Chimwemwe Undi

THE SHADOW MACHINE

 

“the internet is a cemetery
where nothing ever dies” and when she does
we crowd her parents’ kitchen counters
with tulips and casseroles
and careful sympathies
we Googled and practiced on the way over,
but fucked up anyway,
distracted by how different her mother looks,
all corners,
like she’s unfolded from rice paper
and you can still see all the lines.

there are three hundred and eighty six
tagged pictures of her on the internet
and I’ve peered into each of them,
wondering
            did she know?
            when did she decide
and      what makes me think i can peel back
the layers of her uploaded life
to see what was so shattered
at the core of it

grief lingers longer this way
it hangs like angels’ share,
we only breathe to get drunk on it,
stumbling through all
the guilt of unfeeling.
she was our age and so un-special.
and it’s worse that she was as ordinary as
the rest of us,
with plans for that Thursday
and that summer
and that life that bloomed bloody
into our First Death.

she’s the only person we all know
cast out into Everything
and she’s left us
this virtual body to cling to,
this new version of ghostliness
that glows like immortality.

after high school, we scattered like light
got drunk and pregnant and tattoos,
left our old selves in a shadow
she named home for a while,
and none of us know this from asking her,
we thought too late of it
but you can tell somehow
or hope you can tell
reading her updates like lifeless palms

her aunt leaves a message on her wall
says “hope ur having fun in heaven”
like the afterlife is the spring break vacation she
spent the winter saving for,
someone posts a photo from junior high
we all know she would’ve had taken down,
an ex-boyfriend shares details
that feel like peeking into a bedroom window
like taking notes from someone’s diary
and i learn from this that I would do both.

on her birthday, I get a push notification
on my phone
and have to leave the line at the bank
to find a bathroom to cry in.
there’s no ritual in this mourning,
no wick lit in a chapel with soft flame to engulf
everything we are so tired of carrying,
this sorrow is abbreviated
and live-updated and world wide
i was not part of this life but here it is,
curated and hanging in the monitor window
for whoever might want to see

my favourite pictures of her are of other people,
she is chewing or yawning
caught off guard and up in someone else’s moment.
she will never know about most of these.
she is not herself in any of her pictures.
she smiles with her eyes muffled,
still in a way that reminds me
too much of whoever they stifled in that casket
I was too afraid to peer into

 

 

IN DEFENSE OF PHILLUMENY

 

in the clearing behind our church
the nearly-lapsed smoke cigarettes like
it might save them and

your gay cousin
with all the piercings
does palm readings at birthday parties now

i eat salt and fat and new fruit
burn honeyed bread
all my clothes are polyester

there are better ways to burn

 

 

IN THE WAKE OF IT

 

peeling fruit
and listening to bad radio
hair some strange nimbus
shea butter and burning
(never pomegranate
not anymore)

now folded in
and tight about the mouth
and quiet
better quiet
the beast that moves her
only half-tamed
it bucks impatient

she watches for what shifts
she holds it still

she dwells in perpetuity
       in Top 40
       in anything seedless
remembers too well the carmine bitter
       that funambulism
       that taut nervousness
nothing like the loud-thundering
       (too much like it)
too much ichor
blossoming just under the skin
some golden flower

she buried herself

Persephone in her kitchen
does not miss the fire
just the girl from the headlights
just the blushing ember of a memory
and all that smoke

 

 

AN EFFIGY

 

if you can find a chisel
you’ll be gone by morning

if you can find some granite
       about your height
       as dark as your magic,
       already the hardness
              demanded of you
you’re close

here is a sob that
wracks a clouded sky
a breath caught like hell in our chests
this new round of old howling
it never really ceased
how easily they found the hidden soft of us
and pierced it again

swing your hammer like a gospel song
give them deserving target
unsullied stone
made in your image
an easier likeness to mourn

I am not saying that this
will ease these old sorrows
I am not saying we will be
fine again I’m saying
we have tried everything else
we have tried kneeling not breathing hands up
we have tried unarmed weeping five and twelve and seventeen
built roadblocks of our bodies
       and walls
toed lines they’d rather draw in chalk around us
and now this garden
of haunted marble effigies

but still in this life
there are only two times we are not trembling
before and after it

 


 

Chimwemwe Undi is a Winnipeg-based poet and spoken word artist. She has been a featured reader at the Winnipeg International Writer’s Festival, the Victoria Spoken Word Festival and the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word. You can find her work in Prairie Fire’s Electric City 2 and the IndieFeed Performance Poetry podcast.

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