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Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner

Kathy Jetnil-Kijner is the author of Iep Jaltok: Poems from a Marshallese Daughter (University of Arizona Press, 2016). She is the Director of Jo-Jikum, a non-profit organization based in Majuro Marshall Islands.

By This Poet

1

Nice Voice

When my daughter whines I tell her to say what you want in a nice voice.

My nice voice is reserved for meetings with a view, my palm outstretched saying here. Are our problems. Legacies rolling out like multicolored marbles. Don’t focus so much on the ‘doom and gloom’ they keep saying. We don’t want to depress. Everyone. This is only our survival. We rely heavily on foreign aid I am instructed to say. I am instructed to point out the need for funds to build islands, move families from weto after weto, my mouth a shovel to spade the concrete with but I am just pointing out neediness. So needy. These small. Underdeveloped countries. I feel myself shrinking in the back of the taxi when a diplomat compliments me. How brave for admitting it so openly. The allure of global negotiations dulls. Like the back of a worn spoon.

I lose myself easily in a kemem. Kemem defined as feast. As celebration. A baby’s breath endures their first year so we pack hundreds of close bodies under tents, lined up for plates I pass to my cousin, assembly line style. Our gloved hands pluck out barbeque chicken, fried fish, scoop potato salad, dew-like droplets of bōb and mā. Someone yells for another container of jajimi. The speaker warbles a keyboarded song. A child inevitably cries. Mine dances in the middle of the party. A pair elbow each other to rip hanging beach balls from their strings. The MC shouts Boke ajiri ne nejim jen maan. The children are obstructing our view. Someone wheels a grandma onto the dance floor. The dances begin here

is a nice
celebration
of survival.