Ballistic Missile Inbound
13.7590° S/172.1046° W
by K. Ka'imilani Leota Sellers
Ballistic Missile Inbound
In Kentucky, cold air plummeted. Snowdrifts slid across pavement. Savage icicles clawed at windows. I was warm inside: flannels, socks, layers of blankets, Netflix. Then a call from Home: “Mom, we got an emergency alert, ‘A ballistic missile threat is inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.’ Mom, where should we go?” Out of bed, my knees like heavy stones plunged. My heart in flight. They huddled. Young adults, once with tender eyes gazing back, I nursed and rocked and swaddled, provided and protected, now 4,000 miles away. I could not stop death. 15 minutes, their voices, familiar vibrations. Without them I was already dead. In the last moments, like the midnight toll of New Year’s Eve, they wished each other God Speed, God’s Mercy, God’s Love. My son laughed nervously, my daughter sobbed. 15 minutes I gripped my phone, every word pressed against skin, 15 minutes my children passed the phone around, again. No time for anger, resentment, apologies, breath shaking, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you caught in my throat, choking, waiting, heart held hostage by fear. 15 long minutes before it was announced, a false alarm. I still tremble knowing that 15 minutes is not long enough to love.
Polynesian 48%, Norwegian 22%, Scottish 20%, English 10%: trails of merging cells over centuries of moving on earth. Romanticized sips of skin: sea spray drying in pools of salt, or algae-fed fish like flashes of silver streaming in Pacifica. My scull is a root corm below the surface of volcanic soil, generating a family of plants. Hand-carved paddles dip and move over water to distant shores, muscles rippling the meridian, shooting the sun. Cells from harsh winters and melting snow, battling seaward, planting seeds in wombs, with ploughs; immigrants seeding the future, few belongings in tow, to sway in prairie grasses, to shoulder wooden wagon wheels; thrusting sacrifice through ruts of wild land, carbon footprints heading westward, leaving bloodlines behind in wakes, across America, the great gathering place for builders, stone masons, and farmers of soil. My cells move to be heard.
What if I was part of the 68.5 million refugee human flow? Brittle cells dispersed in dry wind, without fertile soil. What if I was forced to walk hundreds of miles carrying the world’s burden in one arm and my child in the other, feet wet with rain and swelling rivers, homeless, landless, one foot in front of the other, hard-ground-sleeping, heat-shimmered in 100-degree weather, ravaged bone cold in winter, accosted with dysentery, rape, separation, imprisonment, death, moving with millions of other mothers traveling the globe in displacement across bomb-shattered landscapes, with a hunger to thrive, a hunger to feed children, to find no bread basket beneath azure sky. America. An empty plate like a gaping wound.
13.7590° S / 172.1046° W
You would have loved me if you had lived to hold me, Grandmother,
I wouldn’t have forgotten the language of you, Christiana Isapela Pili,
I would have sprawled on a woven mat, baby-fat, thick hair stirred
by Samoan lullabies, your voice tumbling playfully in waves, soft sand cradling
my weight. You would have finger-fed me bits of banana
and taro. You would have clapped as I danced Siva Samoa
and reveled in my toddler strength and bravery.
You were never too far from my existence when others called me a bastard.
It was your skin I wore when I said, “I wish I was fully white,” knowing I was lying, because what I really meant was, “I wish you were here to teach me about being
brown.” When I was told I was heavy-footed, my hair coarse like a horse’s mane,
I wasn’t sure if those were compliments, and when people told me that I was slow
and stupid, I wondered would you be ashamed of my birth?
Though, I dreamed of you, made blind phone calls
to La’ie, to Kahuku, that sandy point where I was born,
knowing you were already dead.
Instead, I found your sister Tulia, in Compton, Los Angeles,
my grandfather’s second wife, another Grandmother who held me as an infant,
who kept a photo of me on her wall, in case one day I should call.
My own half-siblings wanted to know who I was,
a child in a rose garden, waiting to be found.
When I found her, years later, she wailed in a language I didn’t know.
Her words poured across oceans, across datelines where in the old days,
there were no gridlines a canoe could not pass. I gathered the birth sands
of her sound, knowing both your voices were the same,
Grandmother waters of Samoa, I thirst still for the waters of my life.
Your molecules dance in my universe, despite being half brown and half white,
despite being born out of wedlock, despite only knowing one side of the story.
I am a part of you.
I gather pieces of me, lost in swells of latitude and longitude,
not like driftwood, but part of wavelengths along an electromagnetic pathway.
I am on the azimuth of home,
where I know that you have waited for me to come home, since before I was born.