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.

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