skipping dead insects across the ocean

i wake up with fists clenched. the glass shimmers
and crushes under my fingers like wings. he
cites me as the one with broken knuckles. it
is easier, he says, to remember things that way.

i start to wear creased butterflies in my hair. then
stuffed in my coat pocket, wrapped in brown paper
like a parcel. on tuesdays, i carve words into
the shore: run, flight, fog. wait, watch as the
sea chases them away, and chase it back
till i’m up to my heart with water.

the last butterfly flickers away at high tide. i practise
breathing underwater but the fish gnaw at my skull
like metal. i don’t know what i’m waiting for, i
tell him, and he says, whatever’s left. so i press my skin
against seashells, forget how to breathe again.

Emma Shi recently completed her studies in Classics at Victoria University of Wellington. She was the winner of the National Schools Poetry Award 2013 and the Poetry NZ Prize 2017. Her writing has been published in literary journals such as Landfall and Starling. Her recent chapbook, Elsewhere, is an extensive prose poem that explores homesickness and wanderlust through the women of ancient Greek tragedy.

Emma comments: ‘“skipping dead insects across the ocean” is situated in a world that I was exploring through a series of poems. It’s a world that feels metallic and broken, that feels on the edge of something. It’s a world where danger is always imminent, and the characters in this poem feel the pressure of this danger. However, they cannot run and all they can do is wait for things to pass. And while they wait, they occupy their time doing the normal turned strange: skipping insects instead of stones across the water, catching and keeping warped souvenirs of nature like creased butterflies, watching the ocean and watching their breathing.’

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