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Nkateko Masinga: a poem

rituals of healing

three times daily, our standing appointment behind the store: your hands, the ointment, my tattoo glistening as the itching subsides

for a few hours, a gentle respite as the light hits my skin and you remark at the splendour of the design I chose. this injury, unimposed

on me but chosen, loved, is the one I marry. men have offered declarations but not one of them will cling to me as this memento will

once it has completed its own ritual: peel,

scab, itch, repeat. all an attempt to heal – have you ever seen a more glorious scar

than this? what is the colour of my skin

now that I have painted over the brown I was assigned at birth? I am part-red,

part-blue, part-green. fire, sky & earth.

a pain I did not choose sent me here – to life, love, daughterhood, sisterhood –

the pain I choose for myself is this: brief,

borne of my own design; it honours relief & asserts the permanence of love, of art.

at 7 p.m., closing time, we complete our ritual with a wash: antibacterial soap, your hands, the ointment, my tattoo. my curated quartet.

Nkateko Masinga is a South African poet. She is the author of a digital chapbook titled the heart is a caged animal, published by Praxis Magazine. Her latest chapbook, psalm for chrysanthemums, was selected by the African Poetry Book Fund and Akashic Books and was published in the 2020 New Generation African Poets box set. She can be found at


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