October 23, 2005
The Story Behind the Poem

Some of my favorite poems are tiny ones that carry the weight of a large idea, a kind of less is so much more situation. I find it exciting to see a work that is both deeply powerful and deceptively small. "Attached," a poem by Danielle Legros Georges, is like that. Georges is a writer and translator who lives in Dorchester. She is an assistant professor at Lesley University, and the author of the poetry collection, Maroon. "Attached" grew out of a trip Georges took several years ago to her native Haiti. The poem is a mere 11 lines, with spare and unembellished language, that opens with the modest image of a cart bearing two sacks.

"I would go into Port-au-Prince for errands," says Georges, "to check out interesting spots, and to visit the library, galleries, churches, museums, and so on. Port-au-Prince has the bustling and chaotic qualities typical of a lot of cities: people going about their daily lives; kids going to and from school; the noise of markets and car horns; people doing all sorts of work—whether in offices, schools, shops, bookstores, or on the street. You see the market women, charcoal sellers al in black, and waving through traffic the bourettier or bouretye, the "spider-cart" hauler—a man on foot who works hauling loads and who serves as the engine to his cart."

The spider carts carry construction materials, furniture, anything that needs moving. One hauler in particular, working his way through the traffic with an enormous load, caught her attention.

"He was covered in sweat and barefoot," says Georges, "Seeing that man made me question his job, the necessity of his labor. I also wondered what this man was thinking. I asked myself who are the people who do this kind of job and other jobs nobody else wants to do?"

"Underlying these questions for me were those questions attached to economies—local and global. Who carries the load? Who is considered the cheap labor? Cheap for whom? What is it like to be in a "track" that gives you few choices? What sorts of loads do we carry?"

Georges says, "I think we all know people who are load-bearers, even if we ourselves haven't been these people—immigrants remaking their lives, single parents, students, people working two or three jobs in order to support themselves and their families."

Back in Boston, at an exhibit of work by Haitian artists, Georges saw a painting by William Decillien (cq) of a hauler and his heavily-laden spider cart.

"In the painting," Georges says, "the line between the load on the cart and the mountain in the background was blurred, as if to suggest that the mountain and the load were one."

Ellen Steinbaum can be reached at citytype@globe.com. You can see past City Type columns at www.ellensteinbaum.com.

 
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Attached

for William Decillien
and the spider-cart haulers
of Port-au-Prince


Attached to the cart
are two sacks.

Attached to the sacks
is a mountain

I am hauling. Attached
to my back

is the cart. My bare soles
are as coarse

as the road. I could be
a horse:

stepping yet trapped.


 
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©2004 Ellen Steinbaum

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