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"Tell Them"

This morning I caught Living on Earth, a radio show about the environment. They were talking about the Paris Climate Conference, and their last segment was a poem, "Tell Them," by Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, from the Marshall Islands. I was lying in bed--the radio was on in the kitchen, but my attention was pulled: soon I was listening intently. It's a long poem, and I don't think I should put the whole thing here without asking permission (you can read it here), but here are some parts that I especially liked:

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 ...

tell them we are styrofoam cups of Kool-Aid red
waiting patiently for the ilomij
we are papaya-golden sunsets bleeding
into a glittering, open sea
we are skies uncluttered
majestic and sweeping in their landscape
tell them we are dusty rubber slippers
from concrete doorsteps ...

we are children flinging
like rubber bands
across a road clogged with chugging cars
tell them
we only have one road ...

tell them some of us
are old fishermen who believe that God
made us a promise
tell them some of us
are a little more skeptical
but most importantly you tell them
that we don't want to leave
that we've never wanted to leave
and that we
are nothing without our islands.

Jaier Juano and family; photo by 黒忍者 on Flickr (click through)
Jaier Juano and family

ETA: Regarding the Climate Change Agreement reached today, Al Jazeera reports,

In a victory for small island nations threatened by rising seas, the agreement includes a section recognizing "loss and damage" associated with climate-related disasters.


( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 12th, 2015 11:09 pm (UTC)
I love the imagery.
Dec. 12th, 2015 11:12 pm (UTC)
Me too, so real, so tangible.
Dec. 13th, 2015 05:16 am (UTC)
That is a very good poem; thank you.
Dec. 13th, 2015 03:46 pm (UTC)
My pleasure; very glad you liked it!
Dec. 13th, 2015 10:18 am (UTC)
I'm so glad I went to read the entire poem. Beautiful.
Dec. 13th, 2015 03:46 pm (UTC)
Oh, I'm so glad you did too! It's beautiful, and my cutting out chunks sacrifices its integrity and its overall power.
Dec. 13th, 2015 11:29 am (UTC)
This is so important, to be able to hear these voices; thank you for sharing the link. (also - great photo.)
Dec. 13th, 2015 03:55 pm (UTC)
Thank you (and thank you for *your* post!) I had fun looking for the right photo.
Dec. 13th, 2015 02:36 pm (UTC)
Good poem. I'd never read anything from a Marshallese writer before.

By a strange coincidence, I saw a Marshall Islands flag yesterday. There's a side inlet of the harbor behind my work building, and oil tankers sail up it all the time to be filled at a fuel pumping station nearby. These ships are really honkin' big. One was in, the Iver Progress, with a flag with diagonal lines and a stylized sunset sort of image. I looked it up and found it was the flag of the Marshall Islands, where the tanker is registered (as a tax dodge, I assume).

The only other context I'd ever heard of the Marshall Islands in was that the islanders were known to kill a lot of sailors from whaling crews in the nineteenth century--and Wikipedia also points out that the Marshallese did this in reprisal for the sailors' "brutal treatment of the women," which I had NOT heard before. Apparently the Marshallese got that reputation for being bloodthirsty because they would strike back at ships' crews for giving their people crap--the sailors taking it upon themselves to beat and punish the islanders for "petty theft." I can picture that--someone walks away with a nail or chisel or something, and they have him flogged. Newsflash: people resent it when you beat and exploit them. You won't see that in most accounts of whaling history; it's always, "Oh, we were just minding our own business and these creeps attacked us for no reason."
Dec. 13th, 2015 03:58 pm (UTC)
It's a great flag, isn't it? I like Papua New Guinea's flag too: it has a bird of paradise on it.

Yeah, funny how abusing people brings out the fight in them -_-
Dec. 15th, 2015 01:32 am (UTC)
Thank you
Dec. 16th, 2015 01:24 am (UTC)
Thank **you**
Dec. 17th, 2015 02:44 am (UTC)
Real post posted

Edited at 2015-12-17 02:45 am (UTC)
Dec. 17th, 2015 01:21 pm (UTC)
it's like the glow of a volcano

Is that your this morning's sky? I love-love-love it.
Dec. 17th, 2015 05:51 pm (UTC)
Re: it's like the glow of a volcano
It was just before me going into work on 11/16.
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )

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