Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner

a basket of writing from author Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner

Lavender Saltwater (a poem)

2 Comments

These past few weeks I’ve been totally swamped with preparations for Global Divestment Day (which you can read more about here: http://www.trust.org/item/20150209145810-c47vs), prepping for a few trips coming up, and also, most importantly, preparing for my daughter’s first birthday.

For those who don’t know, first birthdays are a HUGE deal for Marshallese. First birthdays, or kemem, as we call them, are the superbowl of marshallese parties. We go alll out. Most kemems cater to over a thousand people. Ours is considered “small” (we’re expecting 200-300 people). When the kemem is announced, pigs are roasted, fish are cooked in the earth, pineep or coconut oil are bottled as gift giveaways, family members spend weeks practicing dance routines for the big night, and baby’s face adorns stickers, huge banners, balloons, tshirts, invitations, cakes and cupcake toppers. And everyone – and I mean everyone – is invited. It’s all about coming together as a community – all to celebrate this beautiful child in our life.

In honor of baby’s kemem, I’m posting a quick poem I wrote about her birth. Some of these lines were actually written in the delivery room (I typed them into my phone). It’s dedicated to my friend Grace who was our family’s doula, who helped guide me through the scariest, most painful, most rewarding journey I’ve ever been on.

Lavender Salt-Water

Waves of

contractions

crash

into me

crack me

open split

down the middle

I imagine

the eruption: a bulging

sack of slime and blood and

spit.

Do not measure

the breaths the minutes

the hours of clenched

fists curled toes

eyes pinched

shut tight

closed

Just inhale

the saving

Grace

of hot towels

dipped in sweet lavender

Dream of saltwater

orange fruit and sunsets

uncle clyde aunty kaka

mom hetine tamera

baby dukie all of us

that one picnic afternoon

that ordinary sunday

just think

of her

seeing it all

someday

and when she

is pulled

from my body

an army of white

coats shout

an order:

OPEN

YOUR

EYES

And there she is.

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Author: Kathy/Dede

Kathy Jetnil Kijiner is a Marshallese poet and activist. Her writing highlights the traumas of colonialism, racism, forced migration, the legacy of American nuclear testing, and the impending threats of climate change. Bearing witness at the front lines of various activist movements inspires her work and has propelled her poetry onto international stages. She has performed her poetry in front of audiences ranging from elementary school students to most recently over a hundred world leaders at the United Nations Climate Summit, where she performed a poem to her daughter, "Dear Matafele Peinam". Currently she lives and works in the Marshall Islands, where she teaches Pacific studies courses full time at the College of the Marshall Islands. She is also Co-Director of the youth environmentalist non-profit Jo-Jikum, which empowers youth by educating them on the importance of environmentalism and mobilizing them to work toward solutions for environmentalist issues. Check out their website: www.jojikum.org

2 thoughts on “Lavender Saltwater (a poem)

  1. Lovely and salty poem. 🙂 Congrats on your daughter and her first birthday celebration! blessings, Brad

  2. Thanks for taking me back 26 & 28 years to the births of my son & daughter. Your words, poetry & visuals are spot-on & true! Blessings to you, your spouse, your child, & your community.

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