Rings of Fire, 2016

        Honolulu, Hawaii

We host a small family party to celebrate
my daughter’s second birthday. This year
 
is the hottest in history, breaking the record
set when she was born. Still, I grill meat
 
over charcoal and watch smoke crawl
through air like the spirits of sacrificial
 
animals. Still, I crave a cigarette, even after
quitting five years ago, even after my clothes
 
no longer smell like my grandpa’s tobacco
breath (his oxygen tank still scratches the tiled
 
floor of memory and denial). My dad joins me
outside and says, “Son, when I die, scatter
 
my ashes to the ocean, far from this heat.”
Inside, my mom is cooking rice and steaming
 
vegetables. They’ve traveled from California,
where millions of trees have become tinder
 
after years of drought, fueling catastrophe.
When my daughter’s body first hosted fever,
 
the doctor said, “It’s a sign she’s fighting
infection.” Volcanoes erupt along fault lines
 
and disrupt flight patterns; massive flames
force thousands to evacuate tar sands
 
oil country. When we can’t control fire,
we name it “wild” and pray to God for rain;
 
when we can’t control God, we name it “war”
and pray to votives for peace. “If her fever
 
doesn’t break,” the doctor said, “take her
to emergency.” Violence rises with the temper-
 
ature, which knows no borders; air strikes
detonate hospitals in countries whose names
are burnt fossils: Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan,
 
South Sudan, Iraq . . . “When she crowned,”
my wife said, “it felt like rings of fire.”
 
Garment factories in Bangladesh char and
collapse; refugees self-immolate at a detention
 
center on Nauru; forests across Indonesia
are razed for palm oil plantations, their plumes,
 
like the ashen ghosts of birds, flock to our distant
rib cages. When my daughter can’t breathe,
 
we give her an asthma inhaler. But tonight,
we sing happy birthday and blow out
 
the candles together. The smoke trembles,
as if we all exhaled the same, flammable wish.
 

 

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 #...