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I love that cloak of brown.
How you wear it beautifully over your bone
Much different than mine
But before, for a long time, it felt like your skin was the image of the grains of earth
Waiting to bury the dead
For only humans are seen as alive
And we fall into neither category.
I thought, "This man will bury me."
'Cause for long I thought that skin wasn't beauty
It was prison
I begged God to let me out
I thought beauty doesn't rest in that type of skin
Beauty doesn't have dialect like that
Language that caresses my tongue
Language that holds my body holy.
I'd carved the moon of light
And burned myself
With its ash for years to look like it
Only to learn it stained everything inside me to become what
Didn't look like you
Didn't look like me.

 

An unsaid thing began to rot inside.
Everywhere I went, it stank of my not-belonging to place.
At night, my eyes would bypass the craters of moon
To stare at that vastness of night-skin
Sprinkled with brilliance we hide,
To be less in the eye.
Yearning, my insides would break into an abyss,
A hunger for something I lost
Something I stained with an unknowing desire.
My knees my eyes aligned in prostration to earth of
The dark sky (a grave of our existence)
Is a womb that holds a tale of ancient civilizations of
Light-years we calibrate to
Separate us from the fabric of ancestors
It's a womb, we chose to be unborn
We burn the clouds of Afro
Into bone-straight lightning.

 

I shed the first layer of blindness.
And see beauty in you.
Baba, your skin holds constellations
But my tongue doesn't cut the same breed as yours does
Because I took the moon and buried myself—
Poured it into my being.
Peel this skin and find the insides of a coconut.
I'm all gone, no matter how much I scrape through trying to find myself.
Even my blood is not a shade of red.
I became a container of what was not me
Just an urn for a suicide;
You pressed your hand to my shoulder
And showed me the ways I self-mutilate myself from our culture
By just being me.
My own ask me: "What accent is that of yours unlike ours?"
I keep quiet, ashamed:
It's years and years of studying the way the TV spoke
In our living rooms, our bedrooms, our homes.
I hid every part of my dialect in corners and caves of me that I can no longer find.
The secret places in me have deserted me.
"How can you not know your own language?" their eyes say.
I bend my head down waiting for the neck-bone to break.
I am still here, I want to say, I still mean something:
My body is still the gene of this place,
It will sculpt a whole generation of us.
A gene, an irrevocable nature I feel blessed for now
No matter how you try, you can't erase it:
This womb, this birther of everything.
You are a constellation
Whatever shade
Whatever form
Whatever language your tongue bends and blends into the air.
That is what I will tell my daughter my son or whoever my child becomes, chooses to become.

 

You, lover, your name a gathering of priests.
I peel your skin and there are layers of you,
Constellations of you.
I don't moon-gaze anymore
I sky-gaze the dark of your frame
The man forbidden from the screens in our home
A silent way to say he wasn't our lover
Not even our desires
Just a bone of stereo
Type with no voice
But a script fed into our bellies.
I learned the lie
When I fell in love with you.
That skin—your skin—cloaks a human
Not a monster,
Not a primitive,
But constellations of you that the sky can't even begin to understand.



Tlotlo Tsamaase is a Motswana writer of fiction, poetry, and architectural articles. Her work has appeared in Terraform, An Alphabet of Embers, The Fog Horn, and previously at Strange Horizons. A longer list of her work can be found at her website.
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