Translated from the Spanish by Ariel Francisco 

(English follows the Spanish, below.)

During the United States occupation of Haiti (1915–1930) and the Dominican Republic (1916–1924), US Marines began a practice of moving Haitians east to work on enormous Dominican sugar plantations established by American multinationals. In 1937, Dominican President Rafael Trujillo seized on this arrangement, massacring as many as 30,000 Haitian migrants. The dominant narrative goes: the relationship between Haiti and the Dominican Republic is characterized by violent competition for the resources of their shared island. 

Stories of total conflict serve colonial and dictatorial powers, who mobilize the myth of an irreconcilable “other” to justify their own violence. In truth, the conflict was never total. An at-times-small but radical solidarity persisted—persists—between Haitian and Dominican leftists. To look toward this history of mutual purpose between colonized peoples is to loosen the grasp of power on narratives of history and to make possible more critically collaborative futures. The poet Jacques Viau Renaud (1941–1965) is a figure of this critical collaboration.

Born in Port-au-Prince, Jacques Viau Renaud moved with his family to Santo Domingo in 1948. As a young man, Viau knew and was influenced by the members of the Generación del Sesenta (the Sixties Generation), a group of progressive artists, as well as by other anticolonial and internationalist movements that celebrated Afro-identities and Haitian-Dominican solidarities. Professor Sophie Maríñezco-editor of Jacques Viau Renaud: J’essaie de vous parler de ma patrie (I’m Trying to Talk To You About My Country), a volume of French translations of  Viau’s poetryhas pointed out that, in his poems, Viau deploys words like “nosotros” (us/we) and “patria” (country) not to stoke nationalist affiliations, but to contest dominant configurations of those words, and to offer more expansive collectivities. In Ariel Francisco’s translation of Viau’s “Llegaste” (“You Arrived”), the emergence of a new languageone that serves a robust working class movementtakes shape. 

– Claire Schwartz


Llegaste

Con tu andar de carbón humedecido
llegaste a través del viento
que viola mi ventana.

Llegaste cargada de transparencias
a traves de la brisa matinal
en medio de una lucha interminable
entre los que marchan y los que quedan.

Llegaste a través de la mañana hendida por el canto del gallo.
Penetraste en mi casa edificada con llanto
con piedras habitadas por algas
y lagartos sorprendidos entre las grietas.
Venías de no sé qué riberas,
hablaste de cosas que no han sido;
eres algo así, como un presentimiento
pesado, casi palpable, material.

Hablaste de un vegetal sombrío
de ondulantes y largos brazos
que crece estrangulando sueños
bajo las aguas
bajo los techos heridos
bajo los pies descalzos de la miseria.

Tu presencia me la hizo sentir
el húmedo silencio que destilaba mi alcoba
el salino perfume que me cubría de escamas
y el lento taconeo de tu marcha
detenida en un presente sin límites.

Venias de las aguas de un mar desconocido
tu presencia era algo mío que estrangulaba de olvido
que matara el tiempo con sus largos dedos descalcificados.
Viniste, dijiste muchas cosas
y sin embargo no pronunciaste palabra alguna
nos amamos y sin embargo no nos tocamos,
no pude verte…pero estabas ahí
detenida en un minuto que no te pertenecía;
con tu aliento tapiado por el aliento de flores caídas
en el terrible presente de los estanques.
No pude verte…pero estabas allí,
me amaste y sin embargo no nos tocamos.
Dijimos muchas cosas en un abecedario tejido de silencio
bajo un campanario destrozado.

Te adentraste en mi ser
perforando mi aliento con tu cortante aliento
exprimiste la fuente de mi llanto
y en mi llanto lavaste tu cuerpo del silencio
de la soledad de tu mundo
del presente interminable de tu vida;
luego te marchaste
abriendo los párpados cerrados de mi ventana
asida de las nubes.

Abajo la ciudad y sus fantasmas;
sus vivos muriendo lentamente
entre alcoholes y mentiras que endulzan la partida
hacia el silencio
tapiado por algas ahogando lagartos,
destrozando peces dormidos
cubriendo lentamente la tierra de moho
de presencias salinas
carcomiendo árboles y esperanzas,
dejando tan solo, piedras, tumbas y enflaquecidos montes.
Oh esta sed del silencio!
Precisa de vivos, de manos cálidas
para alimentar un barro caído ha mucho tiempo.

Oh esta sed del silencio
que devora gritos para crear gritos
que precisa de llanto
para calmar el llanto.

Todos debemos, asidos del silencio,
abandonar nuestras palabras, nuestras armas,
para armar nuevos soldados
con un abecedario de existencias caídas.

Terrible destino:
morir para que la vida perdure,
que glorioso destino,
mi muerte prolongará la vida
mis manos crearán otras manos
mis ojos otros ojos
mi voz que se apaga prolongará otras voces
y el montón de gritos apagados ascenderá hasta el cielo
y por el subirán los elegidos
y la tierra será digna morada de los hombres
la habrán forjado de llanto
de las gargantas despedazadas de los obreros
de las prostitutas,
destrozados por lo que creaban
con sus manos y sus sueños.

You Arrived

With your humid charcoal walk
you arrived through the wind
that rattles my window.

You arrived full of transparencies
on the morning breeze
in the middle of an endless fight
between those who march and those who stay.

You arrived in the morning cleaved by the rooster’s call.
You entered my home built with cries
with moss-covered rocks
and surprised lizards in the cracks.
You came from unknown riverbanks,
you spoke of things that have yet to happen;
you are something like that, a heavy
premonition, almost manifested.

You spoke of a somber plant
of long billowing arms
that grow to strangle dreams
beneath the water
beneath the decaying roofs
beneath the bare feet of misery.

Your presence made me feel
the humid silence distilling my room
the salted perfume covering me in scales
and the slow tapping of a march
detained in a limitless present.

You came from the waters of an unknown sea
your presence was something mine strangled from oblivion
that will murder time with its huge, decalcified fingers.
You came, said many things
but didn’t pronounce a single word
we love one another and yet never touched,
I could not see you, but you were there
detained in a moment that did not belong to you;
with your breath walled off by the breath of fallen flowers
in the terrible presence of water.
I could not see you, but you were there,
you loved me and yet we never touched.
We said many things in a language woven from silence
under a toppled bell tower.

You entered my being
perforating my breath with your piercing one
wringing the fountain of my cry
and under my cry you washed yourself of silence
of the world’s solitude
of the endless present of your life;
then you left
opening the eyelids of my windows
clutching the clouds.

Below is the city and your ghosts;
the living slowly dying
from alcohol while sweet goodbyes
create a silence
clogged by lizards drowned in seaweed,
tearing sleeping fish
slowly breaking this wet earth
of saline life
rotting trees and hope,
left all alone: rocks, tombs, and thinning mountains.

Oh, this thirst of silence
necessity of life, of warm hands
to nourish the mud fallen long ago.

Oh, this thirst of silence
that devours screams to create screams
that necessary cry
to calm the cry.

Gripped by this silence, we should all
abandon our words, our guns
to arm new soldiers
with a language of lost existences.

Terrible destiny:
to die so life can endure,
what glorious destiny,
my death will prolong life
my hands will create other hands
my eyes other eyes
my voice fading away to prolong other voices
and the mass of fading shouts will ascend to the sky
and from them the chosen will rise
and the Earth will be a worthy home for mankind
forged by the cry
from the shattered throats of the laborers
of the sex workers,
shattered for what they created
with their hands and their dreams.


Jacques Viau Renaud (1941–1965) was born in Haiti and raised in the Dominican Republic. During the Dominican Revolution, he joined the rebels in support of ousted president Juan Bosch, fighting against the US-backed dictatorship. He was killed in battle.

Ariel Francisco is a Dominican/Guatemalan poet and translator and the author of A Sinking Ship is Still a Ship (Burrow Press, 2020) and All My Heroes Are Broke (C&R Press, 2017). He lives in Queens.