

THE CHORUS.— Barbecues for the dirty little pigs?

- Go and tell Bel Air what you have done with its houses 

THE CHORUS.— Beautiful memories burnt down?

(1) Extract from an interview with the poet Frankétienne conducted at his house in Port-au-Prince in January 2020 by Olivier Marboeuf and Louis Henderson.

(2) Famous Haitian woman selling syrups for digestive problems.

(3) “The hatless country” is an Haitian expression that means death. 

Translated by Callisto McNulty