When I first knotted my hair against the coming of winter, I had grown tired of playing jacks and didn’t yet find boys of especial interest, unlike my older sister, who kept her thin hair down in the cold season as some protection for her nape and ears, as some protection against sexual loneliness, which seemed reasonable given that our lone single aunt asked us if we wanted to learn and our mother looked at her askance in that moment. How do the traditions of spinsters survive? I assumed learning to tie and weave the intricate knots was akin to learning Braille, working in blindness with fine detail and the practice becoming swift and gratifying with experience. Aunt Claire began teaching me the first Friday night of November; come Monday, wonderful plaits framed either side of my face while the rest of my hair lay loose on my back—all week I yearned to hook and knot it, to make the long cap complete, and suspected my fingers of rehearsing the motions in my sleep, as they did in my lap when I wasn’t looking. On the second Sunday night I made the final tie and Aunt Claire positioned me between two mirrors so I might see the tiny handiwork, the thin ropes of countable strands now in a taut cover over all but the front of my neck. I supposed I looked like a princess of old and saw envy in my sister’s eyes, though soon she’d learn she’d traded beauty and warmth for a boy’s fingers combing, stroking her hair, for the frisson between that luxury and his encroaching mouth.
American expatriate Carrie Etter is a Reader in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University and has published three collections of poetry and numerous chapbooks. Her most recent, Scar (Shearsman, 2016), is a long poem exploring the effects of climate change on her home state of Illinois. Her poems have appeared in Boston Review, The Iowa Review, The New Statesman, The New Republic, The Times Literary Supplement, and many other journals.