Mirror, Reflect Our Unknown Selves

by Tlotlo Tsamaase · from issue 1

I recall lying next to my sister, saying,
“Those with machine lungs don’t know how to exhale love.
Why do they come here to us?”
She peeled off her face and said, “I’m tired of living.”
Encouraged, I peeled mine, too.
We walked naked, our bones knocking against each other.
The job of the dead is easier
Than the job of the living.
But
That was not the beginning of the self.

I.

A sad night; moon heavy for sky’s black.
Her afro traced her scalp
Like patterns of poetry.
She dug her nails deep
To carve out the self
And lay herself in a cloak of snow.
She/me
I tell myself/her:
My beauty is my own.
It is your ugly thought that curls around my hand, trying to be a friend.
I will not care.
I will practice to not cocoon myself for your pleasure.
But in the mirror:
Her make-up, a ghost’s mask,
Buries ethni-cities in layers of bone
’Cause isn’t it so tidy to be the color of bone
Unwrapped of skin
Instead of the color of sin—
Skin?
Sternum shivers at lungs patting it dry,
Stale air curdles cold in chest,
As panic mounts the spine.

II.

My belly is full of unborn worlds, unseen things, unknown selves.
Before sleep, thoughts awake as wolves thirsty for peace.
Fear is selfish; it breeds on my breaths to fill its lungs.
The world, a womb where oceans beg to seal earth with sea-skin.

III.

I’m a girl searching for love
Thinking it hid in phallic caves.
Carved in lifelines, laugh lines, hands,
Who are all these names in the sky?
She pointed to the skies, but I only saw her eyes.
“You’re beautiful,” she repeated.
My lips were fences keeping words penned in, bulleted to my sanity.
I’m only as right or wrong as my brain tells me.
Guilt drew its nail to my neck, pulled the marbles from my face,
Masking grenades in words, the barometer of hatred.
Her life became a lit cigarette placed between my teeth.

IV.

A strange night; two men drove her home.
She was a drop-off package.
He was a sex digger, mining her loins.
So:
What’s your favorite color?
She said, “Blood, because it’s so alive.”

V.

When you see the scene,
Your knees bend into the veld
Dismembering your bones to find Him.
I am moon bleeding like sun;
You pinch my uterus, begging the blood to stop:
“Go back. No, we don’t want children.”
For we were buried in ethnicities of snow
You lay back, afro wilting, sick of non-seeing mirrors.
You peeled your mask off. “I’m tired of unbeing.”
Encouraged, I peeled mine, too.
We walked naked, our bones knocking against each other
Like drums of the night.