“My Animal Understudy Replaced Me in the School Production of The Tempest” by Luigi Coppola

Ekphrastic Challenge, February 2022: Editor’s Choice


Diaphona by Sarah-Jane Crowson, collage of a human-like deer standing near jellyfish

Image: “Diaphona” by Sarah-Jane Crowson. “My Animal Understudy Replaced Me in the School Production of The Tempest” was written by Luigi Coppola for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, February 2022, and selected as the Editor’s Choice. (PDF / JPG)


Luigi Coppola


Cast as Caliban, my shuddered spine
and wrung hands hid me in the wings
when my cue came. I sweated through

the makeshift costume of tissue feathers
and glued fur and plastic teeth and rubber
claws and cardboard scales and rug skin
and tinfoil tusks and foam horns and wire
wings and a sting that flopped behind me,
an amalgamation of animals, both free now
and fossilised then, all brought to semi-

life offstage. Paper mâché hooves clung
to the boards, treading a stillness that
couldn’t be moved no matter how much
the teacher/director/failed actor push-pulled,
shout-whispered, tug-shoved at my stuffed-

bursting frame. Then something inside me
stepped out: part me, part free; part human,
part animal; part thought, part instinct.
I watched from my wingless wings
and envied what I heard and saw and

felt: every word spoken spotlighted;
every step stilled the air; every gesture
so weighted they shook the hands of all
that watched. The servant acted equal
to the master—and so was, amongst
the noises, sounds, and sweet airs of the isle,
the aisle, the stage, and this brave new world.

The applause lasted the length of a storm.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
February 2022, Editor’s Choice


Comment from the editor, Timothy Green: “Luigi brings this month’s artwork to life by giving it such a vivid and surreal backstory. I’m transported to another realm with every re-reading. The details are rich, the narrator is engaging, and the poem provides significant insight into the relationship between the actor and the self. Bravo!”


Luigi turned this poem into a song and lyric video—view that here.

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