He runs the gun down my sternum 
wrists pressed against my breasts
the ink sharp from the lip of the gun’s hum.
Exhale only when he loosens. Carrie captures
all of this on film. Photos failing to 
snap my ancestors guiding his hand
down my chest.

I ask him about Rihanna,
and he tells me his friend was pressured
into doing it. She makes a new tattoo appointment
once she returns to America, to cover up 
the indigenous ink she received here
and I’m reminded of my own unworthiness
that I sometimes throw in the backseat 
of my pride. She didn’t deserve that tatau. 
I get that. 

I plan to get my malu one day, but I just don’t feel 
like I deserve it yet, I tell him
as his body is still pressed against mine,
his precision below my chin, steady and solemn.
I find it interesting, he says, when people say 
they don’t feel like they     ‘deserve’ their malu.
To me, your malu feels like your birthright   no? 
I swallow without speaking. 
My breath held captive 
in his indigenous hands.
Between each buzz of the gun’s mouth 
on my indigenous skin. 


Copyright © 2020 by Terisa Siagatonu. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 30, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.