Poem for My Hair

by Julie E. Bloemeke

My hair came first.
At my birth, the doctor said
“Lots of it—thick and black,”
as if he already knew me.One month later my hair turned brown.
“No one had an explanation,” my mother said.

Two months after that I was red.
“It was the oddest thing,” my mother said.

Finally, I grew into myself,
at last becoming white blonde.
“Is that the same baby?” people asked.

* * *

Five years later, it is night.
My father finishes the last of his whiskey.
“Did you brush your hair 100 times today?” he asks
poking the scissors’ points in his palm.
“No,” I whisper.
He sits me down and clamps me between his knees.
My punishment is to lose, to watch what I love fall
without pause on my knees, the floor.
I look to my mother for help.
Her mouth is pursed in protest.
My father does not get it straight.
He holds a mirror in front of me.
I see his face behind my own, grinning.
“Oh, shut up,” he says. “It’ll grow back in a month.”

I go to school late the next day.
My mother takes me to the barber.
“What happened?” he laughs.
“Don’t ask,” my mother says.
My note to school reads:
“Please excuse my child for being late.
There was an illness in the family.”

* * *

My father lied. It will take years to grow back.
I won’t touch scissors, death sitting in a drawer.
I cover them so I won’t have to see them, refuse
to do crafts at school. At night, I dream that they
dance, chasing my father en pointe.

For the next few years I put pantyhose on my head.
I braid them, tie ribbons in them. I fling the legs over
my shoulders, wish I could curl them. I
insist on wearing this hair to church. My mother
puts a pearl barrette in, tells me I look pretty.
She keeps me from my father.

When I spend the night, Teverly and I play hair games,
sorting through boxes and boxes of ribbons,
ponytail holders, beads. I put on her Cher wig
“I want my hair to look like that,” she says.
When she falls asleep, I study her hair, its tight mystery
of curls, a jet halo. I lie close to her,
whispering in her hair, “Grow over to me.”

In the summers we swim.
The girls with long hair get in the pool,
make designs with those ribbons of wet.
“Here’s the Martha Washington,” one says
her hair folded on her head. “Here’s the
Christie Brinkley,” says another, kissing the air.
I do not know yet that when they go under
they must push the hair from their mouths.
Otherwise, they choke.

When I am twelve we go to the museum.
I see peacocks woven from dead
Marjorie’s hair, a small lamb
coaxed into being from a baby’s gossamer blonde.
These hung in living rooms, were given as gifts.
I pray to God for my hair to grow.
Just enough so that if I die, my hair can be my picture.

* * *

One night I hear my older brother and his friend giggling.
The next day, I find a Playboy under the bed.
Every woman has hair that covers her breasts,
curls happily between her legs.
My hair is only to my chin. I am mostly bald.
I think of Eve in the Bible,
what must have been behind her leaf.
I hide under my covers, sobbing.

Frida Kahlo has a painting: Self Portrait with Cropped Hair.
I see it in high school, her in Diego’s suit,
holding scissors, the hair around her feet,
each strand a memory, a snake poised for attack.
This was how she became the man, cutting her
ancestry. She destroyed what he loved.
I pull my hair to my nose, inhaling the scent of it.
It is mine.
No one touches it.
I dream of scissors for the first time in years.
This time they dance with me.

* * *

“Don’t ever cut your hair,” my college boyfriend says
kissing me, pulling me closer.
“Why?” I say.
“Hair is sex,” he breathes into my ear.
He tells me I have hair on my earlobes,
my back. He loves to nuzzle the hair
I thought would never come. I think this
hair has been with me all along, hiding.

At church, there is a woman with hair
to her ankles. I think it must be wonderful,
this coat that weaves around her, shields her.
Mrs. Sims whispers “How does
she go to the bathroom with that thing?”
“God only knows,” my mother says.
She leans over to me: “By the way, your hair is getting
too long young lady.” I walk all the way home,
my hair whipping my face in the wind.

* * *

Charlotte Mew is the hair poet.
I find her in graduate school.
16 of her 28 poems have hair, hair that
holds and protects, hair that defines woman.
I copy her poems and hang them around my bed.
They watch over me as I sleep.

I dream I walk on my own hair, a golden
path before me. Hair I have grown and made.
The scissors whisper from the brush:
Hair is dead
She does not know
Hair is dead.

My hair grows heavy,
pulls my chin to the ground,
wraps about my neck as I swim.
It covers my face at night, wakes me up,
makes me think I have eaten cobwebs.
It falls out when I brush it, hurts my scalp
when I bind it too long. It tickles my nose,
falls in my food, hides in the crevices
of my body. I pull it off sweaters,
hear total strangers say “You’re shedding.”
It lurks on my pillow, my floor, in my shoes.
It has gotten too old.

They won’t do it at first.
“You’ll hate it,” they say.
“It’s drastic,” they say.
“I want that,” I say.
The heft of steel crosses my neck.
I smile.
I close my eyes.
“This will save you, Porphyria,”
I think, feeling years fall onto my shoulders,
my breasts, my lap. For the first time I feel
wind at my neck, become alive in a way
that Delilah never told us.
I open my eyes.
I am off.

That night, I laud the scissors with laurels.
We bury my hair, smelling of sand and sea.
My husband touches my head in his sleep,
whispers that I am beautiful.


Author Bio
Julie E. Bloemeke lives in Alpharetta, Georgia and is the mother of two young children. More >

9 thoughts on “Poem for My Hair

  1. Lisa Nanette Allender says:

    “We bury my hair, smelling of sand and sea.”
    This poem evokes so much sexuality…and sensuality.

    I’m so curious your age at which your father cut your hair, Julie. It sounds like your were 5 or 6-ish. Very interesting life-line to your story. Your hair works as a metaphor for each age, which I find fascinating. It could almost read: “My hair at 5″ …”My hair at 16”. I swear, you could do a whole series of Hair Poems.

    I loved “…death sitting in a drawer..”as well as all the “Playboy” references.

    Just lovely, lovely, “dark and lovely” (which also is the name of a haircolor product)…

    BTW, Julie, did you know: Celtic-peoples often go from black, to red, to baby-blond within months or years of birth? My first beau (in high-school/college, Peter) had very blond hair, but he often reminded me his hair was once black (at birth) and then red (like his father’s) and then blond by the time he was a toddler…His background was mostly Scottish/Celtic (Dad’s) and Scottish/French, possibly Native American (his Mom).


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