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About this poet

Craig Santos Perez is a native Chamorro from Mongmong, Guam. In 1995, his family moved to California. He lived there for fifteen years before moving to Hawaii. Perez earned his BA in literature and creative writing in 2002 at the University of Redlands in California and his MFA in poetry at the University of San Francisco in 2006.

Perez has authored three books of poetry: from unincorporated territory [guma’] (Omnidawn Publishing, 2014), winner of the 2015 American Book Award; from unincorporated territory [saina] (Omnidawn Publishing, 2010), winner of the PEN Center USA 2011 Literary Prize for Poetry; and from unincorporated territory [hacha] (Tinfish Press, 2008).

Perez’s poetry focuses on themes of Pacific life, immigration, ancestry, colonialism, and diaspora.

In 2010, as part of Resolution No. 315-30, the Guam Legislature recognized Perez as an “accomplished poet who has been a phenomenal ambassador for our island, eloquently conveying through his words, the beauty and love that is the Chamorro culture.” In 2011, he cofounded Ala Press, an independent publisher with a focus on Pacific literature.

In 2017 Perez became the first native Pacific Islander to receive a Lannan Foundation Literary Fellowship for Poetry. His other awards include the Poets & Writers California Writers Exchange Award, the Emily Chamberlain Cook Poetry, and the Jean Burden Poetry Award.

Perez teaches Pacific literature and creative writing at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. He lives in Mānoa.


Bibliography

from unincorporated territory [guma’] (Omnidawn Publishing, 2014)
from unincorporated territory [saina] (Omnidawn Publishing, 2010)
from unincorporated territory [hacha] (Tinfish Press, 2008)

Rings of Fire, 2016

        Honolulu, Hawaii

We host a small family party to celebrate
my daughter’s second birthday. This year
 
is the hottest in history, breaking the record
set when she was born. Still, I grill meat
 
over charcoal and watch smoke crawl
through air like the spirits of sacrificial
 
animals. Still, I crave a cigarette, even after
quitting five years ago, even after my clothes
 
no longer smell like my grandpa’s tobacco
breath (his oxygen tank still scratches the tiled
 
floor of memory and denial). My dad joins me
outside and says, “Son, when I die, scatter
 
my ashes to the ocean, far from this heat.”
Inside, my mom is cooking rice and steaming
 
vegetables. They’ve traveled from California,
where millions of trees have become tinder
 
after years of drought, fueling catastrophe.
When my daughter’s body first hosted fever,
 
the doctor said, “It’s a sign she’s fighting
infection.” Volcanoes erupt along fault lines
 
and disrupt flight patterns; massive flames
force thousands to evacuate tar sands
 
oil country. When we can’t control fire,
we name it “wild” and pray to God for rain;
 
when we can’t control God, we name it “war”
and pray to votives for peace. “If her fever
 
doesn’t break,” the doctor said, “take her
to emergency.” Violence rises with the temper-
 
ature, which knows no borders; air strikes
detonate hospitals in countries whose names
are burnt fossils: Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan,
 
South Sudan, Iraq . . . “When she crowned,”
my wife said, “it felt like rings of fire.”
 
Garment factories in Bangladesh char and
collapse; refugees self-immolate at a detention
 
center on Nauru; forests across Indonesia
are razed for palm oil plantations, their plumes,
 
like the ashen ghosts of birds, flock to our distant
rib cages. When my daughter can’t breathe,
 
we give her an asthma inhaler. But tonight,
we sing happy birthday and blow out
 
the candles together. The smoke trembles,
as if we all exhaled the same, flammable wish.
 

 

Copyright © 2017 Craig Santos Perez. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Fall 2017.

Copyright © 2017 Craig Santos Perez. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Fall 2017.

Craig Santos Perez

Craig Santos Perez

Craig Santos Perez, a native Chamorro from Mongmong, Guam, writes about themes such as Pacific life, immigration, ancestry, colonialism, and diaspora.

by this poet

poem

in collaboration with my wife, Brandy Nālani McDougall
and our one-year old daughter, Kaikainaliʻi

kaikainaliʻi wakes from her late afternoon nap
and reaches for nālani with small open hands—

count how many papuan children
still reach for their

poem
“she’s kicking”
nālani says 
 
holds my
hands against
 
her belly 
so warm! 
 
chicken broth
poem
I
Among starving polar bears, 
The only moving thing 
Was the edge of a glacier.
 
II
We are of one ecology
Like a planet
In which there are 200,000 glaciers.
 
III
The glacier absorbed greenhouse gases