Hali F. Sofala

In Samoan culture, Taualuga symbolizes the conclusion
of an arduous task and the final beautifying touches involved.


I was fifteen when my mother drove
me to a white doctor who had never
seen a Samoan before. He laid me flat
on his table, pulled the paper smock
from my body as if he were not the first
man to see me without the armor of clothing.

The first violation.

He surveyed me as specimen: the tufts
of black hair, the darkness of skin,
the plump swells of belly and breast.
Even my feet, too big for my mother’s shoes,
did not escape the scrutiny of his gaze.

Abnormal, he said. This is what you are, he said.

He told me to write an essay on being abnormal.
He wanted me to write myself into shame.
I was fifteen—that age when a girl is still unsure
of her body, unsure of what to name
any of her parts.


When I am twenty-one in Samoa,
I watch my grandmother, le tina o lo’u tama,
braid caramel candies into leis for the Faifea’u.

And grandmother is bare breasted beside me,
her lavalava knotted at her waist. She is all softness
and the pale scars of birthing ten children

mark her almond skin. No straight edges to her body—
just full round hills of flesh. And she is beautiful.
Her image awash in the midday sunlight
that streams through the slat blinds

and pools upon us both. 

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