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Climate Change Poem

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)

A video of Jetnil-Kijiner performing her poem can be found here. More information about Jetnil-Kijiner can be found on her blog: http://jkijiner.wordpress.com/.

“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
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.


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