“Family Trees” (Poem)

Family Trees

for the 2016 Guam Soil and Water Conservation Districts’ Educator Symposium


Before we enter the jungle, my dad

asks permission of the spirits who dwell

within. He walks slowly, with care,

to teach me, like his father taught him,

how to show respect. Then he stops

and closes his eyes to teach me

how to listen. Ekungok, as the winds

exhale and billow the canopy, tremble

the understory, and conduct the wild

orchestra of all breathing things.


“Niyok, Lemmai, Ifit, Yoga’, Nunu,” he chants

in a tone of reverence, calling forth the names

of each tree, each elder, who has provided us

with food and medicine, clothes and tools,

canoes and shelter. Like us, they grew in dark

wombs, sprouted from seeds, were nourished

by the light. Like us, they survived the storms

of conquest. Like us, roots anchor them to this

island, giving breath, giving strength to reach

towards the Pacific sky and blossom.


“When you take,” my dad says, “Take with

gratitude, and never more than what you need.”

He teaches me the phrase, “eminent domain,”

which means “theft,” means “to turn a place

of abundance into a base of destruction.”

The military uprooted trees with bulldozers,

paved the fertile earth with concrete, and planted

toxic chemicals and ordnances in the ground.

Barbed wire fences spread like invasive vines,

whose only fruit are the cancerous tumors

that bloom on every branch of our family tree.


Today, the military invites us to collect

plants and trees within areas of Litekyan

slated to be cleared for impending

construction. Fill out the appropriate forms

and wait 14 business days for a background

and security check. If we receive their

permission, they’ll escort us to the site

so we can mark and claim what we want

delivered to us after removal. They say

this is a benevolent gesture, but why

does it feel like a cruel reaping?


One tree my dad never showed me is

the endangered hayun lågu, the last

of which is struggling to survive in Litekyan

its only home. Today, the military plans to clear

the surrounding area for a live firing range,

making the tree even more vulnerable

to violent winds, invasive pests, and stray

bullets. Don’t worry, they say. We’ll build

a fence around the tree. They say this is an act

of mitigation, but why does it feel like

the disturbed edge of extinction?


Ekungok, ancient whispers rouse the jungle!

Listen, oceanic waves stir against the rocks!

Ekungok, i taotaoʻmona call us to rise!

Listen, i tronkon Yoga’ calls us to stand tall!

Ekungok, i tronkon Lemmai calls us to spread our arms wide!

Listen, i tronkon Nunu calls us to link our hands!

Ekungok, i tronkon Ifit calls us to be firm!

Listen, i tronkon Niyok calls us to never break!

Ekungok, i halom tano’ calls us to surround

i hayun  lågu and chant: “We are the seeds

of the last fire tree! We are the seeds of the last

fire tree! We are the seeds of the last fire tree!

Ahe’! No! We do not give you permission!”

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