"History Project" by: Kathy Jetnil.


"at fifteen I decide

to do my history project on nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands

time to learn my own history, I decide

I weave through book after article after website

all on how the US military once used my island home for nuclear testing

I sift through political jargon

tables of nuclear weapons

with names like Operation Bravo


and Ivy

quotes from generals like    9,000 people are out there. Who cares?

I'm not mad at all

I already knew all of this

I glance at a photograph

a boy, peeled skin arms legs suspended

a puppet

next to a lab coat

lost in his clipboard

I read first hand accounts of what we call

jelly babies

tiny beings with no bones

skin, red tomatoes

the miscarriages gone unspoken

the  broken translations    I never told my husband    I thought it was my  fault    I thought    there must be something    wrong    inside me

I flip through snapshots of American marines and nurses

branded white with bloated grins

sucking beers and tossing beach balls

along our


and my islander ancestors

crosslegged before a general

listening to his

fairy tale

bout how it's

for the good of mankind

to hand over our islands

let them blast radioactive energy

into our sleepy coconut trees

our sagging breadfruit trees

our busy fishes that sparkle like new sun

into our coral reefs

brilliant as an aurora borealis woven beneath a glassy sea    God will thank you they told us


as if god himself ordained

those powdered flakes

to drift onto our skin our hair our eyes

to seep into our bones

we mistook radioactive fallout

for snow

God will thank you they told us

like god just been


for my people

to vomit



all humanity's sins

onto impeccable white shores

gleaming like the cross

burned into our open scarred palms

at one point in my research I stumble

on a photograph of goats

tied to American ships

bored and munching on tubs of grass

At the bottom a caption read

Goats  and pigs were left on naval ships as test subjects.    Thousands      of letters flew in from America    protesting    animal abuse.

at 15

I want radioactive energy megatons of tnt a fancy degree

anything and everything I could ever need to send ripples of death

through a people who put goats

before human beings

so their skin can shrivel beneath the glare of hospital room lights

three generations later

as they watch their grandfather their aunty their cousin's life drip

across that same black screen knots of knuckles tied to steel beds

cold and absent of any breath

but I'm only 15

so I finish my project

graph my people's death by cancer and canned food diabetes

on flow charts

in 3D

gluestick my ancestors' voice onto a posterboard I bought from office max

staple tables screaming the 23 millions of dollars stuffed into our mouths generation after generation after generation

and at the top I spraypainted in bold stenciled yellow


and entered it in the school district wide competition called

history day

my parents were quietly proud

and so was my teacher

and when the three balding white judges finally came around to my project

one of them looked at it and said yea

but it wasn't really

for the good of mankind, though

was it?

and I lost."