New poetry by Wellington writer Chris Tse.
The Magician—Notes on distraction
Every time I turn to see where I should be looking
I see my reflection.
There is so much of the world within reach
from your desk—screens within screens, and holes
within holes—tails wagging dogs, and newspapers
It’s tiny hammers pounding at your skin
and not knowing why you wake up every morning
covered in bruises.
It’s a story so vivid you keep repeating it
as if it were yours to tell, pulling up your sleeves and
showing strangers a new shade of blue.
You think you know this story and who is
telling it. Don’t be surprised when a door slam shuts
and you find yourself asking, How long has that door
My reflection is a magician—he tells me where to look.
Inside every poem is a stage with trapdoors.
Inside every poem is a smoke machine.
Inside every poem is a mirror
buried in the volta,
and, once found and gazed upon, it shows you
what you missed as you were following the tip
of the wand.
The Magician tells you where to look, and so you look
because magic doesn’t work if you don’t follow
instructions. But, as a spectator, the trick is to expect
everything and nothing at the same time.
The trick is to
watch the wand while your left hand is behind your back
texting the revelation to your past self, so when you reach
the reveal you have seen The Magician’s flourish in all
its cross-sectioned-exposed-wiring glory.
Look over there—
a door you’ve never noticed, a secret way in and out.
Anything could be placed before you undetected.
Of course it’s been there the whole time. You’ve spent
your entire life with your body pushed up against
the door, but the crowd beating on the other side
is louder and demands entertainment.
They spend the running time convincing us it’s
and while our eyes are scanning for the slightest
we don’t see them set fire to the scenery,
the strike of the match disguised by our applause.
With so much happening in this world
it’s getting harder
to resist everything that demands my attention,
and harder to tell
what I unknowingly steal from myself when I fall
for another smoke screen.
Over here’s shattered glass scattered over the pavement,
catching sunlight and
begging to be written about. Meanwhile, I’ve not noticed
that the source of this glass
is a five-car pile-up complete with blood and sirens
and screaming children
but that doesn’t stop me from getting on my hands and
knees to interrogate each shard.
It’s a spot the difference game where one picture
is an earthquake
and the other is an upstairs neighbour dragging furniture
across hardwood floors at two in the morning.
The Magician tells me sleep is the biggest distraction
of all. There’s no joy
in surrendering to the screens behind my eyes
where everything I believe to be true is a wrong memory,
an echo I’ve been too happy to be swallowed by.
In the morning, everything is the same but shifted
slightly to the right—and during the night someone has
turned all your books around so their spines are now
facing the wall.
The whole damn time
From the wings
both The Magician and the audience
become the show—passing
the matches between them, call and
response running in both directions.
Can we still call this power?
And, if so, how many walls
will be left standing
when they’ve extinguished
It’s from the wings that I see what haunts me.
Ignorance won’t save me, no matter how many
doors I open and shut just to keep myself busy.
My reflection and I want to look away—but the wires snap
us back each time.
If you are a person of colour, you don’t get to live
through a national conversation about racism and
shame without taking multiple hits to the body.
It’s like being a prop in your own story and constantly
wondering whether someone will pick you up just to
acknowledge that you’re there. It’s screaming FIRE!
in a burning building while everyone on Twitter is
saying it’s not fire but a smoke machine doing what
it’s been told to do. A blind man doesn’t need to see
a fire to know the rush of standing in a burning
building, and if he stands there long enough he will
be taken by the flames. So much debate rests on
the cause of the fire but no one ever wants to talk
about the consequences of making the cause the story.
Who is telling this story? Well, it depends on whether
or not you mention the colour of the bodies they’ll pull
from the debris. Sometimes we have to tell these stories
because the rest of the world is watching The Magician
disappear an invisible elephant that was never there
in the first place. And behind the door you never noticed,
a series of doors. That is the story you should be telling.
I see my reflection.
every time I turn to see where I should be looking.