“Atlas”

… Yes. It’s another poem. So much of my academic workload has been rooted in poetry this semester, I can’t seem to escape it. 

I recently came across this poem by writer Terisa Siagatonu while I was researching for my creative writing class, and not only did I fall in love with the language, but I also noticed how clearly it paralleled the course concepts for our class. 

Though I’ve tried learning more on Siagatonu, I unfortunately could not find a whole lot. Siagatonu is a queer Samoan woman from California who writes quite a bit on the complexity of home/origins, as well as political justice and healing. It seems very inconvenient that I can’t screenshot the poem and post a picture here, so I’ll try to quote certain lines. Siagatonu opens up Atlas with a description of a general map of the world, and is seemingly furious at the way bodies of water are portrayed on them. She tells us that maps only focus on land masses, whereas the oceans are pushed aside. She says, “The audacity one must have to create a visual so/violent as to assume that no one comes/ from water so no one will care.” She then goes on to describe the difficulty of explaining to people her roots as a Samoan-American women, born and raised in California.  She describes it as “a broken and butchered places that have made me/a hyphen of a woman:/A Samoan-American that carries the weight of both/colonizer and colonized.” Siagatonu then highlights the contradictions of her being from California, a state of the “most powerful country on this planet,” and Samoa, “an island so microscopic” and “a state of emergency away from becoming a saltwater cemetery/if the sea level doesn’t stop rising.” 

This poem sort of reminds me of Zone One, in the way that it incorporates a lot of that “language of water,” that Erin talked about in her post. According to Siagatonu, water is the one thing that binds us. It is where we all originate from. It’s something we are all familiar with. The line where she says, “The audacity one must have to create a visual so/violent as to assume that no one comes/from water so no one will care,” instantly made me think back to Roach’s concept of violence being a “performance of waste.” Aside from the explicit usage of the word “violence,” it seems that maps, as well as our perception of geography is violent in that we dismiss the power and significance of water.  Her descriptions of Samoa as a tiny island plagued with flooding and lack of government assistance took me back to many of our class discussions of New Orleans, as well as When the Levees Broke. She claims that she does not have the “privilege” of calling Samoa home, but rather a “state of constant migration.” Like Samoa, New Orleans was of little importance to the government during Hurricane Katrina, and forced many people to move their homes permanently. Also, as stated before Siagatonu seems to struggle a lot with her roots and what the definition of “home” is, and as Beth says time and time again, “origins are tricky.”

I would love for you guys to read this poem and let me know what you think! There is so much to unpack, and I feel like I’ve just barely scraped the surface…

 

 

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