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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 four books of poetry: from unincorporated territory [lukao] (Omnidawn Publishing, 2017), 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.


from unincorporated territory [lukao] (Omnidawn Publishing, 2017)
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

Thank you, instant mashed potatoes, your bland taste 
makes me feel like an average American. Thank you, 
incarcerated Americans, for filling the labor shortage 
and packing potatoes in Idaho. Thank you, canned 
cranberry sauce, for your gelatinous
for Kyle & Aunty Terri 

Every year, more than a million tourists march
through military museums, memorials, and ghostly
battleships as “Remember Pearl Harbor” echoes
with patriotic fervor. But what if they learned how
to pronounce, “Puʻuloa,” the Hawaiian name


Guam is considered the SPAM® capital of the world. On average, each Chamorro consumes 16 tins of SPAM® each year, which is more per capita than any country in the world. Headline: Guam Struggles to Find Its Roots From Beneath Growing Piles of SPAM®. Guam, Hawaii, and Saipan have the only McDonald's restaurants that