Blog · Poetry

Dear Matafele Peinem

On 23 September 2014, 26 year old poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, from the Marshall Islands, addressed the Opening Ceremony of the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Summit. Kathy was selected from among over 500 civil society candidates in an open, global nomination process conducted by the UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service.

Kathy performed a new poem entitled “Dear Matafele Peinem”, written to her daughter. The poem received a standing ovation and was said to make world leaders shed tears. Kathy is also a teacher, journalist and founder of the environmental NGO, Jo-jikum.

Transcript:

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 thunder thighs and lightning shrieks
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
some 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 edgeno 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 fiji
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,
and 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
we are spreading the word
and there are thousands out on the street
marching with signs
hand in hand
chanting for change NOW
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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