The chambers of the heart

 

You are in the fourth chamber
You are in the fourth chamber and you are pushing    
half impelled          at a doorway

a moving crowd     a crush
like breath held far too long 
and far too deep

lockstep on a pilgrimage of longing 
a pace     another pace inside 
this carapace of gesture and humiliation

s'io credesse       s'io credesse
move me Lord
but let me know I am being moved 
Posted: March 27th, 2014
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Only my first robin

but it was only my first robin

Every day I face the suspicion
that you have had secret springtimes

sunlights that you hid from me
clandestine pussy willows camouflaged
whole choirs of spring peepers
cued by no baton but yours

hidden nations of tulips
daffodils and crocuses
held in boxcars
and run through town at night

without stopping no lights
no whistles

I don’t know which of us to worry for

Posted: March 27th, 2014
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Song

I’m waiting for the song that writes itself,
A choir of one whose hymn sheet’s white and clear,
Whose even blankness is a kind of wealth.

A coruscating symphony of stealth,
At once a glance to Heaven and a leer —
I’m waiting for the song that writes itself.

A city full of strangers, smug in health,
Devoid of life and liberty and fear,
Whose even blankness is a kind of wealth,

Averse to dying as to life itself:
They will persist, though cities disappear.
I’m waiting for the song that writes itself.

The teacup cracking on the kitchen shelf,
Discarded with a backward-looking tear
(Whose even blankness is a kind of wealth),

The brahmin contemplating loss of self…
Both gravitate toward something too austere.
I’m waiting for the song that writes itself.

I cannot hum it, even to myself,
Nor puzzle out its immanence, this fear
Whose even blankness is a kind of wealth.

Existence has a price that’s far too dear,
But nothingness? A trifle too severe.
I’m waiting for the song that writes itself,
Whose even blankness is a kind of wealth.

Posted: March 27th, 2014
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Sisters

And Love says
to Death, “That’s the last time
I let you borrow my clothes.
Just look at these wrinkles–
and that stain! My God.
What did you DO?”

(Whacks her over the head
with a hairbrush, and they’re
scrapping all over the room.
Love comes up short one
tooth.
)

She screams, but Death,
her eyes are burning like dull coals:
“You just don’t know, do you?
You never never try to understand.
Well it was an accident
but right now I’ve a mind
to accident you.”

(Love is hysterical.)
“You wouldn’t,” she screams.
“You never could!”
(Runs out in tears. Never comes back.)

Posted: March 27th, 2014
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The birds arrive

The birds arrive at six, begin to feed.
Petulant and raucous, their harangue
stifles the belief they ever sang.
Squirrels make off with all the fallen seed.
The chickadees are orderly in greed;
The jays are not: on suet left to hang
they find a perfect stage for sturm und drang.
Only poets could decry this simple creed.

This is no scene of joy, but satisfaction
flies on stronger wings than love or beauty.
Think good thoughts, but in the end it’s action
(applied with elbows) that defines our duty.
Feed the masses, let the poets rue it.
Their verses nourish less than lumps of suet.

Posted: March 27th, 2014
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My heart announced

My heart announced today that it will leave.
It kicks in expectation like a child
in the womb, a trapped miner at piled
timbers: long past the urge to grieve,
he gathers up the threads of air that weave
life from darkness, then is reconciled
and only waits. I am no more beguiled
by death than he. Still, my heart will leave.

The unborn child cannot begin to fear
the pain his mother feels, the open wound
that he creates, and when she draws him near
no memory will scar him. All too soon,
I will live this parturition. Pleasure
has no gift to match this last long measure.

Posted: March 27th, 2014
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The potholed road to prosperity

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Originally published on Pacific Politics

Vanuatu’s budget books, released earlier this month, reveal a fairly healthy economy. When you look at the broad strokes, that is. But they are far less revealing than they should be about the road ahead for the tiny island nation.

Overall, the economic news is okay. Revenues have improved significantly, largely because customs and inland revenue has tightened up its processes. Businesses are now closer to paying what they actually owe. The world economy is improving, and so is Vanuatu’s. Growth is expected to increase, from 3.3% in 2013 to 5.1% in 2014, and even higher in 2015. Inflation will remain low, likely less than 3% in the coming year. The government is taking on USD 5 million in new debt in order to contribute to a number of largely donor-funded infrastructure projects.

But dig a little deeper, and things appear less rosy. The budget does little to reflect the government’s goal of ‘a Just, an Educated, Healthy and Wealthy Vanuatu’. Overspending on scholarships in 2013 has not only left the department of education constrained at the very moment when it should be investing heavily in teachers, schools and educational resources, it’s diverted money from other areas as well.

In health, things don’t look so good either. Whatever we may think about the department’s recent decision to focus on medicine to the exclusion of other activities, it’s clear that much could be done to improve the ministry’s policy-making and implementation processes. A recent outbreak of dengue in Port Vila has caught it flat-footed. The cost in terms of medical care and, potentially, in lives, will only add to the nation’s burden.

Vanuatu managed to get through the recent global economic downturn with less damage than some of its neighbours. Some part of this is due to the government’s efforts in recent years to liberalise certain sectors, to improve conditions for businesses large and small, and to improve its own administrative processes as well. The result is that the country is a better place to do business than it was.

But we’re facing a welter of challenges still. The 2010 census contains stark evidence that the country is becoming increasingly urbanised. When peri-urban neighbourhoods like those surrounding the Port Vila and Luganville municipalities are factored in, we see that the old 80/20% rural/urban split no longer holds. Over the last few years, falling commodity prices and lack of opportunity have drawn more and more young adults into our towns. Back in 2010, the division was closer to 70/30, and based on observation alone, it’s clear that this trend is continuing at a rapid pace. Read more »

Posted: February 4th, 2014
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An end to impunity

Lemalu Sina Retzlaff a couple of days after she was attacked

[Originally published on Pacific Politics and in the Vanuatu Daily Post.]

I have to apologise. If what I write today is rambling or incoherent, it’s because I just spent a mostly sleepless night standing watch over a woman and her children. While the rest of the nation got off its collective face celebrating the new year, they were being terrorised by a man prowling around their house, peering in through the windows, cutting at the screens, knocking at the door, testing the lock.

I got the call late last night and, after ascertaining that the problem was not simply a momentary disturbance, set off to find transport. It was a holiday, so very few buses were running. In a moment of serendipity, I was picked up by a good Samaritan who just happened to live on the very same road I was headed to. Equally serendipitous, he also happened to be an officer in the VMF (our paramilitary force). When I explained why I was on the road so late at night, he volunteered to accompany me to the house.

The man –the coward– who had been terrorising my adoptive family slunk away as we approached.

Lucky for him that he did. No, I wasn’t going to beat him up. I was prepared to do far worse than that. I was going to detain him, forcibly if necessary, and make it my mission to see that he was punished to the fullest extent of the law. I was going to shame him publicly by standing him before a judge, by documenting his every action, by talking to his chief, his pastor and his family. By letting the world know exactly what kind of perverse, despicable acts he had committed.

Much as I might enjoy it, using mere violence against this man would only reinforce the message that might makes right. Seeing him punished by society at large is a much more patient, even painstaking, process. But ultimately the effects are more enduring.

Read more »

Posted: January 9th, 2014
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The best PM we never had

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Jean Sese, lifetime public servant, passed away on November 8, 2013, aged 55

[Originally published in the Vanuatu Daily Post]

I last saw Jean Sese a few hours before he suffered a fatal heart attack. He was at his customary seat at chief John Tarilama’s nakamal. We shared a few pleasantries and he was kind enough to chuckle at my feeble humour.

I’d always been nervous around him, and more than a little intimidated, even though he gave me no reason to feel that way. He could be effortlessly charming, even gracious, and if he seemed at all forbidding, it was by virtue of his implacably calm demeanour. He was a deep current untouched by surface storms. And in a country often roiled by the tempestuous passions of its leaders, his influence was invaluable.

Vire Dare Naure Jean Sese was director general of the prime minister’s office in Vanuatu for years. I was only two weeks in-country when I first met him. I had been asked to brief the PMO on a matter that required an impartial analysis, and given that I didn’t know jack about Vanuatu at the time, I was as impartial as could be. Mr Sese listened to me patiently for about an hour and a half, asked some pointed, probing questions, then thanked me for my time.

If this is the calibre of the senior civil service, I told myself as I left, then Vanuatu has a lot going for it.

Over the years, I got to see him at work, and came to admire him more than just about any other leader in the country. He was calm, confident –even cool– and one of the very few people in national politics who emerged untainted and admired by all.

Prime ministers came and went, but Jean Sese remained. Read more »

Posted: December 11th, 2013
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Talking Shop

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The Internet Governance Forum is sprawling, unfocused and formally useless. You should go.

I hate talking shops. Most sensible people do. If you are involved in any way in policy making, advocacy –or heck, if you just have to work for a living– the last thing you want to do is waste time talking. The Internet Governance Forum is a global conference that draws together governments, telecommunications interests, standards & technical management bodies, NGOs & social development groups… well, pretty much everyone who gives a fig about the internet. It was one of very few tangible results to emerge from the 2003 World Summit on the Internet Society, a UN-sponsored get-together that attempted (and ultimately failed) to address a widely-held perception of US dominance of the internet’s governance structures.

The IGF, quite deliberately, was designed to have no regulatory authority, no policy levers and indeed, no formal mandate to advocate even for issues about which the entire world is in screaming agreement. It can’t even publish findings. And that is its genius.

It’s a sprawling, unfocused event with disparate interests. Discussions cover everything and anything even remotely related to internet governance, from human rights and freedom of speech to child protection to spam and cyber security to standards development and law. It draws thousands of attendees from all walks of life. It’s uneven in quality and sessions range from the enlightened meeting of minds to fractious verbal brawls. As Winston Churchill might have said, it’s the worst possible forum we could possibly have, except for all the others. Read more »

Posted: December 11th, 2013
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