Dispossession

A fear of place, of
breeding to

Haunt the place, of
want and if

Of place, the trove
giving love

Of place, the trove
matching it

And mess of place -

If it is possible to have in language – popular or literary – hooks that thrive on an awe of the hallowed; words, poems, books that convey the sense that the key to this fascinating ineffable lies in somehow giving up your voice in favor of the few who have crossed on to the other side, the side that looks down only to be relieved; does that not goad us in forgetting genocide every took place, and even if it did, what’s the big deal?

This tree will not sound out
Beginnings; it will not prepare
A crowd to tumble the heart’s

Mend to a clearing; more acid
Is the earth’s bile dream believing
Catacombs to be phoenixes, armor

To be insufficient and the roots
Of earth as linking the ends: here
Where it starts and the outmost in

most there.

The subaltern is credible – Vientiane, Laos Feb 2016

Work took me to Vientiane, Laos, recently (the last week of February 2016). In mid 2013, I had written a first impression piece on Muscat. This time, I thought of writing one with a power critique informing the first time visitor.

The external oppression – context
The local news was abuzz with renewed US business-related activity (Obama is coming in September) as Laos takes over the chairmanship of ASEAN this year. Although a communist country since 1975, Laos has no qualms in opening itself up to the wondrous creed of the neoliberal. A Thai consultant remarked that about 15 years ago, all he could see on the streets of Vientiane were the tuk-tuks, but now you see cars and motorbikes all over the place. Increasing Chinese foreign investment is making Vietnam, a long time Laotian benefactor, edgy. Hence the surge in US pivot-al interest. There is even talk of the US taking some responsibility in cleaning up the unexploded bombs – two million tons dropped during the secret war of 1964-73, the most heavily bombed per capita nation ever. How power revels in the forgetfulness of the powerless!

The embedded oppressor – subtext
I work with government departments (statistics and IT) in mostly African and Middle Eastern states. Strengthening the public sector – where providing service to people is part of the mandate by definition – is the only redemption for a consultant who sensibilities have been blighted; otherwise the larger aims of the agencies we work for either dovetail with the neoliberal program, or at the very least never challenged.

A salient fact, not highlighted enough, is that despite the high capability of local staff (esp. here in Laos where at the IT department of the ministry I learned a few new things from the staff), the dependence on the external, international consultant subordinates and even mutes the local voice. When I ask about their requirements, the response is something along the lines of, “what do you think?”

The international consultant is thus a modern iteration of the white saviour, and this realization, that our work is part of the oppressive fabric, is an uncomfortable one.

Government folk tend to be much more open to outsiders than given credit for. This is true wherever I have been, and Laos is no exception. On top of that, you get the much publicized mildness – however much of a tourist cliché – of the East Asian. This bit of humanity is consolation in face of the thin redemptive possibilities and uncomfortable truths that hound the work of a development consultant.

The subaltern is credible – text

The subaltern is credible
   with salt in its teeth

with humor in the tummy of
   its riverside birth its

calm solubility and harmless
   want is weak is water is

standing with the whalemouth
   reeking of the hull and

counterpoint will it will?

The token pic
I took this one on the first day as I was walking by the Mekong river taking in the novelty. The kids clicked here betray none of the famed docility. The tropes of the past stand once again to be revised.
DSC01401

the evolution of ghosts

Earth does not forbid, yet the smell of earth remains forgotten. Inner strictures have little bearing to the outer plenitude which seems more and more like a shell, to be shucked, only to be worn as adornment to protect an inner quietude, a sanctum of disconnect.

I have forgotten the smell of sand
as it sifts through

My intentions. I have received
little in the way of

Relevance when I quote the high
mountain’s resilience

To time. And they shriek a silent
shriek to silence the

Evolution of their ghosts, masks
tired of introspection.

Presentism and the poet’s rage

Presentism is a modern stain. It is vehement in denying all explanations of now that go back in time, wanting to start anew with such passion that the past becomes trivial. Forgetting becomes less an explicit act and more an implicit elision brought about by massive distraction.

(The social forces that compel presentism are the same that animate the modern assault on understanding, restricting the scope of vigorous debate to a limited spectrum (Chomsky1) creating the illusion of diversity.)

When we are robbed of the past, we have no choice but to project the image of the present onto the future (Galeano2). The assault on imagination is terrifying. When our language is robbed of historical consciousness, the sensibilities brought into play are dystopic.

If language is fossil poetry (Emerson), then the poet should be all the more outraged by such an appropriation of expression. Dylan Thomas rages against the dying of the light. If we accept Kundera when he says, “the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting,” then Dylan’s rage is sterile unless the dying light is cast in the light of the ever alive past.

rage is the new normal; night is
an interpretation; flip open the
valves and let the ink bleed the
catchments dry for a new version
of night, a variation on history

rage is the new normal; the long
machinery of myth, the stench of
an older order, more primal than
the scream of the new version of
night, permutating with mutation

rage is the new normal; delights
in the rediscovery of the ultra-
mundane, the hodgepodge factotum
and mishmashed equilibria - this
is no more primal, no more night

rage is the new normal; the fist
that dares to open, to ask, want
to dare to ask, to stamp its bit
on the new version of night, the
variation on theme, an older one

Notes
1. “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.” Noam Chomsky, “The Common Good”

2. “Incapable of recalling its origins, the present paints the future as a repetition of itself; tomorrow is just another name for today.” Eduardo Galeano, “Upside Down”