Marshall Islander Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner Presents Poem on Climate Change
Marshall Islander Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner’s poem “Tell Them” has recently been receiving increased attention online. The poem represents a unique viewpoint on the effects of climate change, from the perspective of an artist and a native Islander. The poem in its entirety can be found below.
“A poet, writer, artist, and journalist, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner studied creative writing at Mills College and taught as a Student Teacher Poet (STP) with Poetry for the People. She has participated in Youthspeaks Hawaii, the artist collective formally known as The Bombshelter Crew and the queer Pacific Islander artist collective One Love Oceania (OLO), and Voices of Our Nations (VONA). She has also performed “Iep Jaltok” at various solo performance theater venues including City Solo, Third Root Art Collective’s “For Colored Girls Only” show, and CounterPulse’s “Words First.” She currently writes the blog Iep Jaltok (yiyip jalteq), the title of which refers to “a basket whose opening is facing the speaker.” The term, Jetnil-Kijiner writes, also is used to describe “female children” who represent “a basket whose contents are made available to her relatives. Also refers to matrilineal society of the Marshallese.”” (http://jacket2.org/commentary/ocean-leveling-land-0, accessed 7/25/12)
“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.