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.
 

More by Craig Santos Perez

SPAM's carbon footprint

Guam is considered the SPAM® capital of the world. On average, each Chamorro consumes 16 tins of SPAM® each year, which is more per capita than any country in the world. Headline: Guam Struggles to Find Its Roots From Beneath Growing Piles of SPAM®. Guam, Hawaii, and Saipan have the only McDonald's restaurants that feature SPAM® on the menu. I went to the "World's Largest K-Mart" in Guam and I was amazed at the SPAM® display…it was like a whole "Wall of SPAM®." SPAM® has a place not only in the stomachs of Guam's people, but in our hearts as well. Here SPAM® is considered a gourmet luxury and is often presented as a gift at birthdays, weddings, and funerals. Hormel even made a Hot and Spicy SPAM® especially formulated for Guam with Tabasco already added to it! A culinary legacy of American troops stationed in the Pacific during World War Two, the GIs noticed how much the people of Guam loved SPAM®, so they started to jokingly call it "Chamorro Steak." Not coincidentally, SPAM® is also popular in Hawaii, the Philippines, Okinawa, and Saipan, all places with a history of a U.S. military presence. In fact, SPAM® may have been responsible for Hitler's defeat. The Allies would not have won WWII without SPAM®. Plus, it's processed so I guess we can keep it forever right? Wow, I haven't seen this much SPAM® since I lived on Guam and the car dealership there started offering 50lb bags of rice and cases of SPAM® with every purchase. The end result can be found in the newspaper's obituary pages. In 2004, Public Health reported that heart disease was the leading cause of death on Guam, representing 33.7% of deaths. You can rub the entire block of SPAM®, along with the accompanying delicious gelatinous goo, onto wood furniture. The oils from the SPAM® moisturize the wood and give the furniture a nice luster. Plus, you'll have enough left over to polish some of your neighbors' furniture. You'll be like Santa Claus meets Mr. Clean. How did I miss hearing about the "In Honor of Guam's Liberation" SPAM®! I thought I had collected them all! But as I got older and tried to be "healthier" (whatever that means, haha), SPAM® faded from my consciousness. Then I met my future wife, who is Hawaiian, and SPAM® became part of my life again. Maybe the economic downturn will help people truly appreciate SPAM® instead of loathing it. SPAM® doesn't have to be unhealthy. I eat SPAM® on a regular basis and I'm not dead yet. Just switch to SPAM® Lite. In the devastating wake of Typhoon Omar, SPAM® arrived. Hormel Foods donated 40,000 cases of the belly-filling foodstuff to the Salvation Army's disaster relief effort. That's about six million SPAM®burgers! Despite rumors, SPAM® is NOT made of such odds and ends as hooves, ears, brains, native people, or whole baby pigs. SPAM® is for realz made of pork shoulder, ham, salt, water, sugar, and sodium nitrate, if you can belief it. The name itself stands for Specially Processed Army Meat, Salted Pork And More, Super Pink Artificial Meat, Squirrel Possum And Mouse, or Some People Are Missing. My uncle is the reigning Guam SPAM® king. He won the last SPAM® cook-off with his Spicy SPAM® meatballs. I will never forget the two-pound SPAM® bust of George Washington he made for Liberation Day, toasted crispy on the outside with raw egg yolk in the hollow center. The kids loved it! Only a fool would start a company in Guam that provides SPAM® protection. We don't want to be protected from SPAM® bots. For Xmas, I bought a SPAM® snow-globe featuring a can of SPAM® sitting on an island; turn it over and a typhoon swirls madly, unable to unseat SPAM® from its place of honor. I have a souvenir can I bought after seeing Monty Python's SPAM®ALOT on Broadway. It cost me $10 and is the most expensive SPAM® I've ever bought. I will never eat it.

understory (week 35)

“she’s kicking”
nālani says 
 
holds my
hands against
 
her belly 
so warm! 
 
chicken broth
boils in
 
the crockpot
bones turn
 
in briny 
liquid—baby
 
kicks again
can she
 
feel my
body heat? 
 
magma rises
water into
 
steam—Kīlauea 
drill, turbine
 
Mauna Loa
grid, undersea
 
cables—is
geothermal safe? 
 
baby’s so 
active tonight 
 
nālani presses
my palms
 
deeper into
this skin
 
drum e
Pele e

from Understory

(to my wife, nālani
and our 7-month old daughter, kai)

kai cries
from teething—

how do
new parents

comfort a
child in

pain, bullied
in school,

shot by
a drunk

APEC agent?
#justicefor

-kollinelderts—
nālani gently

massages kai's
gums with

her fingers—
how do

we wipe
away tear-

gas and
blood? provide

shelter from
snipers? disarm

occupying armies?
#freepalestine—

nālani sings
to kai

a song
about the

Hawaiian alphabet—
what dreams

will echo
inside detention

centers and
cross teething

borders to
soothe the

thousands of
children atop

la bestia?
#unaccompanied—

nālani rubs
kai's back

warm with
coconut oil—

how do
we hold

violence at
arm's length

when raising
[our] hands

up is
no longer

a universal
sign of

surrender? #black
livesmatter—

kai finally
falls asleep

in nālani's
cradling arms,

skin to
skin against

the news—
when do

we tell
our daughter

there's no
safe place

for us
to breathe #...

Related Poems

Persistence of Vision: Televised Confession

You are like a daughter
to me
—the prisoner’s
mother tells me. Meal by
meal she sets then clears. She

rinses some tablewear
the prisoner never
held, then a glass she did,
then recalls her daughter’s

mouth opening softly
to drink water on state-
run TV, then water
over everything. The

glass appears in hundreds
of frames before reaching
the prisoner’s lips. In
between each frame, the grief

our eyes jump to create
movement: dark strips to keep
sharp the glass lip, water
skin trembling, hand that

trembles it. These mothers
move as flipbooks, tiny,
stuttering pasts, sobbing
at the sink. It is death

that sharpens our sight each
sixteenth second, slender,
blocking enough light so
that the prisoner’s face

is again and again
alive each light-punctured
frame, her mouth: in hundreds
of stills is still opening

softly to drink.