Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner: Dear Matafele Peinam

by
12 October 2018

On 23 September 2014, Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner, a Marshall Islander poet and spoken-word artist, addressed the opening ceremony of the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Summit, performing “Dear Matafele Peinem”, a poem written to her daughter

UN

Kathy and her family at the UN Climate Summit, 2014

Kathy and her family at the UN Climate Summit, 2014

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

Watch Ms Jetñil-Kijiner at the UN here: https://youtu.be/mc_IgE7TBSY

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