30 November 2006

Still we will win

We've wasted lives, but if we waste some more
we'll reach our goal of triumph over evil;
this time it won't be the same as just before.
We know our enemy's a quite clever devil
but not as smart as us, no sir, we're smarter
than all those camel jockeys put together.
You say that our plan now is a non-starter
but we will make them all run hell-for-leather.
Our allies need some stiffening, that's for sure,
but we can give them that and like a hammer
come down on those who think they can endure
our power and throw their kids into the slammer.
So what if those kids die, they don't really count
in all our calculations. Let the numbers mount.

observation with extended view

now that the trees don't obstruct the view
what we have to see is the human creation
it's always been there nothing is new
but now it appears as a sort of salvation
beyond the railings mud and leaves and grass
then bush and houses and past that the street
we wait like the high birds for time to pass
and then to our next tasks will turn our feet
the watchman guards the night but not the day
yet the soft sunlight leaves a great deal hidden
time to be sure that we have found the way
before we learn for sure that it's forbidden
what modern or what ancient power would show
us is that we have come just a bit too slow

wherefore these sprouts

we begin with a simple assumption that each of us has a heart
an organ that we know pumps a lot more than blood
hope and compassion jointly flow within us from the start

we've been too long isolate stayed far too long apart
our veins unpurged have all filled up with crud
we begin with a simple assumption that each of us has a heart

to show the right way to each other now that is the proper art
minds still know their places though feet are stuck in the mud
hope and compassion jointly flow within us from the start

each us us can know the answers hard though it be at the start
still we know what's our duty to save the child from the flood
we begin with a simple assumption that each of us has a heart

we require each other's society not merely to meet at the mart
against those who would separate us we close the door with a thud
hope and compassion jointly flow within us from the start

to throw off our burdens together knowing we'll each play our part
means that we have understanding that no heart is ever a dud
we begin with a simple assumption that each of us has a heart
hope and compassion jointly flow within us from the start

at least no thunder

there are messages in those wet clinging leaves
none any more in those piled on the ground
i watch the drip from underneath the eaves
there's something sad and mournful in the sound
the trees are living skeletons grasping at birds
that pass by in formation heading further south
i juggle in my mind the necessary words
it seems i taste them in my thirsty mouth
the backs of houses seem all beige and sad
the steady drip gives them a hang-dog look
i turn back to my work and then feel glad
in finding the right concepts in the book
i cast my mind back to this morning's train
and think of those who journey in this rain

wet morning

at sunrise the ghosts fold themselves up
neatly like pressed shirts and then insert
themselves into their designated slots
in no-space
the rain has its own spirits
glum sour-faced beings that delight in slippage

29 November 2006

after the last minstrel

beyond this point no one has gone awake
in sleep we find both monsters and powers
we're at the marge of some enchanted lake
beyond a castle with high bone-white towers
i don't know what this tale or who the writer
i know i've read it somewhere in my youth
but now i cannot see myself as the fighter
doughty and strong and eager for the truth
if it is nothing but another long sad tale
why bother read it or pass it further on
who wants to hear another long sad wail
when the dark powers are at last truly gone
we stop and think and then rewind the tape
past the point where we would bow and scrape

eternal recurrence

in the dream my books are stolen the thief
a poor woman whom i do not know but who speaks
of anguish and pain and then calls for relief
i know there's more than money that she seeks
it is a dream i realise when i'm lost when delay
keeps me from obligation miles away from task
i squint and look out at all the colours of the day
the arrival of the right bus is all that i can ask
now the scene changes and i'm in the lecture hall
the students all look eager but it seems quite real
my mind is suddenly as blank as the wall
and suddenly i'm not sure what it is i feel
the clock goes off waking me this ends the early show
i'm back to concrete meaning to things i really know

28 November 2006


why don't i write a poem about that
you make it seem as if the art's a breeze
that in a few minutes between some chat
i can pump out a sonnet with great ease
the thing has to express a thought that's clear
it can't just say thunder in a giant's rage
nor flash like lightning in the heavy air
the word has to mean something on the page
what i do matters even if it's just for me
the passion and the hope come from inside
i can be open and wide as the very sea
or insignificantly small just here for the ride
still the sonnet comes from what i think and feel
it's my description of this turning wheel


the sounds that soothe are not the normal ones
the days that count are not the normal days
we stand and wait to see the one who runs
and seek to avoid becoming the one who stays
the words that count are ordinary terms
the years that count are ordinary times
we'll take our time before we feed the worms
we'll find ourselves in more human climes
avoid the rush and start before the sun
you'll see more miles of dark but you'll get there
less tired less angered and not as overdone
your task is to done with the proper care
and so it goes we have these moments due
enough to laugh and recognise what's true

no careless comma

some words alone will make the strongest weep
their power is of a kind we cannot estimate
wait too long and all goes sailing into the deep

the fusty ends of day towards us slowly creep
between the start and finish we cannot correlate
some words alone will make the strongest weep

stars in their slow pavane across high heaven sweep
but still we underneath think of it all as fate
wait too long and all goes sailing into the deep

the understanding tells that the sun will peep
over the horizon through the clouds if we wait
some words alone will make the strongest weep

but what's that to the ones who cannot sleep
their minds racing all night to reach the morning gate
wait too long and all goes sailing into the deep

the message is that some things will never keep
unless we recognise their proper state
some words alone will make the strongest weep
wait too long and all goes sailing into the deep

marking essays late november

there's nothing like a simple yes or no
to clarify what things actually mean
either you accept that fact or else you go
out of the door and wipe your shoes clean
of all the taint that learning's left on you
in case the idea that you just might think
rises up from the earth like morning dew
the hard-working bees of wisdom drink
but that won't happen here i have to say
you're cant take a position for some reason
you've started but got lost from the true way
perhaps your brain's gone and committed treason
i sign and turn the page and keep on working
hoping that minds behind the words are lurking

apple valley road

the queue forms early before dawn they hurry
to find a place and wait whether in rain or sun
doesn't seem to matter we watch as they scurry
out of our way but none of them deigns to run
some dignity they have in their long line
mothers with children solitary young men
they're standing patient chatting not a single whine
comes from them though they'll queue again
and again and again if there's trouble with a paper
anything to get their documents in proper shape
and afterwards they're sober no one cuts a caper
after their long day's struggle with red tape
so we look on beyond the wires and rope
at these calm folk who're holding on to hope

27 November 2006

nothing has exploded

nothing beyond this matters except pain
the tears mean nothing in and of themselves
it's not the signs or symbols but the strain
the effort as each of us deeply delves
that truly signifies or means a defined thing
the rituals around it all that symbolic load
is worthless as a cheap painted plastic ring
the acts that matter put feet on the road
i'm tired of sciolist scholars seeking to justify
their overweighted salaries by lighting up the sun
i want to say direct to each a plain you lie
and what's it mean if i shoot you when you run
in the dark corners may be hopeful growth
but it won't be seen if the seekers are loth

A note on my father's birthday

The day is long and still is far from done,
outside is twilight and trees are grey,
it will be cold after the setting of the sun
tomorrow, though, will be another fine day.
I've had too much to think of over these hours,
too many memories of times both bad and good;
I've not made the best use of my small powers,
I've not always done the things I know I should.
But I've also given beyond the fullest measure
that I was asked, I've tried to do my best,
I've not been rich, have no material treasure,
and still I find myself on a long quest.
But I have no shame to say out loud
there are things I've done of which I'm proud.

on 27 november

today's my father's birthday another time to weep
remembering the years when i was child and youth
i think of him now in the eternal dreamless sleep

today's a day for memory the promises that i keep
and those i do and will not for the sake of truth
today's my father's birthday another time to weep

time with its usual craft has come to smile and creep
at all the memories what it leaves alas is ruth
i think of him now in the eternal dreamless sleep

but all i rue is the long unsaid silence's price is steep
now it will not be paid as to what was said forsooth
today's my father's birthday another time to weep

the passage of time creates an abyss that's truly deep
to find its bottom its true end would take a sleuth
i think of him now in the eternal dreamless sleep

my thought now is a great mansion into each room i peep
recalling scenes attending to a voice that was ever couth
today's my father's birthday another time to weep
i think of him now in the eternal dreamless sleep

open window late november

the season declines but here and there a spray
of coloured leaves clings weakly to the past
there's no resentment that in a short day
they'll lose the fight and fall to ground at last
the softness of the breeze is a too thin disguise
for what's to come the clarity of the light
reminds us that already the earliest spies
of winter have given news of the long fight
that we'll have with the cold and dark and bleak
when sunshine though relieving will not heat
we'll grit our teeth and when we open them to speak
we'll be brief lest they chatter when they meet
but now it's warm and given that the choice
is that or cold provisionally we rejoice

climbing the daily mountain

we have it only
for a short time the hoping
achievement or death

the starkest choices
confront us daily and we
understand nothing

only the magic
remains after victory
but long it lingers

26 November 2006

no fairy tale

the thing that is not there is never really quiet
it rumbles above the ceiling like a superheated rat
you shouldn't think of the items that form its diet
nor ask what happened to our lovely little cat
the trees at the bottom of the road turn into bears
they ate your cousin when he went down last night
whatever worries you whatever feeds your fears
will still be there at noon in bright daylight
the monsters that live deep inside our heads
we know they're us that they speak with our voices
that they're no more than our projected dreads
but that has nought to do with all our choices
whatever we as children learned to sup
stays with us afterwards when we're grown up

those noble gardens

the guitar tells us or so the title says
of royal gardens on a high plateau
to get there was a journey of some days

like water moving and like grass it stays
somewhere there is a menagerie or zoo
the guitar tells us or so the title says

the fountain in the courtyard as it plays
removes from us a sense that time is blue
to get there was a journey of some days

regard the sounds they live as all decays
into vast silence as it ought to do
the guitar tells us or so the title says

the mind is focused but like water strays
down ruts and paths not open to the view
to get there was a journey of some days

in ups and downs the carriage moves and sways
at last we seem to hear the calm halloo
the guitar tells us or so the title says
to get there was a journey of some days

behind the curtain

the sacrifice once made will not be heard
there's no one at the switchboard any more
the mountaintop's deserted for no word
will cross the water now to that far shore
the heroes and the craven all are gone
the river's dry and nothing moves but dust
no matter now what games were lost or won
or who was sloppy nor of who was fussed
there are accounts that no one ever saw
the givers of orders nor the shining ghosts
that priests not gods were makers of the law
and statuary no more than wasted posts
still it's not easy to confront without any dread
the shocking fact that all the gods are dead


the poem starts at night in a dark wood
we know from that a madness lurks within
such places are a long way from the good

entangled in the world of darkest sin
the writer faces allegorical sights
dragged up from his soul's old waste-bin

the story is well known we see false lights
the broken gate tells us that all hope is lost
down we all go into the endless nights

no need to tell the tale nor at what cost
the poet and his guide returned to day
past deepest hell not hot but rimed with frost

the tale is one well told or sung the lay
of a wise man who knew that when his joys
at home or exile meant the things to say

to hosts and friends had to be more than toys
for what matters that emperor and pope
would keep their quarrel up like angry boys

so did it matter in the scale that urgent hope
that saw all that he hated down in hell
but kept his feet always on upward slope

we ask this day because we face in fact
the coming once again of those old jars
in which the message can't survive intact

with the return under the signs of mars
of all that signified truth in the earliest act
and rejoiced at last when back out under stars

the dao of power

no farther says the king but the sea comes in
he laughs and tells his courtiers they are fools
those who flatter we know have hope to win
the power to turn the flattered into tools
for their use for their most wanted gain
to make the strength of state into their friend
to have their enemies learn the meaning of pain
to win at last their most desired good end
the king knows this and sits on throne to wait
and see which courtier will overstep the mark
and then move swiftly in the name of fate
to send the overreacher down to dark
the ruler's job is to sit calmly at the centre
guarding the throne and striking those who enter

on dune and headland

the lion plays with the globe of the world
his teeth gleam bright in his dark mouth
his tongue inside is gleaming wet and curled
his face like his master's is looking south
the meaning of the animal you must remember
it's body gives off the sharp aura of power
the fire is hot but will burn to an ember
nothing will last beyond its own short hour
behind these walls no safety left for us
the monster sun will burn us with his mane
we're not yet ready to depart without a fuss
and all we think of now is coming pain
the beast that rules disdains all human folk
we're beasts to him deserving of our yoke

measured in coffee spoons

time moves fast and slow
one happy one more than fraught
tension builds always

clocks lie every day
saying there is yet more time
but never enough

with calculation
we see a hopeful dawning
to come in few days

25 November 2006

bypaths of memory

nineteen seventy five was the year that life began
i was nineteen naive and living away from home
no idea that i was going to be a footnote of a man
wondering where on earth i'd go with only a poem
for heritage fearful of all those new things
i'd only read about false sophisticate really rustic
glad at least to be finally of the leading-strings
with odd bits of knowledge brittle and dry like fustic
but there i was never so scared in all my life
wondering where i'd sit in the large lecture-hall
the lady who smiled was the prime minister's wife
but i did not realise that i was blank as a wall
this might appeal i'd say to those of an odd humour
but i can look at myself and laugh or that's the rumour

maidenly plaint

the singer's voice is smooth as cherry cream
it draws me in as i sit down to write
life for this moment is no more than a dream

the music sounds like light upon a stream
illuminating for a while the deep of night
the singer's voice is smooth as cherry cream

the silence of the pauses is i come to deem
like a small cloud that softens the sunlight
life for this moment is no more than a dream

the distant concert hall's in my mind's eye i seem
transported across time's immense bight
the singer's voice is smooth as cherry cream

i visualise candles in their most gentle gleam
i see an image of shining truth and right
life for this moment is no more than a dream

what the words are matters no more than steam
arising from dawn river woken by the light
the singer's voice is smooth as cherry cream
life for this moment is no more than a dream

frame up

the hidden flowers do not give forth a smell
but that means nothing as they're out of season
behind there's a small swamp and shallow well
they're there i do believe for a good reason
the stand of trees softens the evening sun
but this is noontime and there is no shade
we've come here at the trot on urgent run
our joy's unbounded has not yet time to fade
the concrete's coloured with the marks of rain
but nothing signifies even the shallow marks
we're promised now swift ending to this pain
at last we can now say enthusiasm sparks
the signal the message the overwhelming trope
is that this week we've finally some hope

seeing is believing

and afterwards what was there left to say
the job's being done that's all that we can see
someone has found the long-forgotten way
and down swift rivers come at last to sea
almost it fills our mouths a sensible taste
of all that we have sought all that we desire
a voice though warns against too-urgent haste
but hopes will rise from even the smallest fire
beginnings are like this though much is still to do
we sense the ending distant in the mist
we long for the last nail to be driven through
believe that obstacles will fall if we just insist
as long as there is sun and days are warm
we'll hope that our wishes receive concrete form

From the Frying Pan into the Red Mud

From the Frying Pan into the Red Mud

John Maxwell

The Third Maroon War

We are all Maroons now, whether we know it or not, wherever we are on the face of the Earth, whoever we are, black, white or in-between, male or female, human,as long as we are alive, animal or vegetable,on land or in the sea or the air, our very existence is under attack.

If we want to survive we have to take action. We need to resist the destruction of our own and our planet’s integrity, resist degradation and deformity and protect ourselves from extinction.

We are under siege by a system gone mad, an economic system gone berserk, unaccountable to anyone and responsible to nothing because this system has no rules. It can do anything it wants to anyone, any living organism.

It is destroying oceans, mountains and entire ecosystems, and with giant dams, even slowing the revolution of the Earth. It destroys everything in its way, creating deserts out of fertile land, submerging low-lying lands , poisoning the air we breathe, altering weather systems in unpredictable ways and producing more destructive hurricanes and typhoons,even slowing down the mighty Gulf Stream itself , destroying the ice-cover at the North Pole, breaking up the ice continent of Antarctica into icebergs bigger than Jamaica and threatening life itself everywhere on Earth.

It is a system described by George Soros, one of the world’s richest men, as ‘Gangster Capitalism.”

On the world stage it calls itself ‘Globalisation”. On the local stage, everywhere, its adherents call it “Development”.

In this system, everything and everyone is for sale. Human dignity itself becomes a marketable commodity, affordable to those with enough money to buy themselves a little time

A Father kills his son

In Vietnam forty years ago, the Americans thought they were buying time and safeguarding Progress. The Domino Theory was ascendant, and South East Asia was to be made safe for democracy. This ideal led to the killing and maiming hundreds of thousands of people, some American, some Vietnamese. Here is the story of three Americans:

The son speaks: “The areas around us were heavily defoliated, so defoliated that they looked like burned-out areas, many of them. You know, almost every day that you were in riverboat patrol, you were… being subjected to the Agent Orange factor.”

The father speaks:: “ It is the case that the particular area in Vietnam in which my son's boat operated a great deal of the time was an area that was sprayed upon my recommendation, and in that sense it's particularly ironic that in a sense, if the causal relationship can be established, I have become an instrument of my son's own tragedy.

The son is Elmo Zumwalt III, son of Elmo Zumwalt II, Admiral and Chief of Naval Operations of the USA. Elmo the younger died at 42, destroyed by cancers induced by Agent Orange. His father died 11 years later, aged 79.

While serving as Commander of US naval forces in Vietnam from 1968 to 1970 the elder Zumwalt had ordered the spraying of the defoliant Agent Orange in the Mekong Delta, seeking to deny cover to snipers on the river banks.

The older Zumwalt killed his son; His son’s genes, deformed by Agent Orange, severely damaged his grandson’s nervous system resulting in serious learning disabilities. He is unable to speak for himself.

Hundreds of thousands of south east Asians were also killed and maimed by Agent Orange and many of their children have been born and are now being born dead, disabled or hideously deformed.

Agent Orange is a mixture of two phenoxyl herbicides – 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) and 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T). These were developed for agro-industry – factory farming – to control broad-leaved weeds. In broad-leaved plants they induce rapid, uncontrolled growth, eventually killing them. They were used all over the world by the middle of the 1950s. At least one Extension Officer in Jamaica, my friend “Buddha” Webster, was killed by exposure to this toxin.

It was later learned that a dioxin, 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-para-dioxin (TCDD), is produced as a byproduct of the manufacture of 2,4,5-T, and was thus present in any of the herbicides that used it. This chemical is among those now present in the waters of Kingston Harbour, and as I pointed out five years ago, were redistributed in the dredging of the harbour. TCDD is a carcinogen, frequently associated with soft-tissue sarcoma, Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease and chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). 2,4,5-T has since been banned for use in the US and many other countries. Its initial effects include liver damage, loss of energy and diminished sex drive.

During the 1970s, at the height of the destabilisation of the Manley government, I saw at Newport East, a big transformer built for JPS dropped onto the quayside, breaking open and spilling into the harbour gallons of dioxins, which remain there to this day.

The Resource Curse

Almost all the countries now described as ’developing’ or ‘underdeveloped’ share one major characteristic: for hundreds of years their people, their lands – their resources have provided the raw materials for the development of the so-called ‘developed world’.

As one American comic has said: “What is our oil doing underneath Iraq and Venezuela?”

Almost every war ever fought and most of todays wars and civil wars derive from the idea that the strong are entitled to the resources of the weak because the weak don’t know how to use their resources appropriately. In this perspective, Jamaican farmland is not serving its proper purpose by producing food. Jamaican bauxite is necessary for “Progress” – to make more planes, more frying pans, more garbage and to stiffen the GDP

In Rio de Janeiro, fourteen years ago, political leaders and bureaucrats from all over the world (including P.J. Patterson) met to agree on a new compact to define development or ‘progress’ if you will. They signed the Treaty of Rio, otherwise known as Agenda 21 and it committed the nations of the world to work together to assure the survival of the planet and all the living things which inhabit it by adopting and practicing Sustainable Development.

The first paragraph of the preamble of the treaty is worth remembering:

“Humanity stands at a defining moment in history. We are confronted with a perpetuation of disparities between and within nations, a worsening of poverty, hunger, ill health and illiteracy, and the continuing deterioration of the ecosystems on which we depend for our well-being.”

Environmentalists put it more crudely: We are living beyond our means, overdrawing our credit from the earth, destroying finite resources for greed.

The oil industry is only now waking up to the prospect that its behaviour may condemn all of us to a future of darkness, disease and destitution; only now beginning to recognise that there is am imminent threat of catastrophic changes because of global warming. Even Mr Bush and Mr Howard of Australia seem to be seeing the light. The Chinese seem to have some way to go before they emerge from their tunnel of development.

In the Rio statement on Sustainable Development, the world’s leaders acknowledged “ the integral and interdependent nature of the Earth, our home” and proclaimed as the first principle of development that:

“ Human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development.

They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.”

The Predator’s Progress

Progress is today defined by measuring how much of one’s patrimony can be safely delivered into the hands of developers. We offer them incentives to come to despoil our patrimony, abuse and deform our social relations and generally disinherit us. In gracious exchange they will make billions of tax free dollars and demonstrate how different they are to the rest of the miserable and oppressed of the earth. In return we can live in the Bronx.

All over the world indigenous populations are counselled to be investor friendly, to assist the despoliation of their holy mountains in Chile; the poisoning of their streams and the deforestation of their landscapes in New Guinea; the displacement, murder and rape of thousands to make way for oil pipelines in Burma(Myanmar). The Progress-bringers are destroying the glaciers of Iceland, the Jarrah forests of Western Australia and the communal tranquility of the Cedros pensinsula in Trinidad.

The 2005 Yale/Columbia Environmental Sustainability Index (ESI) showed Trinidad and Tobago as having the worst percentage of negative land impacts of 146 countries, yet Trinidad's government is ignoring the protests of its people who don’t want any more pollution and degradation of their small and beautiful island.

Public protests in Chile, Brazil and Vietnam have kept proposed Aluminum smelters out of those countries The Trinidadian citizens group Cedros Peninsula United say that when they managed to obtain a copy of Alcoa's (secret) Environmental Clearance – jointly signed by Alcoa and the government's Energy Corporation they found it full of omissions, inaccuracies and outright false statements.

The Barrick Corporation of Canada, like Alcoa, a transnational despoiler of the environment is proposing to mine 500 tonnes of gold from mountain peaks in Chile. The Barrick corporation intends (Listen to This!) to relocate three glaciers (rivers of ice) to get at the gold.

As you might imagine, the people of Chile are not accepting this proposed rape of their environment.

Environmental Time-Bombs

The proposed assault on the Cockpit Country is not simply an assault on the sensibilities of a few environmentalists. It is an affront to the whole of humanity. When the great devastation comes we won’t be saved by bauxite or alumina, but by the species finding shelter in the land of Look Behind and similar refuges around the world.

A hundred years ago Jules Verne described the Gulf Stream as " the sea's greatest river,[and] we must pray that this steadiness continues because ... if its speed and direction were to change, the climates of Europe would undergo disturbances whose consequences are incalculable."

The Sea’s Greatest River is slowing down, and the consequences have been calculated

A few weeks ago the British government published a report by Sir Nicholas Stern on the economic consequences of climate change. The report says The possibility of avoiding a global catastrophe is "already almost out of reach",

Stern says changes in weather patterns could drive down the output of the world's economies by up to £6 trillion a year by 2050, an amount equivalent to almost the entire output of the EU. This catastrophic prospect is the direct result of “Progress” as defined by people who have more money than conscience.

If the Gulf Stream slows to a stop or even if it simply continues to slow down, the effects on climate, farming and the populations of the world will be in one word, Disaster.

Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Prize Economist of 2001, former Chief Economist of the World Bank says:

“The Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change … makes clear that the question is not whether we can afford to act, but whether we can afford not to act. [The report] provides a comprehensive agenda—one which is economically and politically feasible — behind which the entire world can unite in addressing this most important threat to our future well being.”

Neither Stern nor Stiglitz nor Soros is some wool-gathering tree-hugger. They are among the people recognised as the brightest in the world. I prefer to believe them rather than some PR flack from any aluminium company or the Port Authority or any other agency of the Jamaican government.

The Spanish hotels on the North coast are disasters in their own right and will soon become catastrophic losses because of sea level rise and hurricanes. And we will pay for them as we will pay for the Doomsday Highway which is already obsolete.

As I pointed out in my column, “People at Risk” in February 2002, some of the geniuses of the Jamaican “development” process tolerate no opposition to “Progress”. They will destroy our coral reefs and degrade the harbour to take bigger container ships – themselves extinct within twenty years. At that time I reported that the bottom of Kingston Harbour contained several extremely dangerous substances and warned that PAJ dredging would redistribute them unpredictably and in a manner which would almost certainly be hazardous to health particularly to the people of Portmore I reported that among toxins present were: Arsenic, Cadmium, Dioxins (including derivatives of Agent Orange), Lead, Lindane, Hexachlorobenzene, Tetrachloroethylene and good, old Mad Hatter’s Mercury.

“Progress” has brought civil war, genocide and HIV/AIDS to Africa. It has deformed our politics, driven away our best and brightest all in search of the Holy Grail of ‘Development”,

We can eat Trelawny yam and gungoo peas. We can’t eat Red Mud, although we may have to drink it, if progress has its way with the Land of Look Behind.

Prosit !

Copyright©2006John Maxwell



fragmented moment
bright sun for once does not lie
warmer the morning

mariners chanting
far distant those seas are now
evening coming

24 November 2006

language tools

machine translations make a hash of sense
so many words but not all mean the same
it's got the right of it when it comes to tense
but faces trouble with each proper name
the problem with saving is not i'd say the amount
but the salvific properties found in as you might say
a checquebook given for each bank account
for the road you see is not the only way
given the literal meaning of each chosen word
the grammar's less a problem than the style
the whole compendium stops short of absurd
but makes you laugh at least a little while
in any language certain things stay true
and simple phrases all say i love you

after rosalĂ­a

when i think that you've gone away
you return and laugh right in my face
your cloud brings darkness at midday
i've come last of all the human race
when i imagine that you've left
you show yourself in the sun's eye
my back is bent constantly to your heft
the chance of slaying you i know a lie
you are the wind that blows across the plain
you are the star set shining up above
you are the song your weeping is the rain
and you are night and dawn and even love
you are the all and in all that i see
until i die you won't abandon me

out of the shadow

in brightest city
the pit inside gives off an
aura of darkness

but in no corner
has night any real power
to slay our new sun

morning returns soon
what comes comes and that is all
any could expect

first the words then the music

i don't know what the words mean but they're clear
what matters to me is the music underneath
the love for sound crept on me caught unaware
and now the magic's got me firmly in its teeth
it's what i'd sing i know if only i really could
it sounds so easy but i know the practice's hard
i think of friars chanting each under a hood
or duellers preparing to fight in some stableyard
the applause comes like an oceanic wave
loud but still sharp and shocking as the cold
the music till then had held me like a slave
or like the rhymer in the ancient tale we're told
here in the dark the house is warm and bright
but on the air come memories loaded with candlelight

making sense of time

even in stillness
there is no rest for my mind
urgency commands

mandate of heaven
this is not the thing you seek
i do not face south

equine announcement
the cavalry not coming
fleeing in panic

images broken
woken by sunlight in eye
dream vanishes now

the gospel according to holy george

we've got the thing we wanted that is war
the victims die each day and we stand by
we claim that we didn't really know the score
but each claim is swift uncovered as a lie
what we've done is pick at an open sore
and laugh and laugh as orphan children cry
we've got the power the will the immense might
what we say what we do must be right

who dies or lives will not disturb our feast
pardoning turkeys is the best of powers
who cares that we've unleashed a hungry beast
we want revenge for our swift-fallen towers
the west must triumph over the dark east
our backers know these are their finest hours
but children wounded or dead in the alleys
we have no time for these political sallys

we'll swallow camels whole at gnats we will not strain
torture's acceptable when the skin is dark or brown
those people you know they don't really feel the pain
besides have you seen the shithouse they call a town
it shouldn't trouble even your most delicate brain
and if you choose to argue we'll laugh and call you clown
we can control and determine the average guy's views
for we're the ones who decide just what makes news

in time you'll thank us for our most decisive deeds
for making sure our profits and gaining all that oil
for planting in sure ground the eager seeds
that will grow into forests with watering and toil
democracy we'll call the system that needs
our arms to back it lest the plain folk recoil
and who cares if our stories are just plain lies
we look so dapper in our neat suits and ties

laud we the gods

in earliest times the concepts were quite clear
everything had a meaning that all knew
the gods were everywhere in the bright air
they told their subjects that's us what to do
their names were things of magic and of power
their priests wore mystery like a shiny cloak
each fane stood all surmounted by a tower
and to the divine rose up crooked smoke
answers were simple then though not direct
the pythoness uttered complex tales in rhyme
we wondered at their strength at their effect
and knew that disbelief was a great crime
now there's a deeper and far longer way
the gods have died or vanished in our day

dark phantasy

avoid the shadows where the dark ones hide
the forests hold the monsters from your dreams
if you're caught out at night beware the devil's ride

a host of dangers fill this world where we abide
reality is not the straightforward thing it seems
avoid the shadows where the dark ones hide

the ones who keep their faces covered are not snide
if you looked on them we'd not calm your screams
if you're caught out at night beware the devil's ride

your blood would freeze if i spoke of the things i've spied
unless bright sunlight cleansed all with its beams
avoid the shadows where the dark ones hide

you know of the dead lady i heard the words she cried
now i won't go by that dread place even while light gleams
if you're caught out at night beware the devil's ride

there's none who can be trusted for even i have lied
from under us there rise most noisome steams
avoid the shadows where the dark ones hide
if you're caught out at night beware the devil's ride

brightness is all

old stories give us no reason to wonder
at who the actors were or what they cared
their history's existence was a blunder
or else a false account that no one dared
to challenge or to just define as wrong
because that would have meant accepting fact
and it's much easier to hear a simple song
and then applaud in a display of tact
we've seen them emerge from the deepest hell
but never wondered what they saw in there
and if they wanted to speak out then well
we made pretense of kindness and of care
the answer to the question's never said
it's kept inside the guardian's fine head

holy day of obligation

kingship is nothing
the job means all ensuring
we do our duty

the country expects
our lives fortunes and honour
sacred or normal

light rewards senses
but not enough gold's the thing
calms the conscience

an excellent hero

the face on the cover is not what sells the book
the story it tells is simply not what matters
there's something though in his experienced look

what he was once we know the road that he forsook
now we accept there were no golden platters
the face on the cover is not what sells the book

the tale now seems complex to tell hero from crook
we're not able now to do without being mad as hatters
there's something through in his experienced look

the enemy's no more to speak hate's now mistook
for the energy it was then as long as the portrait flatters
the face on the cover is not what sells the book

when seen in death the casket hid the hand that shook
the adversary's and there's no word now that shatters
there's something though in his experienced look

what's left's only the intro message we call it the hook
that draws them in the smile that always flatters
the face on the cover is not what sells the book
there's something though in his experienced look

crystal clear

the truth is somewhere in the empty blue
against it the last leaves those coloured rags
recently so many now a remnant few
still brave and noble like a herd of flags
now what we wait for isn't just the cold
of winter coming like a noisy train
we're almost ready now to shed the old
and seize upon the new bright thing again
patience is hard when you have seen the turn
nor is is it easy waiting through the lies
the temper holds itself to a slow burn
and silent looks up at the bluest skies
tomorrow we will learn the news we seek
and hope it's the best ending to this week

23 November 2006

history from an angle

the battle's been decided by great treason
the losing leader's already bought and sold
yet still his men look to him for a reason
to stand and fight although they have been told
that they're to go free once the day is ended
they're not to be counted among the worst
still they have desire for vengeance blended
with the knowledge that they're already cursed
nothing else can explain that final angry stand
the way they rushed themselves into the battle
most eager to serve and die at his command
seeing the enemy as no more than cattle
they enter into the last combat the final affray
not knowing that they're characters in a play

phone call from marta

in the hot city
for me only you exist
riding to rescue

no thought but worship
calling from the train i say
please be there sweetie

you i see waiting
glad in that moment smiling
homeward at long last

gladly wolde ich lerne and gladly teche

the current set of intellectual norms
requires that we develop sharp critique
of the masks beneath which our reality forms
without producing either rancour or pique
although outside the crazy preacher storms
announcing that armageddon is next week
which makes it hard either to learn or teach
when half the class thinks heaven's within reach

the problem that one faces in the classroom
is different from the problem of debate
you're got young people with a fear of doom
if they the instructor happen to berate
and others sunk in deepest dullest gloom
because the one they want's broken the date
so they sit there pretending full attention
while in their minds are things no one should mention

who cares how those distant countries all are run
they're not america so they don't count
they're not lit by the same hot earnest sun
their rivers do not flow from honest fount
students long to see if the hour's at last done
when to their ears their mobile phones will mount
for being out of touch with sometime friends
could lead to all sorts of distasteful trends

nothing brings anger to the student phiz
or annoys them enough to make them groan
as when they find they're going to get a quiz
and on the subject they're as dumb as stone
and even the one who thinks that she's a whiz
wishes that she could call out on her phone
because you know with daylight still to burn
it's much too hard to either think or learn

and as if that were not too great a fight
consider that when an essay's come due
they think that it's a torture to sit and write
because they know they haven't got a clue
to study's much too hard or only for the bright
who have a plan these four years to get through
but if once out they're stuck then god almighty
the fault for that is clearly down to whitey

not raw the day

the birds that cast their shadows on the wall
can tell that things are changing but not why
they see the leaves turn colour and then fall
and note how few clouds pass across the sky
the browns and greys are calm against the blue
the light turns beige to butter in the calm
the colder days are coming we know that's true
but the mild sunshine acts now as a balm
the thoughts that come now are not ones of dread
eirenic notes are passing through the air
the day is good the table will soon be spread
we've worked hard so that we can banish care
i drink my tea and think of warmer things
and all the good that this mild season brings

i couldn't possibly comment

the wonder is that changes do not hurt
the pain's inside and owes most to delay
we've left our terrors cringing in the dirt

the answers given now are rude and curt
the angry mouths their spittle widely spray
the wonder is that changes do not hurt

around the problems politicians skirt
they fill the silence with the words they say
we've left our terrors cringing in the dirt

the fearless leader's caught in sudden spurt
fleeing the sunlight into soothing grey
the wonder is that changes do not hurt

with honesty and honour they now flirt
but ask a question and they will not stay
we've left our terrors cringing in the dirt

so rare it is these days when truths they blurt
that it seems like a sudden bright new day
the wonder is that changes do not hurt
we've left our terrors cringing in the dirt

22 November 2006

when troubles come

the chances have been good for wary men
to make their piles and profit from the dead
not for them concern about times when
dreams rise up in the night with sights of dread
nor for the dead trapped in a burning pen
the conscience shrivels in a wealthy head
and those who pile the faggots for the fire
are absent when the last martyrs expire

those who have taken the magician's gold
believe that they've acquired a precious thing
not realising that the game's been sold
and they are bound in service to the king
until the morning when though cruel and bold
they scream as they fall in the fiery ring
for kings are not known for their gratitude
and do not care if you take that attitude

how many dead our sovereign does not care
he's gone upon his travels to see how
the subjects in the distant lands do fare
and how much milk will give the golden cow
expecting that the angered will not dare
to risk the furrowing of his noble brow
besides he thinks we will not institute
proceedings to show that he's a brute

the devil's in the details so they say
and getting out is not like getting in
we can't wish all the difficulties away
or claim that peace and truth are masks of sin
we think that when we enter in the fray
it means that automatic we will win
and not that the old ship of state will sink
ponderous and titanic in the drink

for war's a tough and unpredictable sport
not to be entered lightly with a smile
it's not a game of the genteeler sort
to play on sunny afternoons a while
it's center is a morass in which once caught
each step you take becomes malign and vile
and monstrous horrors come not single spies
but in a huge batallion of smug lies

and we are not saved

each year has turnings everyone knows that
but what they are is different in each place
the seasons aren't the same nor is the flat
weight of change visible on each one's face
prevaricators liars cheats and thieves
alike feel cold and get wet in the rain
even the worst villain in real life grieves
even the darkest monster feels some strain
the coming of the cold time feels like death
and every year some give things up and die
the sharpness of the wind takes away breath
and ices up our tears whenever we cry
but who's the hero who's the villain here
we ask and softly weep into our beer

the owl that flies

through isonomic suffrage or sortition
we constitute our image as a folk
rejecting both tyranny and partition
we'll subjugate ourselves to our own yoke
within the shade of the old mother tree
we'll take the oaths that bind us all as one
with rousseau we'll force each other to be free
and hold that by this our new state's begun
the problem comes when we remove the veil
and find ourselves in all respects unequal
we don't consider that we've told this tale
in expectation that there'll be no sequel
still we consider that we've done our best
because we did not faint or falter at the test

ignorance breaks strength

it isn't what we learn but what we don't
the holes in what we think we have to know
the things we have to do the things we won't
because our thoughts have just become too slow
experience teaches us but not all things
can be learned in that most direct way
the intellect's a power itself with wings
that open at the start and end of day
the twilight may be when we turn to thought
but also when our eyes decline in power
we may have done almost all the things we ought
but that's a question for a brighter hour
both indolence and effort that's the range
that bounds the possibilities for change

the hardest part of the job

the day is not long but the work is there
writing affords a valuable distraction
the pile grows but the ending is not clear

i had not thought that one day i would dare
to overcome knowledge's contraction
the day is not long but the work is there

i confront each essay seek to find it's bare
essence the deepest innermost compaction
the pile grows but the ending is not clear

not for me now the pleasures of the sheer
sense of discovery instead there is redaction
the day is not long but the work is there

these students all have the same wish to share
their half-baked concepts of party and of faction
the pile grows but the ending is not clear

yet as i read and mark there's one thing i'm aware
that drives my very purpose and my action
they day is not long but the work is there
the pile grows but the ending is not clear

thoughts while grading

i want the facts and what they seem to mean
not what the student makes up on the go
the truth reality i know it's never fully clean
but learning involves having things you know
instead i get some half-digested tales
informing me of things that are not real
my head shakes and the heart within me quails
they'd tremble if they could know just how i feel
i have to laugh to hold back all the tears
to keep me within the boundaries of the sane
it seems that all my efforts through the years
have only served to irritate my brain
there seems to be no measure i can take
that will force this stupidity to brake

working today

no hot sun today
instead bright cold piercing light
dark would be warmer

winter is coming
message of each falling leaf
no sign of spring yet

war without end amen

the oldest furies still say they remember
the days when things were short and the bombs fell
when fires of hope had burned down to an ember
and life was seen as brief escapes from hell
the story does not change although the tools
are different horses in this day and age
those who deny comparisons are simply fools
the only proper response to this is outrage
the victims are the same white brown or black
the killers are the same despite their uniform
in every case the same result we see a lack
of every human virtue of every civil norm
the thing that matters we've been always told
is that justice does not realise when its been sold

21 November 2006

reading the internet

fragments of poetry
messages sent heard noted
urgently needed

marvellous stories
these give us little reason
to dream of fairies

brittle the moment
but no one will listening
break up the tension

greeter of morning
the bird will never notice
that you have heard him

no grim brothers

the story that is told may not be true
but is the only story that we hear
the characters aren't real and will not sue
beside to what court could appeal a bear
the little girl who always gets off free
is white and blond and has bright blue eyes
she claims the bear chased her up a tree
and smiles and dimples as she tells her lies
the stories that we learn are always nice
they don't describe the horrid aftermath
nor who the victim is who pays the price
who is imprisoned just for righteous wrath
the greatest liars of history all pale
beside the author of this fairy-tale

academic thoughts

it's the right time to go out for a drink
forget about the job and all that shit
or sit back in my chair and simply think
or come up with some coruscating wit
the day's gone on too long i'm on the brink
of getting up and just plain skiving it
but that would not be good or so i'm told
though i should just be simply bad and bold

the wonder's that i'm here and attending
to troubles nonsense lies and honest thought
the problem's that it all seems to be blending
into a single lump of value nought
where both the false and the heart-rending
tales leave me feeling cold and quite uncaught
this is the thing about this role or part
how long exposure calcifies the heart

who's got the power in this working relation
but the one who begs or wheedles or who cries
or claims that bad circumstance and situation
have caused the harm and provoked all the lies
who can in loud voice falsify frustration
and shout their fancy stories to the skies
though frankly each time i'm told a lie
i smile and nod though really i should sigh

then there's the one who copies it all out
and says the work's original and true
when caught the stammering foolish lout
acts like he hasn't got a single clue
as to what it is i'm so angry about
and why i seem so totally in a stew
while i in manner most direct and blunt
condemn the idiot for his dumb stunt

i'm most pleased with those of them who try
who know that there's more to it than a grade
who seek the answer for sound knowledge pry
and understand that words will be their trade
they provoke a smile and not a weary sigh
for them my enthusiasm does not fade
but most see learning as a sort of tree
up which they climb to capture a degree

it doesn't matter how the world is run
they're all americans so they don't care
the class just interrupts their job or fun
not as good as the gossip on the stair
the hard graft of thinking they will shun
until they do the lsats and they find
to pass them requires some skills of mind

if there are wrongs then whitey is to blame
and nothing's changed for the past sixty years
if i could find a time machine to tame
and sent them back they'd soon dissolve in tears
but i cannot and think it such a shame
they can't look beyond their tiny spheres
but if i could the secret of such trips unlock
and sent them back they'd all die from the shock

life is so simple when you're swift and young
black's black white's white and that they say is that
the simple thoughts come tripping off glib tongue
they'll fix the world's problems in nothing flat
i think of all the men and women hung
by lynch mobs for what was just back-chat
no need to wonder what they would have done
in those conditions they'd have cried and run

now back to work and then i'll have my lunch
i think about my work and then i think
of those who stand out clearly from the bunch
whose minds grasp problems quicker than a wink
who're starting to see just how an honest hunch
leads to solutions in a fast eyeblink
those are the ones who make me nod and smile
remind me that the task can be worthwhile