To Vanuatu With Love


ni-vanuatu women
walk upstream
stone by flat stone
water sloshing at their ankles
to vanuatu with love

crunch click giggle
the sounds of snails
just-plucked and eaten raw
their cheerful symbiosis
with the natural world

down the cliff
into deep blue
the women’s fearless dives
into their own element
having floated certain leaves
over the reef
the old woman pulls out
from deep in the coral
the octopus she has stunned
the island of land dives
an old chief
gives me
a curled pig’s tooth

in another village
the greatest gift
for an honoured guest
a white clucking chicken
I hold it nervously
made of corrugated tin
the village guesthouse
a warning to lock windows
against devils
and men who ‘creep’

openem windo blong yu
he whispers at my window
me wantem creep yu
he wants into my bed
according to custom

sori tumas, mi bin talem
be mi marrit finis
mi marrit tu he says
be tede waef blong me stop
long narafala aelan

which means:

I am sorry, I say
but I am married
I am married too, he says
but today my wife
is on another island
the wise man, or cleva
is called to determine
who stole the money
it is, he said
a woman from Mele village

she admits the theft
of her fellow students’ money
she need the vatu
to buy me, her teacher
the carved dolphin
I will not make
another student return
to her husband
I unwisely say
to the Chief of Police

she must go he says
she and her children
are the property of her husband
deep purple bruises
on her brown skin
she names her child
Claudia after me
but uses my full name
when the child
talks too much

the small girl
i would have adopted
oh to have been
strong then
said yes to a partner’s no

The image is of Nelly from Ambae, a child stigmatized because of having an American soldier for a grandparent. I would have adopted her, and tried later when I no longer was with that partner, but she’d been adopted by then.

Stone Circles: Labrador

len cropped

Stone Circles: Labrador
This set of poems is in memory of Leonard Budgell who was born in Labrador
and who wanted to show it to me. After he died I did get to see many of the places he loved.

this is where you lived
among hebron’s hills
here the garden
the graveyard
its picket fence

the torngat mountains rear
like mythical monsters
skies of lemon
and salmon
take away their bite

storm clouds lift
on the beach at iron strand
roseroot sedum glistens
the shorewater

caribou scapula
by an iron-red pool
in this valley
stone circles that anchored
thule hide tents

fine bundled hay
the scat of a bear
that has lunched on grass
an ursine artifact
song of the day

at saglek harbour
no one left now
to listen for
the almost noiseless feet
of caribou on muskeg

glacier worn mountains
one behind the other
you spent evenings
absorbing the order
in this solitude

languish languid limpid livid
you loved words
they came tripping out
like spring brook water

you spoke of henry and charlotte
how they collected
stone and bone scrapers
sculptures carved
from dog’s teeth

and of big millik
competent and honest
the way his face would break up
up into a hundred
heart-warming smiles

in a small cave at hebron
you ate with a friend
it was dark
all you could see were
his strong inuit teeth

you must have noticed
and forgotten to say
how water drops on horsetail
form perfect globes
capture the lowering sun

how i envy
whoever is in this stone grave
on the Iron Strand
who will never have to leave
labrador or these sunsets

len henry charlottehenry Voisey

Len Budgell, Charlotte Voisey, and Henry Voisey

Henry and Len both did radio work in the thirties and forties for the Hudson’s Bay Company in the North. Len and he remained friends all their lives.

Stone Circles was published in Skylark, UK, Issue 4, 2013