Eku Sunguleni — My Face Maps My Heritage

Poem by Nkateko Masinga

Mama, look what God made.

— J Cole

I have my mother’s eyes: Brown. 

Abandoned cornfields awaiting rain. 

The soil back home. 

But it’s that don’t-fall-asleep-here kind of home, 

shaped like a rocky boat that catches fire 

even when water is abundant.

I have my father’s mouth: Full. 

A gap between my front teeth. 

I used to be afraid to smile 

because of that gap. 

Now I smile because 

I want you to take me home 

to my father when I am lost.

I have my own face: Oval. 

The people in my family have round faces. 

For a long time, long before I started 

catching glimpses of my parents in my reflection, 

I wondered if I belonged with them, to them.

In primary school, a boy said I had a face like a horse

and at lunchtime I begged God to make it round.

Upon returning from a funeral, 

my maternal grandmother would dab ash 

from the coal-stove onto my forehead. 

I didn’t know what it meant. I never asked. 

Now I think she was saying “you are still here” 

because when she left this earth 

nobody dotted my forehead with anything 

and I have never felt so alone in my life.

How dare you say I don’t look Tsonga or Venda 

when all I have left of my childhood

are the faces I stole features from?

“Eku sunguleni, Xikwembu xi tumbuluxile…” 

“In the beginning, God created…”

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