I have been a father for more than two weeks now, and I am still adjusting to the subtle and drastic changes. Its weird, but the first moment that it actually hit me that my life had really changed, wasn't when the baby was born or when I first held her, but actually when I first filled out the registration form for the Famoksaiyan conference two weeks ago, which took place the same week Sumåhi was born. In the process of filling out the form, all the typical and expected information was spilling out of my head, but one question snagged me and forced me to stop for a moment. That question was of course "number of children."
That point came about three days after I left Guam, after the baby was born and for those three days I was living in a sort of dream world. 19 hours despues di mafañågu i hagga’-hu, I was on a Continental flight back to the the states. As I was flying away, so many new memories and feelings seemed to peel away from my mind, floating and flying off into the sky. I fought to keep clear in my mind the moments I had just been through. To remember as best I could, my daughter's face, her opening laughing or crying mouth, the touch of her tiny fingers on my face and hand. I began to write as I sat on the plane, random scattered lines at first, which struggled to capture different points of the past few days.
Even after I deplaned I continued to write, and rewrite stringing together random lines, with random images and phrases, eventually realizing that I was working on a poem for my daughter. I pushed hard to have it finished by the first day of the Famoksaiyan "Our Time to Paddle Forward" conference, because we had decided to open up the conference this year with more social activities and performances. Erica Nalani Benton performed some songs, including her incredible "Back to Guahan," and so did Jacob Perez. The both of them are members of Famoksaiyan who joined after the initial meeting in April last year in San Diego and have done incredible things for the group, and were the ones who set up and organized the events on Friday.
I was writing almost up until the moment I went on stage, rewriting things, checking things, adding in things last minute. It was such an important process though, writing this poem, meeting new and old friends, talking about the baby, and also just taking stock of my life, and what I have accomplished and how I'm doing so far. Many people thought it was odd that I would speak about the incredible week I was having, with a baby being born on Monday and the conference happening, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. For them the Famoksaiyan conference couldn't compare to the birth of my first child and so it cheapened this birth to be talking about them together. This might be a very real point, but in my head as I floated around, going from the dream of my newborn daughter to the dream of having this conference, this spirit and this fight continue beyond just myself, to me their links were clear and both inspiring. As one of my friends emailed me last week about i hagga'-hu and the conference, "here's to all forms of new life!"
Yanggen magåhet i finayi na “todu lina’la’ un saddok” pues taibali yanggen ta kefa’sahnge este na råtu ya kena’para i milalak. Taibali yan taiesperånsa.
Yanggen magåhet i finayi na i lina’la’-ta siha milalak kulan un saddok, debi di ta chule’ ya na’daña’ todu este na råtu siha. Mungga machagi rumikohi este na empe’ lina’la’ kalang iyo-mu ha’. Yute’ ha’ halom gi i saddok. Na’fañetton todu gi lina’la’-mu ni’ bunita, ni’ presisu, ni’ impottånte.
In an effort to live this idea, I thought I would share with you the poem I wrote for my new baby girl. It brings together in crazy, cute, silly and serious ways so much of my life, my hopes, my dreams, my commitments, and also the newness and uncertainty as well that is creeping into my life in different forms because of the fact that I am a father now. And yes, in case you were wondering, this poem does, in a slightly different way than usual have something to do with Chamorro history and decolonization.
After months of worrying, waiting, money saving and relationship negotiating
After days of walking, nipple circling, consoling, papaya eating and labor inducing
After hours of pushing, breathing, hand squeezing, and yelling for medication and centimeter checks
After minutes of bleeding, emerging, screaming, slapping, wrapping, measuring and weighing…
A baby is held before me
Small and cute in a way which can only be felt with a tear wetting the corner of your eye
Her eyes squeezed shut, and only opening in gasps and screams, coordinating in rhythm in her grabbing, barely bending fingers
Eyes, mouths, and hands moving in newborn unison to drink in the world around her
The nurse holding her carries a question as well
“What is her name?”
My mind scans quickly the list of names I had given the mother for her to pick from
It was an interesting collection of Chamorro verbs, nouns, adjectives and states of being, which could make fantastic or terribly awkward and stigmatizing Chamorro children names
Matatnga: Brave, valiant, fearless
Tokcha’: To stab or to spear
Chichirika: A bright red bird with a beautiful fan shape tail which is known to help children lose themselves in the jungle
I nananpatgon-hu, my baby’s momma, chose two names, one for a boy, the other for a girl
As the “her” echoes delicately from the nurse’s lips and settles softly on the yawning mouth of my baby girl, the chosen name slowly begins the long crawl to the front of my mind
More than 500 years ago, men would have gathered their nets, lines and canoes at the ocean’s edge, and women their fosiños and seeds at the jungle’s edge
They would have spoken this word to capture the movements of the moon, the patterns of fish and the tendencies of the soil and earth for planting and harvesting their crops.
More than 300 years ago, a man stands atop a cliff overlooking a hastily built and nervously defended Spanish fort
Before him stand hundreds of similarly uncertain Chamorro warriors
This man pierces the night sky with his spear, its tip revealing to all the ever brightening moon, and he would use to word to remind all of the auspiciousness of this night and it being right for an attack
More than 100 years ago, a young man stands on one side of a river, his would-be beloved on the other, momentarily alone, washing the clothes of her family
Beneath a silent lemmai tree he plays his guitar quickly, his fingers looping around the language of the moon, of dreams, of love
He sings this word hoping to enchant his beloved, convince her to become his beloved, especially before his brother return
At I hold my baby for the first time, the word “sumåhi” emerges from the exhausted fragments of my labor weary mind with all the force of a ghost which refuses to be forgotten
It crawls around my mental corners and contours and in between the molecules of my very blood, bringing with it the traces of a thousand voices which have spoken it, passionately embraced it, or indifferently recited it
The word rides a wave which bristles and breaks, reforming itself forward with the lifeblood of those who have reflected through it, relied upon it, spoken of love or loss with it, called others to work or battle with it, and made sense of nature, earth, the world
This multitude pushes downward my eyebrows and furrows my brow, transforming my face into an awkward image of reflected cuteness
It activates my arms, pulling my baby closer to my face
Her cute, newly there, barely breathing reminds me na sen dikike gui’
Kulang umomlat i patgon gi unu na kannai-hu
The nurse’s eyes remain rounded out, expectantly waiting for my girl’s name
Completely unaware of the typhoon powered history lesson which makes my hands tremble, but also assures me I will not let my baby fall
The name finally arrives at my lips, the cost of its landfall, a fresh tear appearing at the corner of my eye
“Her name is Sumåhi” I say at last, while my lips slowly form a kiss for her forehead