from unincorporated territory [saina], by Craig Santos Perez

from unincorporated territory [saina], by Craig Santos Perez

from unincorporated territory [saina]from unincorporated territory [saina]
by Craig Santos Perez (133 pages/ Ominidawn Press, 2010)
ISBN13: 9781890650469

Anchored in the wrenching history of the native Chamorro people, [saina] is a book about the plastic, ever-shifting nature of recorded history and identity. Perez composes this story by incorporating what has previously been unincorporated: the amalgamated, bypassed, excluded, adapted, redacted voices that make up the personal and political memory of the island of Guam.

Saina is the word in Chamorro for parents, elders, spirits, ancestors, and [saina] the book, begins as a divided, fragmented text built out of four languages (English, Spanish, Japanese and Chamorro)which quote the voices of family members, military decrees, tourist brochures, records of official transfer, creation stories, government exercises of eminent domain, and reports on the contemporary physical and emotional state of the Chamorro people and their lands. Perez takes these seemingly disconnected, disembodied voices and gives them a conjoined body, a paper skin they must inhabit together:

territory ceded to united states in accordance with treaty of

peace between the united states and spain signed paris 12/10/1898

proclaimed 4/11/1899 known as island of guam in marianas

islands shall continue to be known as guam

during typhoon season she would tell us the story of i guihan dangkolo:


in days of

our before time


in days when chaifi…

virgin mary

not yet come…

“i don’t remember who told me that story ilek-ña

maybe my mom your great grandma

“so many typhoons

pakyo pakyo pakyo every year she sighs

‘guam is hereby declared to be an unin corp orated territory of the united states’

from typhon ‘whirlwind’ ‘father of the winds’

from tufan ‘big cyclonic storm‘”

Perez has a power of vision in this book that is breathtaking to experience. If a native culture has been unincorporated, if Catholicism has grafted itself into its creation histories, if various powers have made of it alternately a disputed occupied territory, a military base, a fetish tourism destination, and most of its native population was forced to leave long ago, if all that is left are pieces of pieces– what can hold together what has no corpus, no body?


where no last detail

is legible–

with so many

customs to recover

the whole house

assumes a posture

of prayer until


becomes what holds it

An answer takes place within the poetry itself: the breath, the rhythms shift, and a kind of transubstantiation occurs. The voices on the page are no longer colliding, running in parallel streams, speaking over one another, but form a continuous, inhabited, resonant energy, a song-like beam that illuminates the power of story as a regenerative power:

…somewhere beginnings persist that were never simply given never simply taken

maybe this is more than lost cargo maybe this

is only where light comes to breathe from afar no exact location

disclosed because no breath ends


is it true that you can live with thirst

and still die from drowing only to have words

become as material as our needs

i want to ask you it it still possible to hear our paper skin opening [we]

carry our stories overseas to the place called ‘voice’

and call

to know our allowance of water

It is impossible to read [saina] and not feel moved by Perez’s capacity to take pain and truths that should be embittering, even crippling, and fashion light out of them. As Perez puts it, “we belong to more than a map of remote scars.