"Woman" - watercolour on paper by Shannon Hopkins


Before the light beyond
the curtain begins to change
each day, I slip from beneath

the covers, place my feet onto
the floor, and strip out of whatever
clothing I had worn to sleep

it is too early for anyone to see
me, even the dog is still
comfortably tangled up in dreams

so I am left, invisible
and alone, to select my clothing
for the day, address whatever

parts of me need dressing.
Before I concern myself with
panties, socks, brassiere

I do, as lepers must, a VSE:
visual self-examination. Lepers
do this in the light, check

each part of their skin
for injuries they may not have
felt at the moment when those

happened, accidents, abrasions
to skin with nerves damaged by
the disease. My own visual

exploration is done daily in
the dark. The injuries I may not
have felt at the moment when

those happened are not abrasions
to the skin, but to the spirit,
and those kinds of injuries

are most visible in the privacy
of solitude and darkness. Is
there something I encountered

yesterday without attention
that has damaged me, wounded
and cut me, made some part

of my internal self vulnerable
to infection, a quiet festering?
Each day before considering

fabric clothing, I must first
clean such invisible damage
to my surfaces most thoroughly,

insight as antiseptic, prayer
as bandaging, first and most
necessary dressing every morning.

After this first layer, I am
really more naked than before, but
also more ready to proceed.

Next are my imperial underthings,
my emperor’s-new-clothes invisible
to anyone but me. I pick up

this transparency and slip it
on over my skin. I really do, begin
with first the right foot, then

the left, step into a secret
burkini of integrity and courage
that covers the whole of my body.

And after this, it doesn’t matter
what else I choose to wear, what
size or color or style of dress

or shirt and jeans. Those outer
clothes are just the packaging.
I’m already wearing my womanity.

Shannon Hopkins is an arts enthusiast from the coastal town of Ballito, South Africa. In her work she typically explores notions of identity, erotic or creative agency, and the complex inner landscape.

Laura M Kaminski is the author of several poetry collections and chapbooks, including Anchorhold (2016) and The Heretic’s Hymnal (Balkan Press, 2019). “A Valentine for My Sisters” is reprinted from The Heretic’s Hymnal.

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