Sunday, August 10, 2008

A poem about Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao

The Visit

(Hamdallaye, Niger)


Elaine Chao, the Peace Corps Director,

paid us a visit at the training site

in the fall of ‘91.  Petite, well-coiffed,

dressed in a smart business suit, she spoke

of her emigration from Taiwan

to the United States as an 8-year-old.

Her international heritage,

she said, gave her broad insight

into the Peace Corps experience.

But her delivery seemed off-key somehow.


At noon, under an overcast sky filled

with harmattan dust, the villagers

staged a parade for her. Hausa riders

dressed in their finest gowns strutted

by on their horses.  Griots lifted

their praise above the polyrhythmic pulse

of the talking drums.  The village chief

presented a ram to Ms. Chao as a gift

(which she couldn’t, of course, take with her).

She handled herself graciously enough

as she thanked the village chief

and spoke with my fellow trainees.  

But she also gave us the impression 

that she was flying on autopilot

with her sights set on a far horizon.


When George W. Bush appointed Ms. Chao

as Secretary of Labor,

I wasn’t surprised.

Even now I can’t help but think of her visit

as a harbinger of that ill wind. 

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