Poetry: The First Time I Download a Language App, I am Outside the Hospital, Contemplating this Poem by Chiwenite Onyekwelu

Through the surprising yet poignant frame of learning “which language hope is most fluent in,” Chiwenite Onyekwelu’s poem brings the reader into the speaker’s fear in the midst of health crisis. This poem works its magic in part by juxtaposing the sterile language of the medical system against the poet’s vivid images of the heart.

The First Time I Download a Language App, I am Outside the Hospital, Contemplating this Poem

Even with electrocardiogram, there’s not
enough good heart to go round.

The nurse at the corner thinks I’m weird,
the way it beeped once, & I shrunk

inward as though I was a paper house
bowing to flames. I have seen it

happen. A body I once owned, once kept
warm, suddenly tossed over by

a surge of heat. My teeth tightening in
response. Each lower neck artery

stretching, then stretching further more.
The biology of angina is such that

breathing becomes fragile, like glass.
You don’t want to drop it, despite

the weight, the way Eve must have felt
touching her skin after the fruit.

I have seen it happen: my own human
heart stuck at the rims. The cyborg

claims it should have passed the Turin
test because of course it learned to keep

a cool face even though the cameras
deserved to be punched. I understand.

I too have been on that white screen,
stilled only by my fear of what could

happen if what I fear at the moment does
not happen. So I let the beeping

continue. Let his clean hands tear me
open, examine my rusted core. Outside,

I download Duolingo. First due to long
term curiosity, & then, because I want

to know which language hope is most
fluent in. What is the Chinese word

for embracing what is at stake? What
Igbo word? I will beg in whatever lexicon

& maybe this heart, this gear, would want
something else other than to stop.

Chiwenite Onyekwelu

Chiwenite Onyekwelu is the author of the poetry chapbook, EXILED (forthcoming in Red Bird Chapbooks, 2023). His poems have appeared in Adroit Journal, Palette Poetry, Cincinnati Review, Mizna, Chestnut Review, Bombay Magazine, Lolwe, and elsewhere. He was shortlisted for the Alpine Fellowship Prize, and was a co-winner for the Writing Ukraine Poetry Prize 2023. He won the 2020 Jack Grapes Poetry Prize. Chiwenite has served as Chief Editor at The School of Pharmacy Agulu, where he’s currently an undergraduate.

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