Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner



After he felt the rain of bombs
that left puddles of silver shrapnel, slivers of
splinters where houses once stood and charred
bodies—both japanese and marshallese—

After he watched soldiers shoot
a woman’s ears off
because her husband
was a deserter, an accused traitor,

After he watched his chief, strung up
by his ankles, beaten raw for stealing
from a dwindling supply of coconuts,

After fugitive nights, when fishing was banned,
when he’d slip onto the reef flat, breathless,
the moon curved, shining like
the outlawed fishhook, gripped tight
between his fingers

And after nights when even this
became dangerous, after the children
stopped asking for his stolen catch of fish,
after even they had withered away,
rows of ribs smiling
grotesque grins through skin


After all of that
it must have seemed
heaven sent
a gift from God
this gift from the americans,
this shining tower
of food
placed before him
box after box after box
of canned spam, flaky biscuits,
chocolate bars, dry sausages, hard candy, and
bags and bags of rice all waiting
to be eaten

He remembers
he cried
it was so


Every day of the life he led after he remembers
that pile of food taller
than any building he had ever seen

He remembers it as he pops
open a can of vienna sausage, savors
the salty grease on his warm rice, the taste
of a filled belly
He remembers it as he slices spam, sizzling
hot on the pan, he remembers it
as he drizzles soy sauce
into a boiling pot of crispy ramen


And even after
his breathing
turns heavy
even after his joints protested the walk to the store
even after
the devious tingle trickled into his arms, even after
the doctors told him the leg
would have to go,
even then
he never
licking the grease
from his fingers
that still felt haunted
by the outlawed


When his children asked him why
he wouldn’t, couldn’t listen, why
he kept eating the food his doctors
had prescribed against, even after
they begged
he merely
his restless

He had been hungry.
He would never be hungry again.

Baninnur: A Basket of Food

Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner is a Marshallese writer, spoken word artist, and journalist born in the Marshall Islands and raised in Hawaiʻi. She has performed her poetry in the Marshall Islands, Hawaiʻi, New York, Los Angeles, London, and Taiwan. This past May, she completed her Master’s degree in Pacific Island Studies from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, where she focused on reframing indigenous Marshallese literature and examined how Marshallese express themselves through the different mediums of oral traditions, stick charts, tattoos, and writing.

detail of Diasporic Waters - Joy Enomoto - 2014