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Tragedians, by Katia D. Ulysse

Poverty is like an engagement ring: expensive but obligatory. Necessary. The world would be bleak without it. Poverty gives birth to thriving institutions that are immune to failure. Poverty is a lottery with the largest payout in history. Poverty is exotic.

Poverty, like clean water, is indispensable. The engineers of this flourishing institution will kill to maintain its integrity. Tragedy brings shame and hopelessness to those under its crushing hooves. To others, it brings pleasure and conceit. Tragedy is an insatiable lover that rouses lust like dust in a storm, choking the air, clogging nostrils, and blinding eyes. Tragedy is irresistible.

Poverty dances on some tongues like bubbles in fine champagne. Poverty builds empires. Poverty drips like precious oils from silver spoons. Poverty is a magic wand. Sex, power, and fame are the crop poverty yields in abundance; however, when those ingredients come together, they form a potent and highly addictive drug. One hit and you’re hooked. You become a poverty-junky.

Poverty junkies need like-minded people. Junkies congregate in hemispheres of infinite supply. Good actors they are! Everyday they feign battles against hunger, homelessness, violence, disease. They ad lib and improvise with the internally displaced. They show death at its rawest. Children with distended bellies and flies around the mouth make excellent props. Tragedians win golden awards for their recurring roles in the never ending play.

Tragedians itch and salivate when they smell the kind of rain that causes houses to slide like molasses from above. The audience loves them.

“One hit and you’re hooked. You become a poverty-junky.”

Tragedians come from faraway places to act in this play. They fly in planes that look like gigantic vultures from afar. The minute tragedians complete the “Reason for Visiting Form,” something inside crawls out of a ditch, does handstands, back flips, figure eights, and all kinds of fancy tricks. No matter how grim and abysmal their prospects back home, by the time the plane lands on the blistering tarmac, they believe themselves so exceptional that they start to levitate.

One minute on the stage, and they are infused with the sort of boldness that makes one man swear he can carry a thousand on his head. They strut like peacocks. Starving audience members applaud them. After all, they sacrificed plenty to come perform here. Here.

Tragedians and their traveling theatre companies wear the same masks and costumes. They memorize the same scripts. The lead actors could be sets of twins; their understudies have the same twinkle in their eyes when it’s their turn in the spotlight. All of them are junkies in need of a fix. They scour the countryside, looking for dope. No other stage in the hemisphere satisfies their craving faster.

Everyday more actors arrive to star in the never-ending drama. They bring suitcases full of mosquito spray, tanning lotion, bathing-suits, secrets, joblessness, broken homes, broken loves, brokenness. They bring their broken selves; their ignored, back-home selves. The audience cheers and cries for encores. How splendid they look in their roles of savior, rescuer, knight in shining neon t-shirts!

“They bring their broken selves; their ignored, back-home selves. The audience cheers and cries for encores.”

Feed the hungry. Cure the people of their memories. Cure them of their drum rhythms. Fix them, for they are broken. Cure them of their beliefs. Rid them of that darkness in their hearts. Rescue them from their arid land and build hotels. Show them what is possible. Don’t bother explaining why they won’t be welcome in those hotels built on their own ancestral lands; they’ll see those buildings and understand that they don’t belong. The entire country is like a open air market; open for business twenty-four hours a day. It’s an all you can eat buffet.

Children treat Tragedians like canonized rock stars. Beggars beseech them as if they were patron saints. Please, please, throw your change down on us. Let your coins fall on our heads like hail in a storm.

Tragedians study their lines. They rehearse daily, even in their sleep. When a scene requires the sort of verbal acrobatics only a native can do, they hire one or two. Otherwise they don’t share the spotlight, lest they’re upstaged by some stagehand who wants to rewrite the script.

Tragedians fear stagehands. Although they don’t show it, they fear the audience even more. Poverty junkies live in constant fear of the supply running out. So, morning, noon, and night, they keep the audience spellbound. Enthralled. Enchanted. Entranced.

Tragedians improvise and ad lib without deviating from the proven plot. The show must never stop. The curtain must never fall on this greatest show on the cracked earth.


Katia D. Ulysse was born in Haiti, and moved to the United States as a teen. Her writings have been published in numerous literary journals, including the Caribbean Writer, Meridians, Calabash,Peregrine, and Smartish Pace, among others. Her work has also appeared inThe Butterfly’s Way and Haiti Noir. Her first children’s book, Fabiola Can Count, was published in 2013. Ulysse lives in Maryland with her husband and daughter. When she’s not reading, writing fiction, gardening, or teaching, she blogs on Drifting is her first book of fiction.

Listen to Katia read the story “Take a Picture.”


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