after cyclone winston after typhoon yutu after hurricane maria after…
of a storm
A Sonnet at The Edge of the Reef
the Waikīkī Aquarium
We dip our hands into the outdoor reef exhibit
and touch sea cucumber and red urchin
as butterflyfish swim by. A docent explains:
once a year, after the full moon, when tides swell
to a certain height, and saltwater reaches the perfect
temperature, only then will the ocean cue coral
polyps to spawn, in synchrony, a galaxy of gametes,
which dances to the surface, fertilizes, opens,
forms larvae, roots to seafloor, and grows, generation
upon generation. At home, we read a children’s
book, The Great Barrier Reef, to our daughter
snuggling between us in bed. We don’t mention
corals bleaching, reared in labs, or frozen.
And isn’t our silence, too, a kind of shelter?
The Last Safe Habitat
for the Kauaiʻi ʻŌʻō, whose song was last heard in 1987
I don’t want our daughter to know
that Hawaiʻi is the bird extinction capitol
of the world. I don’t want her to walk
around the island feeling haunted
by tree roots buried under concrete.
I don’t want her to fear the invasive
predators who slither, pounce,
bite, swallow, disease, and multiply.
I don’t want her to see paintings
and photographs of birds she’ll never
witness in the wild. I don’t want her to
imagine their bones in dark museum
drawers. I don’t want her to hear
their voice recordings on the internet.
I don’t want her to memorize and recite
the names of 77 lost species and subspecies.
I don’t want her to draw a timeline
with the years each was “first collected”
and “last sighted.” I don’t want her to learn
about the Kauaʻi ʻŌʻō, who was observed
atop a flowering ‘Ōhiʻa tree, calling
for a mate, day after day, season after
season, because he didn’t know he was
the last of his kind––
until one day, he disappeared,
forever, into a nest of avian silence.
I don’t want our daughter to calculate
how many miles of fencing is needed
to protect the endangered birds
that remain. I don’t want her to realize
the most serious causes of extinction
can’t be fenced out. I want to convince her
that extinction is not the end. I want
to convince her that extinction is
just a migration to the last safe habitat
on earth. I want to convince her
that our winged relatives have arrived
safely to their destination: a wondrous
island with a climate we can never
change, and a rainforest fertile
with seeds and song.
Skip ahead in this issue to an interview with Craig Santos Perez on Pacific Ecopoetics.
craig santos perez
is an indigenous Chamorro poet from the Pacific Island of Guam. He is the author of four collections of poetry and the co-editor of five anthologies. He is an associate professor in the English department at the University of Hawaiʻi, Mānoa.