craig santos perez

craig santos perez

Disaster Haiku

   after cyclone winston after typhoon yutu after hurricane maria after…


the world

 briefly sees


only after

the eye

of a storm

sees us














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.