IEP JELTOK

a basket of poetry and writing from Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner


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United Nations Climate Summit Opening Ceremony – A poem to my Daughter

On 23 September 2014, I  addressed the Opening Ceremony of the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Summit. I performed my new poem entitled “Dear Matafele Peinem” written to my daughter. My full statement, along with a live performance of the poem, can be viewed below, followed by the studio version, and the full text of the poem itself:

The clip below is a studio version which was recorded before the actual performance.

 

dear matafele peinam,

 

you are a seven month old sunrise of gummy smiles

you are bald as an egg and bald as the buddha

you are thighs that are thunder and shrieks that are lightning

so excited for bananas, hugs and

our morning walks past the lagoon

 

dear matafele peinam,

 

i want to tell you about that lagoon

that lucid, sleepy lagoon lounging against the sunrise

 

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 peinam,

 

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 the solomon islands

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, colombia

and all the hurricanes, earthquakes, and tidalwaves

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

and we are spreading the word

 

and there are thousands out on the street

marching with signs

hand in hand

chanting for change NOW

 

and 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 peinam,

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Spoken Word Poetry vs Page Poetry

“How is spoken word different from page poetry?” This question seems to have a pretty basic answer: one is written with the intention of being performed, or spoken aloud, while the other is written specifically for the page.

I’ve always felt that spoken word is more accessible to the average audience than written page poetry. I don’t know many people who actively choose to sit down and read books of poetry (besides other poets). But, many more are willing to listen to poetry – especially if that poetry was easy to follow and catchy. However, I don’t want to make it sound like spoken word is dumbed down poetry – it’s definitely not. It takes a lot of skill to be able to write something that’s easy to read, easy to hear, and easy for many people can connect to.

Before I put out youtube videos of my poetic performances, I had published my poetry in the newspaper back home in the Marshalls. Only a few people actually read those pieces (some cousins actually complained to me that they couldn’t/wouldn’t read them cuz they were too long). But when the youtube videos came out, quite a number of people came up to me saying that they had read my poetry before but didn’t really get any of it until they heard it. Most of these people were Marshallese. And I figured out that the reason they were able to understand it a lot easier is because our culture is essentially an oral culture – we’re great listeners, but reading and writing is still a bit of an isolated skill set. Spoken word, however, is able to bridge that gap between storytelling and poetry.

Originally, when I thought of spoken word, I immediately thought of slam. Slam is the competitive version of spoken word, and requires poets to keep their poetry to 3 minute performances, without the use of props or any other devices, and forces audience members to score the performance on an a scale of 1 to 10. This criteria can be limiting to the art form, but it can also force poets to create wonderful pieces under a guideline like any poetic form. It wasn’t until I took a spoken word class with a former mentor of mine that I was able to open up to the different forms that spoken word can take beyond slam poetry. Spoken word can last longer than 3 minutes – it can sometimes expand to 1 woman shows, or use props and clothing that add to the performance. My favorite, that I’d love to experiment with at one point, is performance with extra audio files, or performance with slide shows. One of my mentors even uses a coconut grater on stage while poetry plays in the background.

So how does page poetry fit into this? Well, first off, I consider page poetry the kind of poetry that takes into consideration the space of the page itself. This means the form of the poetry is an integral factor, not so much the sounds being made. This means you can have fun creating forms and shapes out of the poetry – I have one poem that’s actually in the shape of a boat, and one that I’ve been working on (who knows when it’ll actually be finished) that’s in the shape of a bingo card. But sometimes paying attention to these forms makes it hard to pay attention to the sound of the poem.

I started writing poetry without the aspect of performance in mind. It just came out of me naturally, and I didn’t really think about what I wanted to do with these pieces. Once I got into slam poetry, however, and started getting into that world of poetry, I was indoctrinated into this group thinking which looked down on page poetry, because of the fact that many traditional and page poets looks down on slam. I know I know – politics. Whatevs.

To be real though, there doesn’t have to be a line between the two forms. I think a good poet is able to cross the barriers of both forms – spoken and page. I mean why limit ones art work to just one form? My recent goal as a poet is to push the boundaries of what I’m comfortable with, and to explore and push myself as much as I can to write and tell the story however it needs to be told. In the end, my big question when writing isn’t always “Should this piece be a page poem or a performance poem?” Most of the time, my only question is, “How should this story be told?”


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Memories in Translation

As a poet, I naturally have an obsession with language. I pay attention to conversations to pick up phrases and images that I find beautiful, fishing for little moments that I can insert into stanzas of writing – this applies to both the Marshallese and English language. But while I pay attention to the Marshallese language and make a conscientious effort to include it within my poetry to reflect the way that it permeates my everyday experience, I also have to admit that I just don’t have a depth of understanding with Marshallese that I have with English. I don’t speak fluent Marshallese. In fact, I speak broken Marshallese. And this (sigh) is a constant source of shame and embarrassment for me. AND also a constant source of poetry! (Yaaaay.)

At one time in my life I remember when I spoke and thought in pure, unfiltered Marshallese, with no taint of an English accent. My earliest memory is of scribbling on a piece of paper with my aunt and proudly announcing “Look I can speak English!” and proceeded to read from my scribbles and do an impersonation of what I thought sounded like English. “Sheshesheshe,” I babbled to my aunt, who only nodded encouragingly instead of just shattering my childhood world like she should have. I guess at that age English just sounded like a bunch of “s” sounds to me. Which makes sense, I guess, since there is no “s” in the Marshallese language.

It’s interesting to note that this memory I have is in English – as I remember what I said to be in English. But I must have been speaking Marshallese or at least that’s what I gather from what I said to my aunt. Which means that even my memories have been translated. Every piece of dialogue from my past, every Marshallese sound – erased.

When I came back to the Marshalls after college, one of the first things I had to confront was this severe inadequacy. I enrolled in a beginner’s Marshallese class at College of the Marshall Islands along with a bunch of foreigners. (Talk about depressing.) I bought spoken Marshallese and also a Marshallese handbook by a world teach. (Again – depressing.) Suddenly, I was learning Marshallese from a book. I was learning Marshallese from a book written by an American. (How. Ironic.) I guess I could say something here about how it makes it even worse that I’m learning my own language from an American handbook because of the fact that it was the American culture that encouraged the trope of white washing the immigrant so hard that even my parents and teachers believed that I could gleam bright and brilliant if there was no trace of my original culture. But I digress.

Either way, between the lines of those texts teaching me my own language and between hearing the warbled conversations around me, I was, at some point, inspired. I heard and read a poem waiting to be born. A poem that was full of embarrassment.

For a few of these embarrassing poems, I decided on using the format of those Spoken Marshallese texts – warping them and editing them to display the act of relearning one’s language and culture. It allowed me a little distance without ripping open the wound, and added a little textual fun for me as a poet.

Relearning my language is a constant struggle that I will probably be grappling with for the rest of my life. It also makes me pay attention to language and appreciate it in my own way. Hopefully, at some point, I’ll be able to compose an entire poem in Marshallese, with the same ease and comfort that I have with English. Until then, I’ll keep going back to my Spoken Marshallese and Marshallese dictionary. I’ll keep consulting my family members to check my written Marshallese. And I’ll keep practicing the language – with a touch of compassion, patience, and a little sense of humor to keep me afloat. And I’ll keep writing these embarrassing-ass poems.

 

Spoken Marshallese Lesson Nine: A Conversation Drill

 You will often be questioned by other Marshallese, especially those born and raised at home. This is a good chance to practice the proper response (you will practice as B).

 A: Kwojela ke enwor? Do you know how to fish?

B: Ijaje. Kwomaron ke katakin io? I don’t know how. Can you teach me?

 

A: Kwojela ke inon? Do you know how to tell Marshallese legends/stories?

B: Ijaje. Kwomaron ke katakin io? I don’t know how. Can you teach me?

 

A: Kwojela ke kowainini? Do you know how to pick coconuts?

B: Ijaje. Kwomaron ke katakin io? I don’t know how. Can you teach me?

 

A: Kwojela ke umum ma? Do you know how to cook breadfruit in the earth?

B. Ijaje. Kwomaron ke katakin io? I don’t know how. Can you teach me?

 

A: Ijjab kanuij jella, ak inaj kajion. I’m not an expert – but I can try.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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A word about my mother

 

For this week’s post I’ve been asked to reflect on the influence that my mother has had on my writing. Talk about a tough assignment! I could write an entire book about my mother – and eventually I plan on doing so (expect a biography in maybe 6-10 years). But for this blog post, I’ll stick to the basic facts which explain one of the poems I’ve written about her.

For those who aren’t aware, my mother is Hilda Heine. That name might not mean that much to those who aren’t in the Pacific, specifically the education world of the Pacific, but in that world and in the Marshalls, she’s a pretty big deal. That might sound arrogant and condescending but hey – I’m just really proud to be her daughter.

My mother gained some pretty well-deserved attention when she became the first and so far only person in the Marshall Islands with a PhD. Before that, she was Secretary of Education in the Marshalls, and before that she established and became the first President of the College of Marshall Islands (got it WASC accredited and everything). Before that, she had years of experience as a teacher and a counselor. Her PhD studied what factors made for successful Marshallese high school students in America. She knows Marshallese education, from the top to the bottom and all around it. And she did all this while raising me and my brother. Two years ago, she decided the only way she could really make changes in educational system the Marshall Islands was to run for senator and to take on the institution of education itself. The year I returned from Mills College after receiving my bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing, I was thrown into helping my mother campaign for the Aur Atoll Senator’s seat.

Helping my mother campaign exposed me to the nitty gritty world of Marshallese politics – one that is incredibly narrow and restrictive for Marshallese women (Out of 33 senators, only 1 woman is ever voted to become a senator for the past 2 terms).  It also exposed me to another layer of my mother’s strength and pretty much all around amazingness. It took guts and tough skin to take on all these men and put yourself in the running, and to also put up with the slanderous lies of some of the opponents and mistreatment of even some supporters.

I helped weave banninur, or Marshallese woven baskets of food along with my all my aunties and cousins so we could sell them and fundraise for Mom, along with helping to run a big Bingo game with a bunch of prizes (one of the best ways to raise a lot of money in the Marshalls can I just tell you). While running around amidst money hungry Marshallese grannies and aunties all sprawled out on the floor with their bingo cards and cardboard boxes, selling tickets, taking money, selling food, announcing winners, it struck me that we were straight up hustling.

Besides hustling, I also helped her design her campaign fliers, and took a six hour boat ride with her from our home atoll of Majuro to Aur atoll, the island she was running to represent. I filmed and photographed her as she gave speeches on why the ri-Aur should vote for her, and helped fill all the plates of food. I walked house to house with her and listened as she introduced herself to each ri-Aur. The trip to Aur was especially eye opening to me. I wasn’t only impressed with my mom’s strength – I was impressed with her entire campaign army of women – my aunties and grandmothers who came to support my mother who were miles more useful than I was with cooking, cleaning, talking story, organizing, arranging, etc.

I came away from that experience with a newfound respect for the ingenuity, beauty and strength of my mother and of all Marshallese women. And I’m happy to add that Mom actually won – again as the only female senator in the entire Nitijela, or RMI government. And she became appointed Minister of Education.

So what kind of influence has my mother had on me? Her drive and work ethic has definitely rubbed off on me, if only slightly, as well as her respect and admiration for education, and all that it can afford us in this life. It also made me realize that anything really is possible – that if a girl from the outerislands of Jaluit who used to run around barefoot with scabs on her legs could grow up to get a PhD and become the first female Minister of Education, then I’ll be damned if anything stops ME from achieving all of my dreams. She has not just been an amazing mother, but she’s been first and foremost my inspiration and my most important mentor in life. She has guided me in making all of my decisions in my career, and was one of the first in the family to recognize the importance of my writing and my becoming a writer.

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Campaigning in Aur

I.

After six hours on a ship, women

spill from the fiberglass hands

of bubbling speedboats, women

in popsicle colored baseball caps and silk

guams, faded muumuus, and flowered

chuukese skirts, whooping, hollering, laughing

in the Aur Atoll water.

My mother is running for the Aur Atoll senator’s seat.

Throughout all the elections, 32 senators elected

were men

Throughout all the elections, only 1 senator elected

was a woman.

My mother knows the stakes

She knows the odds are slim

So she disembarks on her motherland flanked

by a campaign army

of women.

For many

this is their first time back home

after many years.

For me and my cousin this is our first time ever.

II.

My mother informs us -

the youngest of the crew -

that this is no vacation cruise no

jumbo we’re here to work.

So we unroll the bags, help string up lights

wake up at dawn and trudge door to door

filming, snapping photographs, both of us

hauling stacks of fliers listing

my mother’s genealogy

her work history

and her campaign promises.

We march

beneath the shade of gnarled breadfruit trees thicker

than any I’ve ever seen, dodge

barking dogs with bared

teeth, pass concrete shells

of abandoned houses and curious children threading

through grass as tall as our knees.

As we march she stops to talk

to a man who husks white flakes

into a plastic orange basin, surrounded

by an audience of bloated bags of coconuts,

she talks

to the woman who stitches spiderwebs

of pandanus from rolls

of sun-dried plaits stacked up around her.

At night we help the other women fill plastic plates

meant to persuade

the bellies of ri-Aur seated,

at the feet

of my mother, her voice amplified

III.

This is my mother promising a change

This is my aunty stirring a large pot of homemade stew

This is my cousin promoting WUTMI – her NGO for women

This is another aunty discussing lowering diabetes

This is another aunty stringing a lei of flowers

This is another cousin strumming an ukulele and singing

This is a grandma telling us stories

of what Aur used to be

This is the mother of all mothers

standing in the oceanside

watching

IV.

And this is my cousin and I

running away

into tangled leaves climbing moss and whispering bushes

where we splash

into water clear as a mirror, the sky – a giant empty canvas

We emerge

hair still wet

as we stroll beneath a warm rain that drizzles on our face

Aunties we’ve just met

call us in

to their smoky cook houses

where fresh tonaj, hot

and soft melt in our mouths

as we fall asleep on a sun worn jaki

we fall asleep as girls

listening to the women the women the women

talkingwhisperinglaughing

the women we hope to one day be


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Calling all poets and writers of the Pacific: submit your work!

So I’m honored to announce that I’ve been asked to be a guest editor for a special issue of blackmail press – a highly reputable quarterly online poetry journal of the Pacific. You can check out their website to read their past issues here:

http://www.blackmailpress.com/

blackmail press has published the work of Pacific giants like Albert Wendt, Karlo Mila, Tusiata Avia, and Selina Tusitala Marsh amongst others. They’ve also published a lot of new up-and-coming artists as well. For this issue, the online editor Doug Poole, another amazing Pacific writer, decided to reach out to the Center for the Pacific Island Studies to do a special issue, and to collaborate with CPIS’s Katherine Higgins, Outreach Director. Katherine was thoughtful (or crazy) enough to ask me to me if I’d be interested in taking on the role of guest editor – she felt a CPIS student might benefit from the experience. I’ve been itching to get some editor experience for a minute now, so I took it on.

One of my first tasks as guest editor was to come up with a theme for this issue. I had to really think about this for a while, because I’ve had no previous experience doing that sort of thing. But after a while I decided on the broad but basic topic of FOOD (not a far stretch for someone who was 8 months pregnant at the time – I was always thinking about food, if not the impending birth itself). I presented the concept of food using the metaphor of the banninur – the Marshallese word for a basket woven from coconut leaves that Marshallese generally use to offer various types of food. The usual banninur might have freshly cooked chicken, fried fish, salt fish, a few young coconut for drinking, bwiro ( a type of preserved breadfruit or pandanus fruit), breadfruit, etc. So for this issue of blackmail press, we’re asking writers to offer up a banninur of poetry and writing all around the topic of food – memories of food, politics of food, all that good stuff.

Submissions are due by May 1, and can be sent to blackmailprss36@gmail.com. For more information, check out the flier below, and please share and submit with anyone who might be interested:

blackmail press


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“My Rosy Cousin” wins 3rd place in UH Poetry Contest

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So I just found out that a poem I had written about one of my crazier cousins won 3rd place in a University of Hawaii writing contest called the Ian MacMillan Writing Award. The writing contest is sponsored by the English Department and it’s open to the public, not just students. You can find out more info about the award here: http://www.kaleo.org/hawaii_review/ian_macmillan/ I had submitted that piece on a fluke, and really hadn’t expected it to win so it was a very nice surprise! Not to mention the other poets who won 2nd and 1st place – Lyz Soto and Rajiv Mohabir, are phenomenal poets whom I really admire.

One of the first things I had to do when I first found out I won, was facebook message my cousin and let her know I had written about her. This brought back a memory from a few years ago when one of my cousins mentioned off handedly that, “You have to watch what you say around Dede – she might write about you.” (quick fyi – Dede is my family nickname. It’s Marshallese and it’s a sort of shorthand of the way one might pronounce Kathy with a Marshallese accent.) “You have to watch what you say around Dede – she might write about you,” sounds pretty close to threatening – kinda funny.

Which brings to mind a few issues with writing in general. Namely, what to do when you want to write about family members – and it isn’t always the rosiest picture? What kinds of responsibility do you have to take for airing out the skeletons in your family’s closet?

I know that for my poetry, I’ve been very selective with what I’ve shared and what I haven’t.

And yet, I also wish I could just publish and write anything without having to worry – there are a lot of conversations revolving around abuse and addiction that I wish was more openly discussed. In my mind, it just seems healthier to acknowledge these struggles and talk through them rather than sweeping them under the rug and pretending they don’t exist. How will we ever find solutions to our problems if we don’t acknowledge them?

Either way, in the end I would always choose to put my family’s needs first. So if they don’t want a particular piece out there, then I would respect their wishes. This means taking the crucial step of sharing their poems with them – which is incredibly scary for me, but might ultimately lead to healing as well (at least I hope so. I haven’t tried often enough just yet).

Anyways, luckily my cousin loved the poem when I showed it to her. She said it’s not only true but really funny. I was worried she might not like it or might be offended by it – it’s pretty raw and honest to be real and not all of it is super flattering (eg – sections which highlight my experiences with her drunken nights – which were actually pretty entertaining if you understand Marshallese and if you knew her. “Kwonej loe” translates to “You’ll see” – a very infamous and common Marshallese threat older siblings and parents use all the time).

To be real, though, the poem commemorates an important relationship I had growing up. My cousin, with all her beautiful imperfections, had a huge influence on the way I was shaped and how I saw the world, even when it meant being bullied for being the “white” one of the family because I liked poetry and piano (we can go into internalized racism on another post lol that would take a while) or how she re-introduced me to rebellion and alcoholism (the funny bits), family shaming (also funny – in a heartbreaking sort of way at times), and how we processed living in the diaspora (“doesn’t that sound just like home?” was a line we constantly repeated – how home, the Marshall Islands, was constantly in our thoughts, even when we were so far away).

Either way,  it wasn’t all bullying and somewhat unhealthy dynamics – it was through her that I first learned about the Pacific Island studies department at UH – that there were actually Pacific people who studied our cultures and histories. She was the one who introduced me to the pacific greats such as Albert Wendt, Sia Figiel, Epeli Hau’ofa. She also continues to be known as the best storyteller in our family, hands down – no one can tell a story about any of our aunties and cousins and grandparents the way that she does. She can get the entire room rolling on the floor laughing.

So here’s “My Rosy Cousin” in it’s entirety:

My Rosy Cousin

My cousin is bloody roses tatted / on her ankle / her knuckles

white as rice / gripping the steering wheel / cruising

thru manoa / sunglasses ignoring those redred lights

My cousin is one cold pepsi one chocolate hershey bar /

the daily ransom for driving me to school / lets make

a quickstop / pitstop / 7eleven / gimme your money /

you live with your parents / you don’t gotta pay rent

My cousin is four a.m. taptaptaps on the window / slurred threats /

Koppeloke kojem en/ kwonej loe / passed out on the front lawn / 

mom’s pissed again / ritto bata tossed between aunties lips /

when will she ever learn / coffee cups and morning gossip

My cousin is bullying / dede you’re so stupid / dede you’re so useless /

other times she cuts/ straight thru bone / dede you’re as white / white /

white as they come / i mean what other marshallese writes /

poetry and plays piano

My cousin goes to college / talks about classes with hawaiian professors

and tongan scholars / tells us tragic samoan love stories and funny

fijian satires / doesn’t that sound just like home / doesn’t that sound just like Majuro

My cousin is foreign movie nights / dvds from the sinclair library / porcelain

women and hibiscus lipstick / arched bare backs against dew drop mountains /

thick cigars and smoky brothels / how we swoon over those poetic subtitles

My cousin asked me to write a poem / a poem about her / so i said that i would /

a poem about how i bloomed / inside her voice / how i was also pruned /

cut raw / dripping bloody / just like her ankle red roses


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Birthing a Manuscript, Birthing for Real

basket3

This past week I took my first few tentative steps towards putting together my manuscript – a pretty big deal considering how long I’ve wanted to publish my own book of poetry. It’s taken me a while to reflect on all of this, though, because besides preparing to give birth to my first manuscript, I’m also preparing to give birth for real – to my first baby girl.

Ironic isn’t it? I spent all this time thinking up this manuscript that surrounds one topic: Iep Jeltok. “Iep jeltok ajiri ne,” I’ve written over and over – which translates roughly from Marshallese to English as “You are fortunate to have a girl child.” It’s a common Marshallese saying, it’s my favorite saying, it’s been my filler as my title and overall theme for my manuscript for years, it’s even the title of this blog and was also my mother’s campaign slogan when she ran for the Aur Atoll Senator’s seat in the Marshall Islands this past term. I wrote it so much, that I’d like to think that it’s almost as if I wrote this baby girl inside me into existence.

“Woman is a basket facing the speaker,” is another way that “Iep jeltok” has been defined – which is opposite of the saying for boys – “iep jeltak,” meaning the basket facing away from the speaker. The metaphor of the basket represents everything that the child has in store for their family – everything this child has and will offer. When a girl is born, her basket faces towards the speaker – in this case, the speaker being the family she is born into. Everything she has to offer goes towards her family. When a boy is born, however, everything he has to offer is given to others instead. This saying refers specifically to our matrilineal society – lineage and land is traced directly through our mothers, not our fathers. So, when a girl child is born, the family receives all of her blessings, whereas when a boy child is born, he will only marry into another woman’s family and that family will benefit from him.

So yes, I’ve written “Iep Jeltok” over and over. I’ve contemplated what it means to be a woman, what it means to be a girl. What it means to offer – especially what it is that I have to offer. And now, to find out I will soon be blessed with a baby girl – well, it’s just a little ironic and meaningful isn’t it? I had a conversation the other day with a friend of mine who really tripped me out when she pointed out that when you’re pregnant with a girl, you’re really carrying future generations within you – not just her, but also her children, and her children’s children. Kinda like Russian dolls. Kinda like a basket, within a basket, within a basket. Generations of blessings.

With all of this baby hoopla I’ve been going through with my third trimester (moving, nesting hardcore, freaking out over cloth diapers and giving birth, over-researching everything about babies even though I know it’s totally futile, and also stuffing my face and watching way too much episodes of Bones while I’m at it) it’s been a bit harder to focus on my manuscript, even though it’s been a life dream of mine. I’ve wanted to publish a real book of poetry since I started writing in high school. I just never thought it would actually happen. And now, here I am. Putting the pieces of the puzzle together. I’m almost there, and yet I’m also stalling. And I know I’m stalling because of anxiety and fear. And after sitting down and journaling for a bit, I came to the conclusion that I’ve had a lot of anxiety and fear about so many things lately – not just this manuscript but also (duh) motherhood! And you know what? I have to say that I’ve found that a few of my fears and anxiety about motherhood are actually parallel with my fears and anxiety about my manuscript. Most of this fear has to do with not being brave enough, not being perfect enough, but mostly just not being enough.

“How am I supposed to write an actual collection of poetry?” Parallels with “How am I supposed to actually be a mother?”

Of course, there’s decidedly way more pressure with raising a human being than publishing a book. But still, there’s a simple answer to both of these questions.

If not me – then who?

No one else can raise baby girl the way I might. Sure, other family members would do a decent, if not great job (and it’s a pretty common cultural practice). But I owe it to her, and to myself, to try to be the best mother that I can be.

And no one other Marshallese is as obsessed with writing a book of poetry (at least, not that I know of). Sure, there might be another Marshallese writer down the road who publishes a collection. But will it be this collection? Will it look and feel like mine?

Even if I’m not perfect, and I’m not the most seasoned poet with an MFA or the most well-rounded highly qualified supermom with the perfect job, at least I can give it a shot right? Fact of the matter is, I just gotta suck it up, hold my breath, and dive in.

And with baby on the way, I have to consider the possibility that she will read it. That not only will she read it, but that she might have a daughter who might read it, who might also have a daughter who might read it, etc. etc. A basket. Within a basket. Within a basket. My offering.

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