She’s squished between the head boardand the wall. She reaches her fingers
through the slats, grabbing at the length
I’ve grown to my waist, long because
my father wants it long. He won’t
let my mother cut it. My mother sits
with me at the window in the daylight,
she checks my scalp and picks out nits
by hand. The shampoo stings and stinks.
Neither the poison nor the bugs repel
the hair witch. She wants a child’s silky hair
for herself – a wig for her bald, veined head.
My mother braids my hair at night
so it won’t become knotted by morning.
I wrap the braid around me, hold the rope
like a blood-dark, vulnerable cord.
When I was a child, I had very, very, very long hair. It was an identifier, a trademark. I was always the longest-haired girl in the room. Always. My father wanted my hair long.
I did get lice at some point. Of course. And yes, my mother really did pick the nits out by hand. That she was able to rid a child with approximately 2.5 feet of hair of lice using her bare hands ought to be counted as a bona fide miracle by every church known to man.
And, me being me, I turned having approximately 2.5 feet of hair into a fear concoction. I had a fancy canopy bed with slats in the headboard and every night I sweated through my nightgown, curled into a ball, tugging and squeezing my own hair around me, imagining a witch grasping through the slats and carrying me off to hell by my approximate 2.5 feet of hair.
I don't know what else to say about this.
I remain capable of turning the equivalent of my own hair into an elaborate fear and anxiety scenario.
My new therapist says this is just who I am, and how it's always going to be, so I need to stop fighting it and accept it.
This poem was written on October 27, 2014 as part of Tupelo Press's 30/30 Project.