A Child Speaks to Libokra

by Jacquelyn Markham

A myth on the Bikini Atoll, claims that Libokra, an evil female spirit, once lived in the southern Marshalls where Rongerik was originally located. She stole the atoll, hid it among the northern islands, and attempted to settle at Bikini, but was driven off by Orijabato, a benevolent male spirit who resided there and guarded the Bikinians. The elders say Libokra fled and everywhere she visited, fish became poisoned and the crops declined. Her body, cast into the lagoon, poisoned the fish that since then make people sick when eaten.
R. Kiste, The Bikinians

Libokra, my father said it was you
that came to Bikini before the people had to leave
and that Orijabato drove you off
because you were evil

the chief said it was you that came and stole away
Rongerik in the night and moved the island
from south to north and then the fish began to make us sick
and the palm trees died and the sandy isle
became sandier so nothing would grow

Libokra they said they killed you
and dropped your bones in the sea
and the fish who nibbled there
became poison to us and we could not eat

Libokra they said
it was you but I know it isn’t true

the night before the big ships came to Bikini
I sneaked away from the hut
rising quietly from my mat to say goodbye to the lagoon
I walked alone under the full moon
the waves seemed lonelier than ever before
the palms gave mournful sounds
and though I often went to the graves at night
where my sister was buried
and though the moon scattered light over the shore
and the water glistened as in sunlight
I felt afraid and a chill blew through my shift

and even the ones buried seemed to weep at the mournful
sound of the palms

Libokra, then I saw you rise up from the sea
above me, bigger than my mother
or even Mejia, the strongest woman on Bikini
your long black hair covered with seaweed
your body bare and swimming like a fish

you dipped and splashed
not playful like a porpoise
but like you were angry and swimming desperately your last time
as I do when mother calls me to come in at sunset
and I don’t want to come ashore

I watched you dive down and scoop up a great shell
I couldn’t move but I wasn’t afraid anymore
I felt safe and protected like my mother was near
and you began to speak to me
“Listen to the shell
the whisper of the sea–never forget
no matter how they try to destroy me, I will return”

you offered me a spiraling shell
saying “tell all who hear the spirit of the sea
they will drive me away
they will kill me
they will defile my name
but my mother is the sea
the unending and eternal sea”

I touched your skin which was warm
not cold like a fish
I smelled your saltiness
I wanted to ask “will they believe me?”
but you dove under and swiftly swam away

The moon until then bright and beaming down
spun around turning dark and darker
plunged into the water
lost like a huge rock into the waves

I stood on the shore like a rock myself
until I heard my mother call

Looking up, I saw the moon was there as always
palms dancing like everynight before
sand damp and warm under my feet
in my hand the shell Libokra gave me
I put the shell to my ear and my mother’s voice
faded into the night
I heard at first Libokra saying
“tell all who hear the spirit of the sea”

then only a whispering:
I am the mother of the sea
I am the mother of the sea


Jacquelyn Markham has been writing and publishing poetry for over three decades and it continues to be her passion. She has also published a scholarly work on the poetry by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, published between 1884 and 1935. Markham is currently Associate Professor of Liberal Arts and holds a Ph.D. in Creative Writing.


Filed under Poetry

2 responses to “A Child Speaks to Libokra

  1. Pingback: Jacquelyn Markham, A Child Speaks to Libokra | Otram Slabess

  2. Pingback: A Child Speaks to Libokra | Otram Slabess

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