The Pentecostal woman next door confides:
the Lord forbids a blade touch her hair. It rats
and scrapes her knees, unbeautiful, decades old.
She weeps in the mornings, rakes and breaks
comb teeth through it. Her neck is off. She whispers,
"The nice gay man downtown says he will take me
out back, douse it with perm solution, and clap it off
between two boards." The Lord, she knows,
Not even God can bear our nakedness
and in his kindness, curtained us with hair.
Mine is beautiful. I have seen men's fingers,
possessed, clicking and itching to reach for it,
to catch it in a breeze. It is long, golden,
and as God wills it, when I am unclothed,
it covers almost everything that makes me
With it, imagine all the saviors' feet
I could anoint with precious oil, on my knees
repentant, weeping. Or put in my place,
towered, chaste, think of all the princes
who could grip it like rope in their sweating fists,
scale my prison, unlock me, liberate me
Before crowds, inquisitors shaved witches bare
to seek out the devil's mark. When they found none,
they tried to coax it out, poured boiling lard
into the women's eyes, navels, vaginas. The devil
marks us all.
Unshorn, we are death itself: serpentine
and secret. Our hair conceals our power
to bear souls into the world, to feed them
from our own flesh: sower, tender, reaper,
shepherd, wolf, wool and fur. For our crimes
in Eden, temples, beds, and caves, and back
seats, we have been covered by the gods
in hair, snaked by goddesses, marked by devils,
beheaded by heroes and weaponized,
and still their fingers. Their fingers twitch.
They must know what it feels like in their hands.
Perhaps if we let it loose, pin it up, braid it
in one braid, two braids, corn row it,
perhaps if we perm it, straighten it, relax
it, iron it, perhaps if we pick it into an afro,
perhaps if we shave it, wig it, veil it,
perhaps if we cover it in a habit, so that from the sky,
we are indiscernible from each other,
they will be satisfied.
Perhaps if we pluck it, wax it into triangles
and thin lines, send electrical signals into the follicles,
perhaps if we trade it for food, for money,
for train fare, Christmas presents, perhaps if we
let you snip a lock to worship, perhaps if we
let you wrap it around our necks like nooses
you will be satisfied.
The Russian army found fourteen thousand pounds
of human hair when they took Auschwitz. Baled
and loose, still curled, ribboned. The hair yet unused
for socks, for mattresses upon which men would dream
of women, for thread, for rope.
"Shorn" won the New Millennium Writings Poetry Prize in 2017 and is published on their website.