Phebus Etienne: 1966-2007

Originally uploaded by odelapaz.

It is with a heavy heart that I tell you, friends, about the passing of a beautiful person. I met Phebus in New York through our friend Joseph Legaspi. It was clear that she was all aura. All sparrow. If her name were a place, the sun at every hour in this country, would beam just so, and the bodies touched by those beams would shimmer.

She passed away at home on March 31, 2007, at the young age of 41 due to a heart attack.

Funeral Arrangements

Wake: Andrew Torregrossa & Sons (funeral home)
2265 Flatbush Avenue (between Filmore & Avenue "R")
Brooklyn , NY 11234
Friday , April 13th, 4pm thru 9pm

Mass: St. Gregory's Catholic Church
St. Johns Place & Brooklyn Ave.
Brooklyn, New York
Saturday April 14th, 9:15 am

Internment:Rosedale & Rosehill Cemetary, 355 East Linden Avenue, Linden, NJ 07036, 908.862.4990.

Visit January, Tayari, Tara, Amanda, John, Mendi, and Reggie for more about Phebus.

I leave for you the title poem from her manuscript:


After I buried my mother, I would see her often,
standing at the foot of my bed
in a handmade nightgown she trimmed with lace
whenever I was restless with fever or menstrual cramps.
I was not afraid, and if her appearance was a delusion,
it only confirmed my heritage.
Haitians always have relationships with the dead.
Each Sabbath, I lit a candle that burned for seven days.
I created an altar on the top shelf of an old television cart.
It was decorated with her Bible, a copy of The Three Musketeers,
freesia, delphinium or lilies if they were in season.
My offering of her favorite things didn’t conjure
conversations with her spirit as I had hoped.
But there was a dream or two where she was happy,
garnets dangling from her ears,
and one night she shuffled some papers,
which could have been history of my difficult luck
because she said, “We have to do something about this.”

She hasn’t visited me for months.
I worry that my life is an insult to her memory,
that she looks in and turns away
because I didn’t remain a virgin until I married,
because my debts will remain unforgiven.

Lightning tattoos the elms as florists make
corsages to honor living mothers.
I think of going to mass at St. Anne, where she was startled
by the fire of wine when she received her first communion.
But I remember that first Mother’s Day without her,
how it pissed me off to watch a seventy year-old daughter
escort her mom to sip from the chalice.

Yesterday, as the rain fell warm on the azaleas,
I planted creeping phlox on my mother’s grace,
urging the miniature flowers to bloom larger next year
like the velvet petals of bougainvillea that covered our neighbor’s gate.
I crave a yard to plant lemon and mango trees as she did.
Tonight I mold dumplings for pumpkin stew,
add a dash of vinegar for spice as she taught me,
sprinkle my palms with flour before rolling the dough between them.
I will thread my needle and embroider a coconut tree on a place mat,
keep stitching her presence in my life.

Phebus Etienne

Oliver de la PazPhebus