Lately, my four year old daughter has been full of questions,
her mind a bird, swooping to peck at every fragment
scavenging to name, provide order
find answers to her surroundings

– this is my house, I
am Marshallese and Samoan, my favorite food
is fish and rice, identifiers that steer her through
the biting salt of an unfolding world

Her questions challenge me, teaches me patience
of breath, of count-to-three, closed eyes
and yes, embrace
her curiosity, give answers
that are honest even if
they are painful, questions I
am unable to answer
like when we watch the news and she hears
my conversations and I have to say yes some people
do believe that children can
be illegal and yes some believe that families
do not belong
together

I am haunted
by the images of the soft brown of a child’s skin
against the cold iron of a cage
so similar to my girl’s after the cold of a swim,
joyful trails of sand grasping the soft of her skin

And is this not scripture waiting to be written
that islands that have until 2030 to be habitable
will create more children like these, searching
for safe harbor?
How fate awaits us in boats as well, how hate
looks like willful ignorance and a nation that forgets
its own settler history, and a man
with a whale of an ego is similar
to the whale in the story I tell my daughter at night,
the legend of the whale and the bird
a whale who balloons
with arrogance, taunts the birds of the skies,
deems itself dominant, powerful,
Is it so much of a stretch
to see the similarities
between the cruelty of dominant policies
how 2,000 children separated from their families
is related to rhetoric that deny the reality of rising seas
and how 1.5 becomes a horizon farther and farther to reach

So the questions that challenge me
continue to circle around faith –
faith to continue to fight
when hopelessness
is so much easier
Easier, instead
to let reports
of island apocalypse and malicious laws sink
below the surface
to the dark depths, dark places
no one can reach

As I think this, I pass little boys on the corner cloaked
In the blinding white heat of another afternoon in Majuro
cars swoop past towards destinations, unaware
of these two who slam
scavenged green coconuts against concrete
shirts drenched, mouths wide open
they gulp down the sun, wipe their lips, glare
at me for my staring intrusion

And in that instant my phone signals an article
600 people in Washington
arrested by Capitol Police
for standing against the whale’s treatment
of migrant families

And I am reminded, again, of the legend
of the whale and the bird
how thousands of tiny birds fluttered across the world
gulped down every drop of the sea, leaving
an arrogant whale beached, thirsting
forcing him to admit that yes, smallness is
a state of mind, and yes an ocean begins
with a single drop, and maybe answers
begin this way too
and yes so, too,
does faith.

‘The Whale and the Birds’ is Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner’s latest poem and was commissioned by the Vatican, where Kathy performed it recently. This piece connects climate change and US migration issues and, as with all of her poems, it is evocative, insightful and a call to action.


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