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Let us build the nation well...

Poems by CK Stead and Jeffrey Holman

We read in a grand theatre, managed by pros,

with lights and projected backdrop, the poet

at the lectern reading behind his own back

greatly enlarged - teeth, bald head or bad hair.

We read in a hospital for psychiatric cases,

in the theatre again, in the Library Simon Rodriguez,

in the barrio with chickens, garbage and dogs,

the kids greeting us with songs in national costume

and the international costume of being kids.

At the hospital a patient comes on stage to recite

a poem by Blanco. It's good, but line by line

he's backing towards my chair so I smell him

and smell his terror. Someone tells me my poems

are 'warm'. I tell myself, 'Next time, add more salt.'

City of beautiful trees, barred doors and windows,

gas cheaper than water, and lunatic traffic;

city of vivid slogans and sad citations -

'Construyanos la patria buena', and then, more staunch,

'Patria Socialismo o Muerte'. All the plazas

are named after Bolivar, and the 'Bolivarian' President

has kind eyes full of a promise. I want to believe it

as his people seem to do, but History has doubts.

Should those brilliantly painted posters shout instead

'The patria fucks us always'? A purple beetle

like an angry enamelled robot seems to attack

as I walk to the van. The driver beats it down

to the rutted oil-smeared asphalt. 'Don't stamp on it,'

I shout - too late, and in the wrong language.

Caracas, May 2008

Hymn to the bookworms

by Jeffrey Paparoa Holman

"Where is the darkness?" was what the poet Holub asked.

Now he knows - for whom "being a non-person was

a very happy time, with no distractions" - he who knew his

troubles were not so special. "I expose the poem, not

myself - I am a fully hidden poet" - now he is hidden

again in the worms, giants whose molecules he once

ventured deeply darkly strangely into - "by indirection

seek direction out". While we remember Holub, Holub

lives: not in the worms alone who prepare to eat his

books, not in the files of the NKVD that rot in astral

dumps where trustees fumigate forever the shelves

of mouldering incunabula that once incriminated

yet now mean even less than rotten leaves. Holub

lives while memory lives, while metaphor speaks

biologically exact and discriminating data over

the open graves of an incoming wave of tyrants.

His worms await the shelving of their books.