Friday, December 30, 2016

Poetic Companion to Dummies' Guide. Part 2: Michelle Ann James

In Memorium of a Photograph

by Michelle Ann James

A blinding flash of light,
Luminous, frightening.
You look away,
You have mastered the art of looking away.
It is only a second, few seconds.
Nothing to see there,
It was only a “flash”.
A flash that becomes a dream,
A dream that becomes a nightmare.
You learn to unlearn,
You try to un-see.
But it is an imprint on your retina,
A photograph frozen in time,
The one Ed Sheeran didn’t sing about.
This one’s a negative,
A bluish white glow.
You keep it in your shawl,
That you wear around your neck like a milestone,
An armour concealing your shame,
The shame your mother gave you.
You keep this for long,
A cherished memory with a stranger,
A faceless stranger with hands, only hands,
Hands out of his eyes, his legs, in between his legs,
A memory that involuntarily creeps up in broad daylight,
A lightning on a hot summer day.
Lights. Camera. Action.
Lights Camera. Look away,
Lights. Camera. Look away.
Lights. Camera. Look away.
Learn this drill!
Drill it into your memory,
Remember that photograph.
Looking away is an act of protest.
Master the art of never meeting the eye,
The eye is the catch.
Learn to look away at inanimate objects,
Or the ground.
The ground is the safest place.
Teach yourself to look down, head bowed,
Eyes lowered – the spit, the grime, the shards of glass,
Your feet.
The counting of steps… 101…102...103.
212 steps to reach home, to reach office,
To find a seat next to a woman.
Road sign flashes in huge block letters, in red.
Better safe than sorry,
Never ignore warnings, you teach yourself, you teach your daughter.
And yet, the photograph comes alive at times,
Like the summoning of a spirit
With eyes more real than a touch,
Touch more real than a strike,
A bona fide touch.
The power play of the fingers,
Skin to skin, only for a moment.
But the moment is for ever,
A place in time without tenses,
Three divorces and yet,
this moment stays new.
You die a little.
Breath hanging on a cloth line, washed out.
A scream caught on a fish hook,
You stand,
Like a shadow,
With your throat swelling up like a river in rain.
But all your body is ready for war,
You hair in attention,
Ready to take flight, run, wreak havoc.
You struggle to break free,
But there is nothing holding you back,
Just crippling, horrifying fear.
A diabolic force that needs some sort of exorcism.
The touch, the touch, the touch,
Latching on at the pit of your belly,
Ice sprouting from your bones,
Spreading in defying gravity,
Now you are posing for a ‘mannequin challenge’,
A camera coming your way,
A photograph from memory.
Unshakeable. Stationary. Dead.
A ghost.
A ghost that can see and touch and feel,
A ghost that can be seen and touched and felt,
Praying in silence for redemption,
Skin stretching to heal an open wound.
Now you walk,
Cold sweat dripping between your thighs,
Your ears melting in sulphur,
The death-like acidic trickle in your mouth.
The earth is shaking with fever,
You prepare yourself for the comeback,
The posing, dramatic, dreadful normalcy
Of a photograph.
A walk down memory lane,
To that hot day in the cruelest month,
You- mischievous, innocent –
playing with your Raggedy Ann doll,
your uncle, his lap, his hands, your terror –
you know the story.
The first time you learn to keep a secret,
The first time you internalise fear,
The first time you cry without a tear,
The first time you take a picture in monochrome,
The first time of you try to forget,
That picture of the
Raggedy Ann doll on your rocking pony chair,
The first time you set something on fire,
Waiting for it to annihilate you.
You recall all those school lessons,
Right touch, wrong touch – girls exclusive.
You sit there wondering why you failed in class,
Shame engulfing you like your first fire.
Fast forward.
After 44 years of the cold war,
You are in front of a jury,
Narrating your story
That they already know –
The protagonist of someone’s erotic adventures,
The “same, identical woman”,
The same tedious story.
All the cupping and the grabbing and the pushing and the squeezing –
Very graphic words,​
Very uncomfortable verbs ending in ‘ING’.
The jury cringes.
Words that you have perfected with practise and an unknown rage,
Words that took years of acknowledging,
Words that you have written over and over again,
On the foreskin of your heart.
Now, you cry, with tears,
You have reached catharsis,
And somehow,
Your mouth pleads guilty,
“Mea culpa”, you shout.
The jury charges you – guilty,
For the low-cut, skin tight provocation,
Your God-given endowment.
Your volition to say no,
Your Consent,
Guilty of all that is you.
The price one pays to be in view,
Alive, crying, skin tags and all
with a milestone around your neck,
Is a photograph with a blurred face and
A fake two-syllable name.

You convince yourself –
There is justice in a name,
At least you weren’t anonymous.
You convince yourself –
There is justice in a photograph,
At least, it was in colour.


Part 1: Alamu R
Part 3: Santha N

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