Semantics of Living & Other Poems

Nkateko Masinga

A Coney Island Inferno in Three Phases


Here, a Cyclone is a ride, which is to say
we entered its safe spiral with no qualms
& no food in our bellies lest they twisted

as we disembarked, spilling the contents
of our first date onto boardwalk planks.

In another part of the world, a Cyclone is
no thrill or memory-making at Luna Park
but the loss of home, food, a twisted fate;

screams of terror leaving a throat, eroded
soil along the coast, carry-what-you-can.


Here, we stop to apply sunscreen. You say
that my SPF50 is ‘overkill’, I don’t agree;
I smear cream onto your bare brown back

as you check the forecast on your phone:
we both know this heatwave is a prelude.

In another part of this city, an athlete has
collapsed mid-race from heat exhaustion.
Stay hydrated, folks, a commentator says.


At Footprints Cafe, we watch the news
while waiting for our food. Stay inside,
a new warning; we saw it coming.

Hunkered down, hot meals between us,
safe from the clouds conspiring above,
what a scene we’ve made of new love.

A storm brews beyond, but between us
a heatwave encore, the prelude to more,
which is to say, you are the sun, amore.

New Teeth

After the trip that had you spiralling
from one manic episode to another,
we pledged to get help, together –

left our bed in the city dishevelled &
drove for what seemed like forever,
until a screech, that sobering halt –

pulled us apart, teeth from gums &
truth from the story we’d concocted:
from we’re fine to 3 weeks in rehab,

from we can stop any time we like
to this: your perfect mouth a bare
boulevard, an open road unmarked,

well, almost – your remaining teeth:
white vans veered off a curb of gums
like us that night, skidding to healing.

You have new teeth: porcelain veneers,
the hard enamel of a resilient mouth,
you say proudly as you tell this story.

Should I tell them that we lost more
than teeth in the accident? I will say,
I see this when I dream of that night:

a child running towards me, laughing,
mouth bare like his dad, pre-implants;
arms wide, hair & eyes just like mine.

Semantics of Living          

If I had known that the same words
would mean one thing on a reference
and another on my medical records,
I’d have asked for a different sword

to fall on. now I resign myself to this:

being committed, to the institution
where I finished my studies,
meant I was conscientious
in the work, at the cost of my health.

being committed to the institution
when I finished my Serenace,
meant I was unconscious
in the ward, for the sake of my health

I have wanted to be admitted, to the guild
and to the hospital, for different reasons:
One: to make a living. Two: to keep living.

Nkateko Masinga is a South African poet and 2019 Fellow of the Ebedi International Writers Residency. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2018 and her work has received support from Pro Helvetia Johannesburg and the Swiss Arts Council. She is the Internship Program Director at Africa In Dialogue, an online interview magazine that archives creative and critical insights with Africa’s leading storytellers. 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, has been selected by the African Poetry Book Fund, in collaboration with Akashic Books, for the 2020 New Generation African Poets chapbook box set.


*Image by Mòje Ikpeme

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