(Forgive the long introduction, but this month’s poem is a special one, as I personally know this poet, and am extremely moved by his work. All I ask for is your patience- I promise you that you will be rewarded with such a rich poem, as well as a rich experience, at the end of this post. Thank you). ❤
It has been a long while since I have posted my last “A Favorite Poem” issue. As you probably know, I was super busy in April with traveling and packing up to head back to the good ol’ US of A.
…or is it?
The question of whether the United States is actually good and just in touting its virtues of freedom and such is raised through the poetics of Guam native Craig Santos Perez. And today, I happen to share with you one of his poems on the matter (awesome transition there, am I right?)! 😉
Any case, let’s rewind a bit.
To start, perhaps some of you don’t know what Guam is, or rather, where it is on the world map. Simply put, Guam is a U.S. island territory off in the Pacific Ocean, home to about 165,000 people with a long history of both indigenous Chamorro culture and colonialism- by the Portuguese in the 16th century, the Japanese during World War II, and while debatable, the United States following the Japanese’s defeat in 1944. Following the war, Guam became heavily dependent on the U.S., and its economy is largely based on tourism and its armed forces.
That said, you can see how Guam’s status as a so-called “unincorporated territory” can be problematic for the people’s autonomy. This is where Craig Santos Perez comes in: while not a politician, he might as well be one. Especially with all of his politically-charged poems on Guam that he puts out.
Seriously, Perez is my hero. I first discovered his poetry in one of my English classes in college. Not only was I immediately drawn to his experimental, almost-minimalist style of writing, but also the passion in which he discusses such issues of Chamorro culture as a Chamorro himself. I even dedicated my final paper in that class to one of his poetry collections, [saina], and since then have still enjoyed reading his works. Heck, I even reached out to him on his personal blog, and we even became friends on Facebook. Super down-to-earth guy! 🙂
Although I love many of his poems, “Care” is one that really struck me. I’m amazed that I had looked past it during the first read, and it wasn’t until a mutual friend showed it to me through the Academy of American Poets’ “Poem-A-Day” (in which the poem was featured) that I slowed down, re-read it, and found myself incredibly touched by it.
I am sure that many contemporary poets strive for nuance in their works, whether through imagery, form, or even better a mixture of both. Craig Santos Perez doesn’t strive for nuance- he owns it. The juxtaposition that I found between the speaker caring for his young daughter and the refugee crisis affecting the world was astounding, as he artfully weaves through the two of them with nothing but words. After all, it is poetry.
Now, I won’t go any further in terms of giving my personal, line-by-line interpretation of “Care,” as (1) I have already exhausted the length of this introduction (and myself for writing it), and (2) I would like for you, as the audience, to find your own interpretation of this poem.
…but, more important than anything, I would like for you to enjoy it as much as I did. Thank you for reading up to this point. Cheers! 🙂
Care (by Craig Santos Perez)
My 16-month old daughter wakes from her nap
and cries. I pick her up, press her against my chest
and rub her back until my palm warms
like an old family quilt. “Daddy’s here, daddy’s here,”
I whisper. Here is the island of Oʻahu, 8,500 miles
from Syria. But what if Pacific trade winds suddenly
became helicopters? Flames, nails, and shrapnel
indiscriminately barreling towards us? What if shadows
cast against our windows aren’t plumeria
tree branches, but soldiers and terrorists marching
in heat? Would we reach the desperate boats of
the Mediterranean in time? If we did, could I straighten
my legs into a mast, balanced against the pull and drift
of the current? “Daddy’s here, daddy’s here,” I
whisper. But am I strong enough to carry her across
the razor wires of sovereign borders and ethnic
hatred? Am I strong enough to plead: “please, help
us, please, just let us pass, please, we aren’t
suicide bombs.” Am I strong enough to keep walking
even after my feet crack like Halaby pepper fields after
five years of drought, after this drought of humanity.
Trains and buses rock back and forth to detention centers.
Yet what if we didn’t make landfall? What if here
capsized? Could you inflate your body into a buoy
to hold your child above rising waters? “Daddy’s
here, daddy’s here,” I whisper. Drowning is
the last lullaby of the sea. I lay my daughter
onto bed, her breath finally as calm as low tide.
To all the parents who brave the crossing: you and your
children matter. I hope your love will teach the nations
that emit the most carbon and violence that they should,
instead, remit the most compassion. I hope, soon,
the only difference between a legal refugee and
an illegal migrant will be how willing
we are to open our homes, offer refuge, and
carry each other towards the horizon of care.
— The Finicky Cynic
Check me out on Facebook! https://www.facebook.com/thefinickycynic