Saturday, November 10, 2007

Poem for Sumahi

My nene
I haga-hu

After months of worrying, waiting, money saving and relationship negotiating
After days of walking, nipple circling, consoling, papaya eating and labor inducing
After hours of pushing, breathing, hand squeezing, and yelling for medication and centimeter checks
After minutes of bleeding, emerging, screaming, slapping, wrapping, measuring and weighing…
A baby is held before me

Small and cute in a way which can only be felt with a tear wetting the corner of your eye
Her eyes squeezed shut, and only opening in gasps and screams, coordinating in rhythm with her grabbing, barely bending fingers
Eyes, mouth, and hands moving in newborn unison to drink in the world around her

The nurse holding her carries a question as well
“What is her name?”

My mind scans quickly the list of names I had given the mother for her to pick from
It was an interesting collection of Chamorro verbs, nouns, adjectives and states of being, which could make fantastic or terribly awkward and stigmatizing Chamorro children names
Such as
Matatnga: Brave, valiant, fearless
Tokcha’: To stab or to spear
Chichirika: A bright red bird with a beautiful fan shape tail which is known to help children lose themselves in the jungle

Jessica, i nananpatgon-hu, my blessed beloved baby’s mama, chose two names, one for a boy, the other for a girl
As the “her” echoes delicately from the nurse’s lips and settles softly on the yawning mouth of my baby girl, the chosen name slowly begins the long crawl to the front of my mind


More than 500 years ago, men would have gathered their nets, lines and canoes at the ocean’s edge, and women their fosiños and seeds at the jungle’s edge
They would have spoken this word to capture the movements of the moon, the patterns of fish and the tendencies of the soil and earth for planting and harvesting their crops.

More than 300 years ago, a man stands atop a cliff overlooking a hastily built and nervously defended Spanish fort
Before him stand hundreds of similarly uncertain Chamorro warriors
This man pierces the night sky with his spear, its tip revealing to all the ever brightening moon, and he would use to word to remind all of the auspiciousness of this night and it being right for an attack

More than 100 years ago, a young man stands on one side of a river, his would-be beloved on the other, momentarily alone, washing the clothes of her family
Beneath a silent lemmai tree he plays his guitar quickly, his fingers looping around the language of the moon, of dreams, of love
He sings this word hoping to enchant his beloved, convince her to become his beloved, especially before her brothers return

As I hold my baby for the first time, the word “sumåhi” emerges from the exhausted fragments of my labor weary mind with all the force of a ghost which refuses to be forgotten
It crawls around my mental corners and contours and in between the molecules of my very blood, bringing with it the traces of a thousand voices which have spoken it, passionately embraced it, or indifferently recited it

The word rides a wave which bristles and breaks, reforming itself forward with the lifeblood of those who have reflected through it, relied upon it, spoken of love or loss with it, called others to work or battle with it, and made sense of nature, earth, the world

This multitude pushes downward my eyebrows and furrows my brow, transforming my face into an awkward image of reflected cuteness
It activates my arms, pulling my baby closer to my face
Her cute, newly there, barely breathing reminds me na sen dikike gui’
Kulang umomlat i patgon gi unu na kannai-hu

The nurse’s eyes remain rounded out, expectantly waiting for my girl’s name
Completely unaware of the typhoon powered history lesson which makes my hands tremble, but also assures me I will not let my baby fall

The name finally arrives at my lips, the cost of its landfall, a fresh tear appearing at the corner of my eye
“Her name is Sumåhi” I say at last, while my lips slowly form a kiss for her forehead

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