“christmas lunch” and “your hearts”
you dress up your depression with
the loudest laughter.
camouflage it with grace and trifle.
stuff all you can in your mouth.
hide all that can cause a scene.
ask for more beetroot.
have your bleeding unseen when you bite your tongue
trying not to say this year too almost took you.
your silence is table etiquette.
the aunt calls you clumsy
when you shiver and spill.
you do not say,
that the knife does not know how to be steady
when you are not the meal.
that it does not know how be still
when it is not your weapon.
you laugh the loudest here too instead.
you ask for a salad to be passed
so you do not stretch too much that your shirt
exposes the orbits on your sleeves.
you do not want to tell anyone about how
your palms are a blackole.
about how the gravity of your fingers crash
everything they touch.
so when the drunk uncle tells you,
again this year,
that your life is in those hands,
you count the number of times
you almost died this year.
and you say, yes.
when the language you love in
stings a hand that offers you a roof,
you knott your tongue like your father’s tie.
tie with all the manliness you can gather despising
the fragments of yourself inherited from your mother.
asphyxiate a voice you love in.
soak yourself in a hot bucket of masculinity until you blister,
just for a seat at the table.
allow your skin to shed at every door.
do not worry about the how.
your father will raise you as chameleon
that switches into all colours until pale.
dangling from the roof he offers.
do not protest his questions.
make a woman out of your lover’s shadow for his nod.
keep the sugar of your lover’s kiss under your tongue.
do not let it slip before your father.
allow your mother to carve your heart
into a waiting room.
inflate it with her growing expectations.
turn your lovers into dust in it.
watch your mother sneeze
adjusting the timer to your ageing without grandchildren.
fix her an allergy concoction with double shifts for her dream house,
side hustles, burn yourself out for her approval
and watch her spit everything out to your face.
the shame in her sputum will infiltrate your skin.
it will convert your endorphins into your own disgrace.
bury the humiliation with orgasms.
or bury yourself under the skins
of lovers who undress their skins in fear of dearing to be free.
do not question each other in bed
why your hearts are protruding from your chests.
how many stones were cast onto them into mountains.
why it is hard to get to the peak of your hearts.
your hearts –
which hands molded them into things that need to be conquered?
Tshegofatjo Makhafola is a poet based in Johannesburg. He is the winner of Poetry Africa and Windybrow slam 2023, the winner of Poetry Africa Louder Than a Vote 2022, a semi-finalist in the 2022 Poetry Africa Slam and came third in Artsfestival Slam. His work was published in Poetry Potion, New Contrast, bathmagg, and in Brittle Paper.