Thursday, August 22, 2013

Tell Them







TELL THEM by Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner
Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner is a Marshallese poet, writer and journalist.

The Marshall Islands are among a number of low-lying Pacific island nations that are already experiencing a host of climate catastrophes including coastal erosion and saltwater intrusion into cropland and tourist sites due to rising sea-levels. Through her poetry, Kathy raises awareness of the threats that face her people, people who have contributed least to climate change.
In the poem “Tell Them,” Kathy reaches out to the citizens of larger nations like the US, telling them what the world stands to lose if they continue with business as usual.

TELL THEM

I prepared the package

for my friends in the states

the dangling earrings woven

into half moons black pearls glinting

like an eye in a storm of tight spirals

the baskets

sturdy, also woven

brown cowry shells shiny

intricate mandalas

shaped by calloused fingers

Inside the basket

a message:



Wear these earrings

to parties

to your classes and meetings

to the grocery store, the corner store

and while riding the bus

Store jewelry, incense, copper coins

and curling letters like this one

in this basket

and when others ask you

where you got this

you tell them


they’re from the Marshall Islands


show them where it is on a map

tell them we are a proud people

toasted dark brown as the carved ribs

of a tree stump

tell them we are descendents

of the finest navigators in the world

tell them our islands were dropped

from a basket

carried by a giant

tell them we are the hollow hulls

of canoes as fast as the wind

slicing through the pacific sea

 we are wood shavings

and drying pandanus leaves

and sticky bwiros at kemems

tell them we are sweet harmonies

of grandmothers mothers aunties and sisters

songs late into night

tell them we are whispered prayers

the breath of God

a crown of fushia flowers encircling

aunty mary’s white sea foam hair

tell them we are styrofoam cups of  koolaid red

waiting patiently for the ilomij

tell them we are papaya golden sunsets bleeding

into a glittering open sea

 we are skies uncluttered

majestic in their sweeping landscape

we are the ocean

terrifying and regal in its power

tell them we are dusty rubber slippers

swiped

from concrete doorsteps

we are the ripped seams

and the broken door handles of taxis

 we are sweaty hands shaking another sweaty hand in heat

tell them

we are days

and nights hotter

than anything you can imagine

tell them we are little girls with braids

cartwheeling beneath the rain

 we are shards of broken beer bottles

burrowed beneath fine white sand

we are children flinging

like rubber bands

across a road clogged with chugging cars

tell them

we only have one road


and after all this

tell them about the water

how we have seen it rising

flooding across our cemeteries

gushing over the sea walls

and crashing against our homes

tell them what it’s like

to see the entire ocean level with the land

tell them

we are afraid

tell them we don’t know

of the politics

or the science

but tell them we see

what is in our own backyard

tell them that some of us

are old fishermen who believe that God

made us a promise

some of us

are more skeptical of God

but most importantly tell them

we don’t want to leave

we’ve never wanted to leave

and that we

are nothing without our islands.


This poem was read out at Amnesty International's Imprisoned Writers Series during their Climate Justice session at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Tuesday August 20th 2013.

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