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The Salon

Little boy's got black on his skin

Kopano Maroga

(University of Cape Town, Dance and Social Anthropology Student and Contemporary Dance Artist)

little boy's got black on his skin
doesn't know whether he's nighttime or eyes-shut
but he's got hands made for poking in the dark
for finding the unnamed thing
he touches himself like something ancient and broken
talks in a whisper lest he loses his words
knows that the world is made for takers
and he's already given up
you can find him with his dark eyes cast skyward
or carving sunlight out of his wrists
mining the darkness for diamonds

little boy's got small hands but big ideas
loves science but hates numbers
likes to think he's made of coal
because he knows what pressure can do to things of little value

little boy's got black on his skin
and it won't let him out
he speaks pretty, prettier than those white boys
has got a mouth full of alabaster teeth and chewed paper
lips covered in graphite
likes to learn new words so he has more to swallow
likes to look those pretty white boys in the mouth
likes the taste of their names
likes to swallow them and not come up for air
likes to look at their smiling faces

little boy's not-so-little anymore
likes to play not-so-little games with not-so-little boys
they like to play for keeps
so he let's them keep what they take
likes to see how much he can lose without disappearing

little boy's got black on his skin
and those white boys tell him it's eating him alive
they call him by everything but his name
so little boy's got a chip on his shoulder
doesn't look up anymore
too many boulders to roll up the hill
reads greek tragedies and recites love poems
tells himself love is a house with white walls and a sun roof
tells himself love doesn't recognize him so he's got to make himself familiar

little boy's got black on his skin
and it burns to touch
folks say he should know better than to play with matches
but he's been alight since the day he was born
still loves science, still casts his dark eyes up
started renting out his sternum to white boys with sad eyes
so now his chest is a dam wall and its threatening breaking
wonders how long until the deluge
passes time trading his limbs for spare change
dusts off the fingerprints and keeps them in a scrapbook
takes long showers

little boy's got black on his skin
and the boys in blue always want to touch him
sometimes with their hands, sometimes without
always with their eyes
he tells them he's been burning since the day he was born
they never know what to say
he asks them how they keep finding him
they tell him they follow the ashes

little boy's got black skin
and he sees heaven behind his eyelids
he speaks pretty but can't stop screaming
fire's burning him up and his chest has sprung a leak
little boy's got time but no space
too many boulders to roll up the hill
too many diamonds to mine from his skin