ginen (understory)

653 total words    

3 minutes of reading

(first trimester)


[we] are watching a documentary

about home birth when [you] first feel

[neni] kick // if our doctor recommends

a “c-section”  if [we] cut open

the bellies of whales and birds,

what fragments will [we] shore //

plastic multiplies, leaches toxins, litters

the beaches of oʻahu : this gathering

place, this embryo plastic is the “perfect”

creation because it never dies // i wish

our daughter was derived

from oil so that she will survive

our wasteful hands // so that

she, too, will have a “great future”

(first ocean)

during the rim of the pacific military exercises, 2014


when [neni] was newborn, [you] rinsed

her in the sink // pilot whales, deafened

by sonar, are bloated and stranded

ashore now [you] bathe her in the tub,

clean behind her ears, sing “my island

maui,” written by your dad // his ashes

scattered in the pacific decades ago

when [we] bring [neni] to the beach

for the first time, [you] secure her

to your chest and walk into the sea

what will the aircrafts, ships, soldiers,

and weapons of 22 nations take from [us]

// “i wish she could’ve met my dad,” [you] say

schools of recently spawned fish, lifeless,

spoil the tidelands // is oceania memorial

or target, economic zone or monument,

territory or mākua // a cold salt wind surges

[we] shiver like generations of coral reef


(first ultrasound)


ekungok: listen to heartbeats

echoing // is this the sound

of our ancestors pulsing

your taut skin drum

pele dances towards [us]

// is our house prepared

for birth the ocean absorbs

carbon dioxide then acidifies

// whales, birds, and fish

change migration patterns

my mom calls from california,

talks drought and wildfires //

[neni] will be born in april

of the hottest year in history

[we] buy an air conditioner,

chicken broth simmers //

“she’s kicking,” [you] say,

i touch your warm belly

until [we] become one

body heat // “e pele ē”

(third trimester)

january 27, 2014


the wind billows our bedroom

curtains like the vowels

in hiroshima, enewetak, mororua

// the branches of our unborn

daughter’s respiratory tree

are just beginning to radiate

[we] lather in coconut oil,

spoon tight like the vowels

in nagasaki, trinity, bikini // the sky

breaks into a thousand suns

rain clouds baptize guam

in strontium-90 fallout,

circa 1954 // what cancers remain

buried in pacific bodies like unexploded

ordnances what downwind toxins

will [neni] inhale when her lungs

first expand // what wars of light

will irradiate when she first opens

her sublime eyes

(first birthday)


[you] clip her tiny fingernails // “the rape of oceania

began with guam” how do [we] protect daughters

from becoming target and conquest #yesallwomen

// [you] brush her hair and sing a hawaiian nursery

rhyme about the body parts, “nā mahele o ke kino”

: “poʻo, maka, ihu, waha” (touch head, eyes, nose,

mouth) who will recite the names of those

disappeared from reservations and maquiladoras

#mmiw, from villages and schools #bringback

-ourgirls // “pepeiao, lima, manamanalima” (touch

ears, hold up hands, wiggle fingers) [you] nurse

[neni] and fall asleep, still latched // “kuli, wāwae,

manamanawāwae” (touch knees, feet, wiggle toes)

// for a moment, she smiles // “me kuʻu poʻohiwi”

(rest hands on shoulders) what does she dream

i whisper : “[neni], no matter how far from home

the storms take you, remember to carry our words

in your canoe // [neni], remember : you will always

belong, you will always be sheltered, and you

will always be sacred in our ocean of stories

Reprinted from Kinship: Belonging in a World of Relations, Vol. 2: Place.


Some translations: 

ginen: “by way of,” in Chamorro (the Indigenous peoples of the Mariana Islands, including Guam) 

m?kua: “parent,” in Hawaiian

e pele ?: “O Pele,” which is a line from a traditional Hawaiian chant to honor Pele, goddess of fire and volcanoes 

ekungok: “to listen to,” in Chamorro

  • Craig Santos Perez

    Craig Santos Perez is an indigenous Pacific Islander writer from Guahan (Guam). He is the author of five books of poetry and the coeditor of five anthologies. He teaches at the University of Hawai‘i, Manoa.

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