Interviews from Mrs. Keitlyn Kounou from Bikini Atoll

Mrs. Keitlyn Konou from Bikini Atoll tells me about her jellyfish babies
I had six children. First one, him boy.
Next one, she girl.
Then, girl.
Then, girl. Again.
Then, next one, him boy.
People ask me how I know
if babies are boy or girl
when they born with only
little brain and little heart,
Me is their mother, so I know.
Each one talk to me from my stomach
before they born. We talk. They even
tell me their favorite fish.
Then my husband go fishing,
bring them back what they ask for.
I eat.
They happy.
I feel it.
We show them we make good parents,
we ready for them, and
ask them to be healthy and
take what they need from me
to make their bodies strong. I
rest, too. I stay in bed all day
just like doctor say. I no
sweep the bamboo floors,
no wash dishes, no cook fish.
My mother and sisters
come my house take care of me.
We do that for all the girls in my family.
We all no more children.
My mother goes to the fortune teller
pays her, help us remove curse
from our family and help us
return to our home on Pikinni.
Fortune teller says
our ancestors cannot find us
on Ron̄dik, Kuwajleen, then Kōle.
She puts charms to attract spirits
to come help us.
The last one, him boy too.
When he born like his brothers
and sisters, I cry.
I want to die,
go to the beach
to drown myself.
Six sharks swim
into the shallows.
I walk into the warm sea,
they swim to me and tap my legs.
I grab hold of two top fins and my children
pull me out,
past the shallows,
past the reef,
into the black part of the ocean.
I let go of their fins. I am not scared:
they love me and I love them. Out there,
surrounded by nothing,
I sink into the saltwater,
ready to give up.
I want babies on my lap,
a normal life.
The sharks swim
around, around.
It gets quiet, still.
No waves. No birds.
Nothing.
Then one fin, pokes out of the water.
Then, two. Ten. Twenty.
I look under me into the water,
hundreds of sharks
swimming under me
like black darts.
I think about my grandparents,
my great-grandparents, great-great-grandparents,
husband, parents, my beautiful sisters.
I cannot let anything kill me or
destroy this shiver of sharks.
The ancestors show me
that I, too, am a shark.
All together, we swim in same direction.
I start to kick and paddle
for the shore. My children
swim to me but I push them away.
Only I can save myself.
My breathing comes hard.
At the shore, the waves
fall over my sore body.
I am fighter.
I am Keitlyn from Pikinni.
And I became strongest in the
saddest time of my life.


Mrs. Keitlyn Konou talks about the Compacts of Free Association and the death of her family
Some of my family are sick.
Some just want a better life,
so my family comes here.
The Compacts of Association
allows me to move
to Hawaiʻi for happy life.
My life before is only sickness,
the kind that stretches out
to the corners of the sea.
Eleven of us
rent a three-bedroom home.
No one wants to hire our husbands
except the car wash place. Our men are
worse than untouchable,
they are invisible. The women
finds jobs at the drive-thru,
at the supermarket,
at the Arches. I work
the graveyard shift
from 10 pm to 6 pm at 7-11.
When I catch the bus to work,
I don’t like this new land.
This place has too many spirits.
I see warriors in loincloths,
they come out from the forest,
out from behind the tall pine trees,
throw their wood spears, black against
the curtain of dog clouds that
run over the mountain.
When the wind stops,
they look right at me and
I know it is time to fight
my husband about his drinking.
We have no food, no clothes,
but his thirst can always find
a dollar for a drink.
I swear at him.
I cry about my miserable life.
I tell him I want to die, then
I find out where the money is coming
from. My husband delivers
boxes for a man who lives up the street.
I open a box when my husband is not home.
There are pills, powder, and marijuana so
I flush it all down the toilet and
go to work.
At 2 am, I get a call from my sister.
Keitlyn, come home.
There is fire!
I get home, everything is gone.
My nephew is dead.
My husband is dead.
One sister is dead.
My life is covered by a
black blanket of ash.
It is my fault for taking the drugs,
this is the price I must pay.
Over the years, when I
pass the same forest,
I wonder why they came to me that day,
why they rose in a large group,
to fight again. But the answer
never comes to me.
I leave the spirits and
turn to the church.
I pray to Him, but
I will never get my wish.
It will never be granted,
it’s the one where you get
to live your life twice.

 

Kimo Armitage draws upon the rich stories of his youth spent in Haleiwa, Hawai’i, where he was raised by his maternal grandparents.

He is an award-winning, best-selling author of over 20 books, mostly for children. He is the current recipient of the prestigious Maureen Egan Exchange Award in Poetry which is administered by Poets & Writers of New York City. His novel, The Healers, was published by the University of Hawai’i Press in 2016. He was the inaugural East-West Center Pacific Islanders Leadership Fellow where he created curriculum for 23 Islanders from 17 different Pacific nations; their joint work led to the publication of a seminal learning artifact on culture-based leadership.

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