Tripe - VISUAL

VISUAL Centre for Contemporary Art &
The George Bernard Shaw Theatre


In this poem, the Nigerian-Irish poet, writer, editor, and performer Chiamaka Enyi-Amadi responds to VISUAL’s current exhibition, Her Hare by Caroline Achaintre

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Caroline Achaintre, Her Hare, VISUAL Carlow, installation view. Photography by Ros Kavanagh


The winter of my thirteenth birthday,
Mother says my eyes are too big for my stomach.
I scrape the fat from my piggish pupils with her scalpel.
Mother says my tongue is too sharp for my own good; I snip
the offensive frenulum with her curved scissors. Mother says
my feet are too fast for a Christian girl; I tear the devilish ligaments
with her tweezers. Mother sterilises her work tools, hides them on the highest shelf,
drags me by the ear, straps me to bed, pulls the neck of the covers high,
and tucks it tight as a child’s coffin. Mother says there is no more room
for mistakes, no more waka-dugbe, roaming the streets looking for trouble.

Trouble finds you oozing
a newly slaughtered animal in a single bed,
restless, sluggish, and over-fed. For breakfast, sip
warm creamy porridge oats freshly made on the hob,
sweetened with condensed milk. For lunch, slurp
chicken liver floating in a spicy broth. For night feeds, nibble
scoops of semolina and vegetable soup by the handful. Spring rustles
the curtains and soaks up the dampness of the bedding. Soon, Mother
bundles you in Sunday Best, and together, you shuffle
up the church aisle to the pulpit. You, ripe and robust, bloated
evidence of answered prayers to every believer waiting on a cure;
mother sings a testimony sweeter than any mammal’s milk.

It has been fourteen years since I fell asleep
to the foul stench of shaki defrosting overnight. Sunday
afternoons spent under
duress, standing steady as a rusty metal plinth, watching my mother wash
and dress three kinds of tripe:
blanket, honeycomb, and bible, each from a different chamber of a cow’s
stomach bought in bulk
from the African Store next door to Kennys Bookshop. I escaped to Kennys
from under my mother’s hot
heels and slithered between the cooling shade of the old wooden book
-shelves, the only beauty spot
on the ugly face of the industrial estate.

Cleaning and cooking the lining of a cow’s stomach
demands elbow grease. Weak-boned with anaemia
Wax-skinned with nausea, I pass my mother the tools:
rock salt for scrubbing, vinegar for bleaching the yellowy membrane
A spare toothbrush for brushing out green flecks from the iron-rich meat
A water basin to rinse the hexagonal folds before parboiling. Hours pass

Mother swings her favourite knife, I fetch the stock pot.
She slices the tripe, chops red onions, crushes nutmeg,
Once the tripe is tender, she plops the mass into the red pepper stew
simmering on the back gas ring all day. The extractor fan drones
on uselessly as steam hangs heavy over our galley kitchen. 

Look at the fasting girl framed
in the cabinet of curiosities,
Is she an archive
Is she an exhibit
Is she a little porcelain doll out of place
amongst a private collection of objects
Provoking mystery, marvel and macabre sensibilities:
A slab of tattooed skin bearing a faded portrait carved
from the back of poor old Drioli, steel-mounted skulls,
taxidermy songbirds, sacred religious scrolls, fossil
fragments resembling coiled snakes turned to stone. Don’t worry.
When the starving girl feels hungry enough, she will help herself
to the poisonous plants. When the silly girl feels sick enough, she
will holler for help. When the selfish girl tires of herself, she
will fling her brittle body against the glass
the doors will swing open, and the waif will fall face-first
into the furnace of Gothic autofiction.

Today, I woke to oil spitting,
I need not lift my head to taste crackling,
the crisp, golden, fatty flesh of roast pork. My lover knows
to cook it twice for a softer crunch at high heat.

Chiamaka Enyi-Amadi is a poet, writer, editor, and performer based in Wicklow. Her poetry has been published in The Stinging Fly, The Irish Times, Architecture Ireland, Poetry International, Poetry Ireland Review, and more. Alongside Pat Boran, she is the co-editor of Writing Home: The 'New Irish' Poets, published by Dedalus Press in 2019.

Her Hare by Caroline Achaintre is at VISUAL Carlow from 30 September 2023 - 14 January 2024.