"in our chant of the creation of the world" by leilani portillo

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May 12, 2022 

in our chant of the creation of the world

leilani portillo

in our chant of the creation of the world
where our beginning, end, and continued existence live
where our kin beyond ourselves, more than ourselves, were born 
where each coral, shellfish, plant, and animal were born
in the depths of pō 
where the churning of the earth creates life
turns hot earth into moʻokūʻauhau 
where we descend from pō
where we chant to remember the names 
of all kin that came before
where we remember laʻilaʻi
where we remember kāne and kiʻi
where we remember papa, wākea, and hoʻohōkūkalani
where we remember hāloanakalaukapalili and hāloa
where we remember haumea and her multitudes
where we remember other creation stories of our people 

in our chant of the creation of the world
where we remembered the power in genealogy
where we utilized print to empower
and reinforced the importance of language
where we defended our humanity with translation
and in the aftermath of an insidious disease spreading
we still tried to remember the pō we come from
and the pō we are headed to 

in our chant of the creation of the world
generations lost bled to remember 
what our language tasted like
how each vowel and consonant felt on our tongue
generations lost bled to feel
the power in names and ancestors and kin
bled to heal the trauma that colonization created
we bled to remember

in our chant of the creation of the world
displaced and disconnected generations
cried each line in dreams
and, finally, remembered our origins

Copyright © 2022 by leilani portillo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 12, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

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“This poem was inspired by a course I took where we spent the entire semester delving into the 2,000-plus line, Hawaiian creation chant, ‘Kumulipo,’ which tells the origins of the world from a distinctly Kanaka ʻŌiwi perspective. It is a retelling, reclaiming, and remembering of our history, stories, and selves. Ultimately, this is a love poem to diasporic Kānaka telling us that the language remembers and is waiting for our return, whether physically or spiritually. And I will be waiting alongside her.”
leilani portillo

leilani portillo is a diasporic, queer, Kanaka ʻŌiwi poet. They currently live in Waiākea Uka, Hilo, Hawaiʻi.
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Thanks to Brandy Nālani McDougall, author of The Salt-Wind: Ka Makani Pa‘Akai (Kuleana ‘Oiwi Press, 2008), who curated Poem-a-Day for this month’s weekdays. Listen to a Q&A about McDougall’s curatorial approach and find out more about our guest editors for the year
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