These were always our islands.
Before memory, and within it, still, the small brown men
Sweep our shores in their bark boats,
Laughing to see our great girth, and our swiftness,
Dragging their widely sieved nets, taking, in a single tear,
A dozen of our number, the weakest among us,
While the bright blue fish flutter like banners.
So, when you came, we knew not what to look for:
Not for a democrat, noble in dimension,
Who would embrace without argument or remorse
The puny and powerful alike.
Down came the Butterfeld Bank and the Hyatt Hotel.
Down came the roofs of our tiny yellow houses.
Our resin kitchen chairs were scattered upon the wreckage and the deep.
Even our dead were not spared
But forced, protesting, from their graves into the yards and streets.
Our friends, too, succumbed to your fearsome integrity.
The aging palm planters, los mercantos and the tremendous ships,
All we had known turned their faces from ours, shrugging at memory,
Choosing, instead, to cruise the waters in search of pleasant, unscathed shores.
But we will not forget how we opened our windows to the seas
Rushing toward us, how we scrubbed our shells upon the ruins,
How our young ones wept through the hot nights, calling
Not for comfort, but for comrades lost,
And how the trade of billions
Offers us, now, only the waste-filled sand hills to rebuild upon
(The reef, alone, persists, veiled in a sparkling blue blind).
We scorn pity, and call you El Terrible.
Colleen M. Payton is a University of Chicago M. A. (English Language and Literature) currently teaching and writing in the Atlanta area. Her poetry, fiction and articles have appeared in Atlanta Magazine, Dance Magazine, Oklahoma Today, Chattanooga Magazine, The King’s English and the Littoral, among others. She is presently working on a novel.