We ask about our people and they tell us the plight of boats
yachts smashed in the marina, ferries crashed into harbors
masts snapped, propellers bent, vessels drowned in coves.
They broadcast reports of water rising in hotel rooms
sand slipping into sheets where our cousins could never sleep
salt stains as testimony, spit-prints of the hurricane’s wrath.
Bodies are piling up in the morgues and instead
an elegy of boats
an inventory of industry, countdown
to when paradise can begin again.
So it seems when we’re no longer property
we become less than property
a nail sick with rust, jangling in high winds.
This would be a different story were it not
for ex(ile), whose sting swells when banished
in one’s own yard, barred
from the fruits of your mother’s land.
Inside ex(ile): tempests and fault lines
are developers’ wet dreams.
A mainland will sink its territory in debt
starve its subjects in the wake of storms
clearing ground for palaces on the shore.
Inside ex(ile): the body is only
as good as its technology
how it buckles in a field.
Inside ex(ile) is the ile
pushed across the Atlantic through Oya’s lips.
Place or shelter, sacred home.
We ask about our people and fill the silence with prayer
utterances rerouting to our climate’s first spirits:
Guabancex blowing furious winds, Huraca’n spiraling at the center.
Guatauba drenched in thunder and lightning.
Coatrisque of the deadly floods.
Spare our kin, we plead. Save your wrath for the profiteers.
Cast them from our archipelago, our ile ife of the seas
until home is a place we never have to leave.
Copyright © 2021 by Desiree C. Bailey. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 16, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.
“After Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated many Caribbean islands in 2017, I saw news reports that were more concerned with the destruction of tourist resorts and leisure boats than with the lives of Caribbean people. I thought about how the region has been used to enrich the Western world via slavery and colonialism, and how tourism mostly profits corporations outside of the region. I thought about how climate change is not a distant threat of the future, but one that is happening now, intensifying hurricanes and eroding coastlines. I thought about how wealthier nations are largely responsible for climate change, yet island nations and territories are left to pick up the pieces. These exploitations create conditions where we are often driven from our countries or made stagnant within them. I needed to name these various exiles. I also needed to honor the persevering spirit of Caribbean people, how we transform these exiles into bountiful homes.”
—Desiree C. Bailey