A patchwork quilt am I,
Woven and stitched together with different threads of culture.
My eyes see through strange worlds of color, tribes, and tongues.
I come from the fabric that doesn’t fit.
My feet have wheels that spin and bend,
My arms have wings that weave through big blue breath,
Sky and cloud.
I have found no place to plant these feet of mine.
I am the rootless child of melodious ponderings.
Where I’m from we sit in dirt,
Beneath wild palm trees and wafts of island breeze.
The munyeba holds our tribe,
Thatch roofs and concrete floors brim with the sounds of clapping hands,
Stomping feet and rhythmed dances to the drumming of Gilbertese hymns.
My feet feel the sting of baked earth beneath my toes,
I walk the village trail barefooted,
It is long and windy.
Rice and lice, this is what I know.
Roaches and rats scurry in our rafters.
Water runs three times a day, catch it quick before it runs away.
The village is my playground,
We gather bricks and twigs,
Trash and bits to play store near mud-baked pigs.
In Kiribati borrowing is way of life;
You cannot say NO.
You have to offer up what is asked of you,
Even if you love it so.
Sister and I found a brown pup,
We raised him as our own.
One day he disappeared.
I found a blood-trail by our hut before breakfast that day.
“Mother, mother where is pup?”
Finding out all so matter-of-factly,
He had been dragged in the dirt by night,
Stoned and beaten for meat.
The locals needed something to eat.
My pig was killed one day,
I saw five dark men take a knife and open up her belly,
They found eight piglets burrowed in her womb.
That day the village hut was filled with laughter-feasting…
I was a quiet-girl and ate with a somber-soul…
That day I lost my favorite play-mate.
One day Mei Mei (the chief’s wife) came by our hut,
Asking to boubouti our baby boy.
My first brother she wanted to name him as her own.
I thought I might lose him that day.
But Grandmother was there…
Because of her age, it trumped and out-weighted Mei Mei’s demand.
We all slept together that night.
I would sit and listen to Teka Teka speak of stories old,
She was white-haired, with skin wrinkled by time’s harsh handling.
She spoke of WWII when she was beaten and bruised by Japanese soldiers,
She watched as they turned her island home into a battlefield,
Palm trees were chopped down and aimed at the sky to appear as cannons to the other side.
They stripped her of her language, her tribal tongue.
Sometimes I would wade through the waters collecting bullets still scattered,
Some hidden, some more exposed.
I would collect them like pennies worn down by corrosion and sea.
I would remember, I would imagine what went on in those wild waves.
My skin, that pesky thing that sticks out most…
Keeping me from really fitting where I’m from,
Imatang that is what I am.
Sister and I walk from hut to market,
She wears a tea-towel around her shoulders to hide her vulnerable neck.
We gather stares, whispers, and jeers like pellets to our fragile frames.
Her hair is short, which isn’t custom.
We cannot hide our difference.
She vows to grow her hair long like the others and never get it cut.
I dream of being darker…
I cover my skin with a layer of Crisco,
So as to become golden-brown and hide my paleness with all its stigma.
I garden for hours in the Pacific heat.
My skin bakes and blisters under its brutality…
My failed attempt at blending, triggers shame and magnifies my difference.
Today I sit on cushioned seats,
Framed by homes with walls and windows, even doors that latch.
I don’t think twice about running a bath or drinking from a cup…
In fear of running dry, if my fingers are too slippery to hold it.
Here my skin packs a different kind of stigma, traced with privilege and power.
Now my face doesn’t keep me from blending-in with this sea of haole faces
Here this shade of skin, that I’m locked-in
Screams, “I am powerful, I belong.”
Still my heart sings a strange and different tune:
But I remember…
Sitting in the dirt, beneath wild palm trees and wafts of island breeze.
But I remember…
Feet baked by scorching heat.
But I remember…
Gathering stares, whispers, jeers and sneers, like bullets to my wooden frame.
This is where I’m from…
And I remember.