Citizen Action Monitor

Dear Matafele Peinem – A mother reads a love poem for her baby daughter at the UN Climate Summit

“’Dear Matafele Peinem’ made us all cry—everyone from the toughest world leader to the youngest climate activist”

No 1216 Posted by fw, December 26, 2014

On 23 September 2014, 26 year old poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, from the Marshall Islands, addressed the Opening Ceremony of the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Summit. Kathy is a teacher, journalist and founder of the environmental NGO, Jo-jikum.Kathy. She was selected from among over 500 civil society candidates in an open, global nomination process. Kathy performed her new poem entitled “Dear Matafele Peinem”, written for her daughter. The poem received a standing ovation.

Below is an embedded, 3:11-minute video featuring Kathy’s voiceover of the poem, a defiant voice over scenes of the beauty of island nations, of climate change devastation, of citizen protest marches.

Alternatively, click on the following linked title to see Kathy’s two videos: the first, 6:51-minutes, of her statement at the UN, which includes clips from her video poem for her daughter, Matafele Peinem; the second is her video poem, embedded below.

Following the embedded video poem below, is the full text of Kathy’s poem.


United Nations Climate Summit Opening Ceremony – A poem to my Daughter by Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, September 24, 2014

“On 23 September 2014, I addressed the Opening Ceremony of the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Summit. I performed my new poem entitled “Dear Matafele Peinem” written to my daughter.”

dear matafele peinam,

you are a seven month old sunrise of gummy smiles
you are bald as an egg and bald as the buddha
you are thighs that are thunder and shrieks that are lightning
so excited for bananas, hugs and
our morning walks past the lagoon

dear matafele peinam,

i want to tell you about that lagoon
that lucid, sleepy lagoon lounging against the sunrise

men say that one day
that lagoon will devour you

they say it will gnaw at the shoreline
chew at the roots of your breadfruit trees
gulp down rows of your seawalls
and crunch your island’s shattered bones

they say you, your daughter
and your granddaughter, too
will wander rootless
with only a passport to call home

dear matafele peinam,

don’t cry
mommy promises you
no one
will come and devour you

no greedy whale of a company sharking through political seas
no backwater bullying of businesses with broken morals
no blindfolded bureaucracies gonna push
this mother ocean over
the edge
no one’s drowning, baby
no one’s moving
no one’s losing
their homeland
no one’s gonna become
a climate change refugee

or should i say
no one else

to the carteret islanders of papua new guinea
and to the taro islanders of the solomon islands
i take this moment
to apologize to you
we are drawing the line here

because baby we are going to fight
your mommy daddy
bubu jimma your country and president too
we will all fight

and even though there are those
hidden behind platinum titles
who like to pretend
that we don’t exist
that the marshall islands
and typhoon haiyan in the philippines
and floods of pakistan, algeria, colombia
and all the hurricanes, earthquakes, and tidalwaves
didn’t exist

there are those
who see us

hands reaching out
fists raising up
banners unfurling
megaphones booming
and we are
canoes blocking coal ships
we are
the radiance of solar villages
we are
the rich clean soil of the farmer’s past
we are
petitions blooming from teenage fingertips
we are
families biking, recycling, reusing,
engineers dreaming, designing, building,
artists painting, dancing, writing
and we are spreading the word
and there are thousands out on the street
marching with signs
hand in hand
chanting for change NOW

and they’re marching for you, baby
they’re marching for us

because we deserve to do more than just
we deserve
to thrive

dear matafele peinam,

you are eyes heavy
with drowsy weight
so just close those eyes, baby
and sleep in peace

because we won’t let you down

you’ll see


Dear Matafele Peinem made us all cry—everyone from the toughest world leader to the youngest climate activist. The poem she wrote for her young daughter, and then read at the UN in September, hit at the intense reality of climate impacts happening right now in the Pacific.”

You can also watch the footage of her delivering this on the floor of the UN.

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