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The Day After American Samoa Is Under Water

By Terisa Siagatonu

The evening news helicopters compete for the best camera angle
above the water, fighting to find anything worthy of coverage.

A floating high chief. A baby’s arm flattened by a coconut tree. Anything
Even the Titanic was enormous enough to leave remnants of itself

to buoyancy. They were a giving people. There’s gotta be something here.
Congress assembles immediately to vote on a bill that supports relief efforts

for our displaced, and our Congressman sits in his own numbing silence,
knowing that by law: he still does not have a vote that will count for anything

due to the U.S. national status of our island country, as he watches
his colleagues raise and lower their hands amidst his own spinning head.

The Department of Homeland Security calls an emergency meeting to strategize
where FEMA should deploy relief efforts. After ten minutes, they declare relief

pointless and decide to go home. The Pentagon, however, collapses
into the arms of their own fiscal grief, realizing that their #1 army recruitment

station for enlisting the most soldiers in the world is now underwater.
On land, news anchors are practicing their pronunciation of American Samoa

to themselves, struggling to stretch the long “ah” sound across the country
of their mouth. The cameraman rolls, and every news anchor forgets everything

they have spent three whole minutes trying to not mess up. Except American,
of course. No lips ever slaughter that word. Critique it til dissection, sure.

Slice it down its chest, skin pinned back like butterfly wings, but even that
is a careful cruelty. Even that requires gloves and good lighting. Patience.

All across the world, maps are being dusted off and pulled out of desk drawers.
Google overheats in frantic frequency and the search for where exactly American Samoa

is begins. Was. Where it was. In other people’s homes, parents press
their child’s hand to the blueness of the gridded paper and pronounce Pacific

slow to the rhythm of their child’s puckered lips. To make it more interactive,
world maps are being taped to the walls of living rooms

blindfolds are tied softly across the budding eyes of toddlers
ribbon in hand, as they are instructed to pin the tail on the island that once was.

In our homes, you can hear the wailing of our grandparents
through every avenue that sound can travel. Never could I have imagined

the day where all of us Samoans would curse the U.S. for treaty writing us
into owning us, but here we alive ones are, a panic of mouths swollen at the throat

of our American nightmare. In my home, grandpa is alone in his room,
looking outside the window. I walk over to sit beside him, my hands cupping

his hands in my lap, as he mumbles quietly through a stream of tears:
Where will the family bury me now?

Added: Monday, April 16, 2018  /  Used with permission.
Terisa Siagatonu
Photo by Margarita Corporan.

Terisa Siagatonu is an award-winning poet, arts educator, organizer, and mental health advocate from the Bay Area. She has performed at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the UN Conference on Climate Change in Paris, France, and the White House. A recipient of President Obama’s Champion of Change Award, her writing has been featured on Button Poetry, CNN, NBCNews, NPR, Huffington Post, Everyday Feminism, The Guardian, BuzzFeed, Upworthy and elsewhere. A national poetry slam finalist, she is also a slam coach on both the youth and collegiate level, having coached 5 poetry slam teams to place Top 20 in the nation. Siagatonu is also a Senior Poet Mentor with Youth Speaks, Inc., leading poetry lessons with Bay Area high school students and professional development with teaching artists. She is one of the co-creators of The Root Slam, a poetry venue in Oakland, CA, and was a member of the 2017 Root Slam Poetry Slam Team. She holds a Masters in Marriage/Family Therapy from the University of Southern California, aiming to merge art and therapy throughout her healing work, both on and off-stage. Learn more at her website

Siagatonou is a featured poet at Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness 2018.

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