Cathedral of the August Heat – Excerpt – by Haitian Pierre Clitandre

Pierre Clitandre is a writer and painter from Haiti who was detained during the Duvalier regime.  This is an excerpt from his novel Cathedral of the August Heat, written in 1978. 

‘Like a huge eye appalled at the sight, the old sun rose over the dead.  The sun had knocked around the hill-tops up on Deaths-Door, disappearing at the narrow opening of I-Believe-In-God Alley before he shone right down into Jesus-Grave, the name that had eventually been given to the deep crevasse carved out by the falling thunder-stone on the sixth day of the great rains.  The wind blew away the dust and smoke of the burnt out shacks with their odour of sacrifice.  No more groaning.  No more wailing could be heard.  Only the whistling of the sea breeze which blew down the deserted lanes and the silent passageways, pushing open a window-shutter or lifting a corner of the tattered rags covering a corpse to expose to the sun its chest punctured with red holes.  Beyond the melancholy barking of dogs and the braying donkeys which occasionally broke the silence, beyond the smoke and the mounds of blackened earth, the city seemed to sleep at the feet of the slum, crowned by cathedral towers in the dignity of everlasting stone.

She didn’t know how she had got out.  The dispossessed had all taken fright.  They had stayed hidden among the smoking ruins like hermits, their eyes staring.  All covered in dust, like a
lifeless bundle, she had emerged from her hole.  She walked down the deserted main path with head bent and eyes full of
tears.  She dragged herself along.  A body lay on the ground like a spoiled tomato.  She sank to her knees.  All she could see was processions of faceless men, trolleys loaded with coffins.  She wanted to scream.  But no words came.

She had lost her voice again and was shaken by shuddering fits.  She ground her yellowed teeth.  Then bit deep into the battered flesh of her husband’s corpse, in the chest, as if she wanted to devour his uncorrupted heart.  But her teeth were blocked by the ribs.  She rose to her feet, her face smeared with blood, and disappeared once again among the smoking ruins, a beast looking for its hole.

The bodies rotted as the days went on, and the sun didn’t stop the terrible stench from spreading over the ruins.  Plague breathed over all.  Travelled along the rose laurel branches.  Reached where the doves were perching.  And increased the population of mosquitoes and flies.

Then the lost people, with the faces of men on the run, crept out of their lairs.  They went hurriedly towards the corpses, dragged them along in the dust and heaved them into the depths of Jesus-Grave.’

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