On the Imminent Destruction of Portage Place Mall

not a bomb      but leveled                   still       unkeeling

listless   or lacking inventory                shortly, nothing

shortly, unmade                       harkening back to blondes

on VHS           stockings named          for favoured subset of flesh

glitter rides the escalator’s churn


jingle dirges in the backlight                 specter

backlight blue    geometrical                impossible

this edifice:      “the biggest thing to hit the city


since the flood”           flood displaced            in meaning

by a bigger flood          mall displaced

in meaning by the flood of us


flood again       toxic metaphor                        begat

by bordering   Black and brownness

by bodies         blued   bluing              made buoyant

by the mass of us         liquid in our number


to be sure         us ≠ this keen city       nostalgic amnesiac

supplicant lustrated in silted water       ten tented fingers

breaks for wagging


us my people            connotes a buoyant mass

joyous noise     gestures to uncle strangers

in the food court          stuffing ears with courage        lies


in Dollarama    auntie compliments my accent

offers me her son         strained plaid polyester

Portage Place First Nation       which D says

to mean         my people


people made a demographic                disappeared

from municipal imagination     struck like noon

inside exit doors locked into exterior walls


before unmaking          return again to the blueness

of the light       gossamer and permanent         to the trees

indoors at that             a rube’s early wonder


to these planters built for sitting          uniformed men

imported from the suburbs to tell us not to sit


to the clock’s bright mechanics            spiral

torsions only visible coming down the escalator

blunt blade also promised better things


the trouble is how to build it    the blue unmade

amidst mist and wind and unhurried anarchy

how to conjure house and universe


even dexterous in this new split tongue

I am full of all the wrong language        full of little

but language    lungs full of elsewhere’s smoke           I am helpless


before what can’t be helped      mouth busied

retuning the questions: what beautiful thing

has ever left me and returned?


what else in the middle distance is burning?

Questions and Answers

Chimwemwe Undi is a writer with work appearing in Brick Magazine, Room Magazine, Border Crossings Magazine, on CBC Manitoba and BBC World and at the Edinburgh International Writers Festival. She is a Banff Centre Emerging Writers Intensive alumni and sits on Poetry in Voice’s working board. She holds an MA in linguistics from York University and lives on Treaty One territory in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where she works as a lawyer.


What inspired or motivated you to write this poem?

I began to write this poem after I heard of plans to remake or replace Portage Place Mall, a shopping centre in downtown Winnipeg. The demographics of the mall’s current clientele are Black and Indigenous people, primarily, and primarily poor people, and so the desire to remake this space made me think about gentrification and other kinds of colonialism. I was interested in the factors that made people need this space and the factors that made other people want to destroy it despite its demonstrated necessity. A lot of my current writing is about place and space in cities, and this city on this stolen land specifically.


What poetic techniques did you use in this poem? How much attention do you pay to form and metre?

I used a lot of repetition and what the linguist in me would call minimal pairs: the same phrase repeated with one small difference. I’m admittedly inexperienced with or untrained in form but I knew after a while that this poem would need to take up a lot of space on and across the space to echo the vastness of the mall and of the poem’s concerns.


How did your writing process unfold around this poem? How did you write, edit, and refine it?

I did a fair amount of research for this poem. Major sources were YouTube, where I watched old ads and news stories about Portage Place Mall, and Owen Toews’ book Stolen City: Racial Capitalism and the Making of Winnipeg. I then paired those references with my own experiences with the mall over the many years it has featured in my life. I read an early draft at a Communities Not Cuts Manitoba protest, and feedback from friends and audience members with respect to what resonated was surprisingly helpful (though I ignored some of it!). It took me about a year to get from a first draft to this published version. It was like that ship of Theseus thought experiment: I rewrote it so many times and so completely that it’s clear it was the same poem only because I said so.


What did you find particularly challenging in writing this poem?

I found it challenging to get this poem to sit still on the page. I come from a spoken word tradition and I still think this poem is stronger read aloud than it is typeset. So much of the work of placing it on the page was attempting to capture the breath work of reading or performing this aloud.

This poem “On the Imminent Destruction of Portage Place Mall” originally appeared in Canadian Literature 248 (2022): 113-114.

Please note that works on the Canadian Literature website may not be the final versions as they appear in the journal, as additional editing may take place between the web and print versions. If you are quoting reviews, articles, and/or poems from the Canadian Literature website, please indicate the date of access.