Cyclone winston damage in tailevu, fiji

Poems for Fiji after Cyclone Winston

"I dreamt last night / that brown bodies, again, / were under water."

Craig Santos Perez

Above: A home in Tailevu Province, largely destroyed by the storm | wikimedia

Cyclone Winston, the strongest storm ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere, made landfall across the archipelago of Fiji in February of this year. The category-5 storm brought winds above 200 miles an hour and waves up to 40 feet high. The devastation was heartbreaking, with many homes destroyed, more than 60,000 people in evacuation centers and nearly 50 dead.

Governments and aid organizations across the Pacific and the world have come together to raise money and provide aid to the people of Fiji. A group formed in Hawaiʻi, “Aloha Appeal for Fiji,” which organized several benefit events. One event was a poetry reading organized by Pacific Tongues, a non-profit focused on poetry, spoken word, youth and activism. I had the honor of helping organize this event and performing one of my poems. To learn more about fundraising efforts, and to donate yourself, please click this link.

In solidarity with these efforts, students in my eco-poetry course wrote poems for Fiji. We read several examples of poetry in response to natural disasters and discussed how poetry can be one way to raise awareness and express sympathy, grief, healing and hope. We also talked about the emotional and ethical difficulties of writing such poetry. For links related to this topic, see my earlier post on “disaster poetry.”

For Fiji
by Ryan Gapelu

I dreamt last night
that brown bodies, again,
were under water.

In this dream
I heard a roaring from the east
I heard the revolving walls of wind
we know and fear so well in the Pacific
swirling about heavy like concrete
running like the tide into the shore.

In this dream
I saw the sky darken
eclipsing the light that feeds you
suffocating you under a sea of grey.

In the darkness
I heard a quiet rumbling of agony
stifling the voice of a people
the shrill whisper of death
pushing into houses, turning over beds
spilling out of windows
flooding the street, following you,
watching over your shoulders
holding out its hands to catch you.

In this dream
I stood in the mixing of soil and sea water
brown bodies running past
brown bodies floating past
little Apisai drifting out into eternity.

And I am scared.

Scared because,
when devastation raptures brown bodies,
when nature bares her teeth,
when we are at the hands of our maker
on our knees praying to your gods
that we are valuable, that we are worthy
praying please do not let us die
I can hear the silence of every footstep
from Suva to Jerusalem
from Koro to California

And I am scared that again,
Oceania will be forgotten,
scared that again, the melanin in our skin
is the determining factor of our aid
scared that the media will stand with Paris
but not Fiji
because gunshots speak louder
than climate change
because sea levels mean nothing
to high rises
because disaster does not exist
unless you are in it
even when you hear it
when you see it
I cry
Till the sun wakes me.

in the morning I see:
Fiji, turning over the rubble
collecting the scattered pieces of their home
Fiji, counting their dead
but holding dearly to their living
Fiji, in despair but steadfast,
Fiji, alive in the faces of her children
bathing in rivers
I see Fiji smiling,
and softly on the wind in Hawai’i
I swear I can hear
voices singing:

For Fiji, ever Fiji
let our voices sing with pride
For Fiji, ever Fiji
her name hail far and wide
a land of freedom
hope and glory
to endure whate’er befall
may God bless Fiji
forever more.

An Open Letter to Cyclone Winston
by Leilani Portillo

Dear Cyclone Winston,

    Thank you.
You gave me a wake up call—
A reality check.
You made me realize how social media engulfs us,
Suffocates us with celebrity gossip,
And pretty pictures.
You showed me how exclusive it is.
I saw no post,
No comment
No sign.
Social media has been used
To spread awareness
But you have shown me where it has failed.

    But fuck you.
Fiji didn’t deserve this.
You were named the 2nd strongest hurricane in the world.
You ripped trees from their roots,
Houses have been turned upside down and inside out,
Tens of thousands of people have been displaced.
You flooded their lands
And destroyed their crops.
You brought on
Pain, heartache, death, and destruction.
44 are dead.
Families torn apart.
What was once their home
Is now

    There is suffering
But Fiji is strong
And its people are already
They are picking themselves up
And salvaging what they can.
Soon they will be drinking kava
And leaving you only in their memory.

                        A Small Girl in a Big World

Ballad to Fiji
Marcos Cruz Ortiz

Enduring not far from me
Are brothers and sisters of the same skin,
From the same voice I will sing for Fiji
And pray for their lost kin.
And pray for their lost kin.

A nation of islands suddenly torn
130 million years of earth,
Picked up from the ocean where it was born
4000 years of Fijian births.

All hit together
All at once,
It was a hurricane, cyclone
Winston made its descent.

The beauty of the country caught his eye
Struck the coast with his breath,
Spoke too close, he started to cry
When he realized his cause for death.

Passing the islands he turned and counted
42, 43, 44,
Loved ones turned to numbers
Their words and memories no more.

Enduring not far from me
Are brothers and sisters of the same skin,
From the same voice I will sing for Fiji
And pray for their lost kin.
And pray for their lost kin

Because we are all one nation in the sea
Oceania is our home,
Our ancestors knew how to be
Respectful towards nature’s creed.

But those outside of our fate
Have forgotten about her beauty,
Progressing with so called innovation
They laugh at our mother’s face

She’s forced to remind them of her wrath
With 180 mph winds,
She sends Winston in to crash
And punish them for their sins.

But she sends him to the wrong place
Not to first world homes locked in a screen,
But to people living in grace
To account for tourist’s dreams.

So I will scream, shout and pray
For those enduring close to me
Brothers and sisters of the same skin
With one voice we shall sing for Fiji
With one voice we shall sing for Fiji.

One Sip For Fiji From Me, One Girl in Hawaii
Jessica Carpenter

A bowl of Kava scooped from and rotated
Its turns churning the traditions of Fiji in time
Mixing the conversations from straight shoulders and high heads
Skulls and piko kissing the heavens with pride
Laughter chatter and rustling of the sea
To the tune of a sun falling and rising to display the beautiful creations
With feet blessing the Earth they have been nurturing
Since the great lights began their waltz
The bowl turns
Deep liquid, numbing cooling earth
Falling down the throats of Polynesia
You sing and it happens
The sun rose slow and somber the seventh day of February
Slumbers are disturbed and you can hear the stuff of nightmares
I am no victim
Let that be known. I was not there. I didn’t stand and have no choice but
To swallow the torture of seeing my history crumble
Blown and shattered in front of my eyes
Yet, the mere imagination of this is pricks my own with tears
The silence around that glossy bowl is haunting
And sympathy and presence is all I can ever bring to the circle
I can only say on behalf of the rest of the world
That still manages to turn while you pick up the pieces
I am sorry
I can only say on behalf of the rest of Hawaiʻi, worlds away from our sister
As our tides rise and fall and your hope lifts and pulls just the same
E kala mai
I can only say on behalf of humanity itself
That this is the time to show each other that we don’t like seeing you hurt
And that the sight of naked desperation and fear is contagious
This is not an open letter to Fiji
This is a cry for awareness
This is a wake up call
This is a spank minor to the beating our sweet sister had to endure
This is a reminder to Fiji and all people
Who have had their direction of life disturbed
Their compasses flipped
And their atmosphere stifled
And oxygen tanks, body bags and gallons of morphine
Will never take the place of breathing humanity
Where are you
Our father which art in heaven
In heaven
Show me where you are
I want to see you in the eyes of those who still have life coursing through them
The stars are no longer just strung up diamonds
They are the souls of those lost and the only reminder of who they used to be
This time the kava bowl is turned
Scooped from
And the numbing kicks in but
We don’t want to be numb
We just want to talk
and Let the words heal.
I take my earthy sweet sip
And my first words are
I am here, and I know.
But I feel I will never truly know.

Thomas Ilalaole

I arrive at the battered remains
of a puzzle that’s been destroyed,
not by its players, but a relentless storm.

I examine the jagged
cardboard edges. Now soggy, 
the ink is blurred…lost pieces now
erased from memory…never to be found.

I salvage what I can
hoping to restore the puzzle’s
unrecognizable image, so that I can see.
See what it was, what it is….
and what I can do to make others see.

Oceans and mountains.
Towns and houses.
Garbage and wreckage.
Men, women and children.
Every piece is displaced.
and I feel helpless…
Others don’t seem to get why
this puzzle matters…
“It’s one of many,” they say.

They rocket themselves to
a planet eons away and proclaim,
“Oh that puzzle? We’ll get a new one!”

To Them, this taken-apart puzzle was
just a “game” and now it’s a permanent
statistic: 42 dead and 50,000 rescued.
Still no refuge…left alone…to die.
I ask myself, how am I supposed feel?
What should I say or do? Can this be real?
This puzzle is indeed in front of me,
begging to be reassembled.
Yet time continues on without it,
as we let it fade out of mere existence.

I can’t do this on my own, but I have to try
because getting my head in this so-called
“game” is better than remaining willingly
idle on the bench like the rest of Them.

To most, I’m an outsider looking in.
But to this puzzle, I’m an outsider who’s
willing to look in – ask questions, seek
answers, and search for pieces of peace.

All over the world, there are broken
puzzles with incomplete stories…histories
left untold – forgotten in a sea of the rewritten.

Typhoons, Cyclones, Hurricanes,
Storms, Tsunamis, Earthquakes.
Call it what you will. But rain, wind,
earth and water are all they same.
They breathe the same energy to create such
forces that descend these puzzles into utter
chaos – bending their frames until they

This puzzle is Fiji, and it’s our job to
help put it back together…one piece at a time.

Something Happened
Isaiah Yamaguchi

On February 20th something – happened.
While you were at home
And you did not know, that
Something – happened.
While you were wrapped in a blanket of warmth
With concerns of your own,
Something – happened.
It is “ok” if you do now know,
Shrouded by social media, we are SO easily heard, yet deaf to the voices that cry the loudest.
At least 42 lives lost to Winston,
But thousands more left without… food, water, shelter, and their families.
Amazing really, the largest storm in the southern hemisphere to date,
And only now you know.
Everyday something happens,
But not everyday you can do something about it.
So now that you know, go make something—happen.


Mary Archer

I was four walls charged with years of hard words
I was the angle of my discontent
The stubborn joint of an arrow pointed upstream
I was a peaked roof
An “up yours”
To the world I knew not of
I was a speck
And my thoughts within me a windstorm
I was four walls and a roof
The division of space   from space
I was content
I was resigned
Now this space is free
It’s recollected by sky
It’s part of winds and great currents
It’s part of air and being
The wind where my house is
Is calm
If I go there I’ll see space
Instead of walls
My walls are down
I was a house but I became the sky