Two Poems

Cheswayo Mphanza

Getting Lost With Hayao Miyazaki & Satoshi Kon

“Be careful. This may be a dream, but you can still lose your head.”
    – Giovanni Battista Caproni to Jiro Horikoshi, The Wind Rises (Hayao Miyazaki, 2013)

It all happened so sudden, or has it always been happening?
The trigger from a woman’s sight at the farmer’s market
which sent me on an impulse inward into
the convex vestibules of memory. My wandering through
the past; all the endless doors marked “etc” which felt like veiled entries into tragic addendums of living. My pondering over what other ways can I speak of the shadows of the past? Umbra makes them sound beautiful. Before I attempt to speak, my mouth snatched from me, burning secrets the tongue salivates over. An attempt to scream from the eyes,
but they only become witness to the trails of smoke
I chase to find the origin or departure of my journey.
How do I get back? Hitch-hike the train swimming across water –
where passengers look like shades of me – or castles moving in the sky? Sunflowers spilling from their sides; the wind sneezing a light breeze
to plant them in small valleys; perfect shades of blue and green
demarcating real from surreal. The shy ghosts and ghouls; monsters paid
to play minstrels of themselves; the boogeyman with a wife, kids, and a mortgage.
Be careful to dream too much – your imagination can destroy their homes.
Try existing as a guest wherever you are. Then I want to return to a place
I can believe in, but the imagination holds all my anxieties.
When life is moving so slow, it is trying to spit you into someplace
elsewhere. The life you know is camouflage. A voice or touch can be
a cruel phantom when you have been alone long enough. When I start
to listen to my breath to believe I am alive. There are doors we could
lead you to, but you must not mind the dead. Don’t trust the ground.
Your body either. If anything, learn to mistrust yourself. Some
of what we remember becomes fragile with time until they become
constructions out of our own desires. Notice the tulips
smell like daffodils? The mind is projection – you ever think
our imagination intrudes upon other worlds? Our reality a fanatic’s
crazed dreams? Consider we too might be someone’s arid construction.
But if I succumb to the imagination’s fold, will I have a song like
the Kauaʻi ʻōʻō to ricochet from its fantastical graveyard? To sear
my voice on time’s ears? Here is the way out. The destination is the same
in that you are always arriving and departing part of you. Turn outward.
Where are you now, but where you have always been?


          In the backfields of my grandparent’s farm
in Chikumbi, I fashioned a slingshot

                        from a broken branch, formed into
 the letter Y. Two bands of black and red elastic

                        tethered to a pouch nesting a marble. I saw
             a Lilac Breasted Roller, watching me

                        from the top of a Zebrawood tree. The Roller
              fluttering its wings to taunt me. I pulled on

the pouch, launching the marble. The body tumbled
            against tree branches before it landed on the soil

                        beneath me. The bird on its back, struggling
            to flap its dead wing. I forced the marble

                        into its delicate mouth, cracking its beak
until the marble protruded in its throat. I laid

            on my back next to the Roller. Gently rubbing
the marble. The feathers on the dead wing

             ruffled. I dug a hole and tucked the Roller in,
                        sticking my slingshot in the dirt as a headstone.

             My palms tightly pressed against the grave
to mute the shaking underneath me.

Cheswayo Mphanza was born in Lusaka, Zambia and raised in Chicago, Illinois. His work has been featured in the New England Review, New Orleans Review, American Literary Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Vinyl, Prairie Schooner, and RHINO. He has received fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, Hurston/Wright Foundation, Callaloo, Cave Canem, and Columbia University. A finalist for the Brunel International African Poetry Prize and a recipient of the 2017 Hurston/Wright Award for College Writers, his debut collection ‘The Rinehart Frames’ (University of Nebraska Press), winner of the Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets, is forthcoming in 2021. He earned his MFA from Rutgers-Newark.


*Illustration: ‘Herbal Remedies I’ by Sef Adeola.

Sign up for our newsletter

Sign up to get our latest stories, poems and essays!