Dear Matafele Peinem,

you are a seven month old sunrise of gummy smiles
you are bald as an egg and bald as the buddha
you are thunder thighs and lightning shrieks so excited for bananas, hugs and
our morning walks past the lagoon

Dear Matafele Peinem,

I want to tell you about that lagoon
that lucid, sleepy lagoon lounging against the sunrise

some men say that one day
that lagoon will devour you

they say it will gnaw at the shoreline
chew at the roots of your breadfruit trees
gulp down rows of your seawalls
and crunch your island’s shattered bones

they say you, your daughter
and your granddaughter, too
will wander rootless
with only a passport to call home

Dear Matafele Peinem,

don’t cry
mommy promises you

no one
will come and devour you

no greedy whale of a company
sharking through political seas
no backwater bullying of businesses with broken morals no blindfolded
bureaucracies gonna push
this mother ocean over
the edge

no one’s drowning, baby

no one’s moving
no one’s losing
their homeland
no one’s gonna become
a climate change refugee

or should I say
no one else

to the carteret islanders of Papua New Guinea
and to the Taro Islanders of Fiji
I take this moment
to apologize to you
we are drawing the line here

because baby we are going to fight
your Mommy, Daddy
Bubu, Jimma, your country and president too
we will all fight

and even though there are those
hidden behind platinum titles

who like to pretend
that we don’t exist
that the Marshall Islands
Tuvalu
Kiribati
Maldives
and Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines
and floods of Pakistan, Algeria, and Colombia
and all the hurricanes, earthquakes, and tidal waves
didn’t exist

still
there are those
who see us

hands reaching out
fists raising up
banners unfurling
megaphones booming
and we are
canoes blocking coal ships
we are
the radiance of solar villages
we are
the rich clean soil of the farmer’s past
we are
petitions blooming from teenage fingertips
we are
families biking, recycling, reusing,
engineers dreaming, designing, building,
artists painting, dancing, writing
we are spreading the word

and there are thousands out on the street
marching with signs
hand in hand
chanting for change NOW
they’re marching for you, baby
they’re marching for us

because we deserve to do more than just
survive
we deserve
to thrive

Dear Matafele Peinem,

you are eyes heavy
with drowsy weight
so just close those eyes, baby
and sleep in peace

because we won’t let you down

you’ll see

 

Kathy is a Marshall Islander poet and spoken word artist. She received international acclaim through her performance of this poem at the opening of the United Nations Climate Summit in New York in 2014. Her writing and performances have been featured by CNN, Democracy Now, Mother Jones, the Huffington Post, NBC News, National Geographic, Nobel Women’s Initiative, and more. In February 2017, the University of Arizona Press published her first collection of poetry, Iep Jāltok: Poems from a Marshallese Daughter.

Kathy also co-founded the youth environmentalist non-profit Jo-Jikum dedicated to empowering Marshallese youth to seek solutions to climate change and other environmental impacts threatening their home island. Kathy has been selected as one of 13 Climate Warriors by Vogue in 2015 and the Impact Hero of the Year by Earth Company in 2016. She received her Master’s in Pacific Island Studies from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.


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