from Devil Mutant Child
a tale of an evolution of emotional intimacy
for Florida Missouri Brasier
Exactly the hair I wanted,
I am not complaining.
Were I to choose what sprouts from my head,
this hair is exactly what I’d choose.
I’m just surprised to learn now
that she may have engineered this, that she
wanted a child she could not love.
This hair has been privilege and trouble.
This hair has been much more than she ever imagined.
How she hates the nap of her hair.
How she regretted that
so many of the simple things
of girlhood and womanhood
we could never share.
Hair differences (back then not as much now, product of her generation)
meant they couldn’t understand each other; two
different species unable to communicate
Her nappy head excluded her from so much
and now even me, her own daughter, from her.
Exactly what we both wanted: the hair
Of course, I was envious of Mei-Ting Lee
who could sit on her hair, 6th grade, Moses Cleaveland School
I had the hair texture and the length denied
so many black girls then,
–not Deborah Banks, that biracial girl, whose hair
was naturally curly, naturally silky–
I have it naturally too, now, I admit to disliking that anyone
who wants it can buy it. I like to insist how mine
doesn’t come from a shelf and doesn’t need to be sewn in, glued in,
is not a weave
however it’s attached
means more to me than it should.
I admit to liking when men like it –what good is it, this hair
that’s already dead? Brains and hair, yet not the total package.
I never learned well how to use this hair to get the men
(the man –it’s only one to tell the truth); the man I want…
and then there was me, aftermath of my mother unable
to accept her own dark complexion.
Gambling on my father to allow her to participate
All that Nadinola. Ambi. Palmers.
That quest for lighter skin, lighter, and lighter skin
until there’s none left.
No; I don’t know first hand what it was like to grow up
in the 1930’s and 1940’s in Tennessee.
I don’t know that level of prejudice and racism.
I had the hair that made it clear someone had been dabbling
outside their own race, disregarding some boundaries
that from my mixed (up) perspective
should be disregarded (I have learned the importance of them
from being born in America: land of the free)
but I do know what it’s like to want a man.
do know what it’s like to want to be held and touched,
do know what it feels like to have nothing in my heart
but love for a man…
whether devil or angel.
I know what it’s like.
I know a heart is made for love, to both give love
and receive love
no matter the color.
I know what relaxer looks like, and smells like.
and I’ve always been glad that I don’t have to use such
products. Lye! –that’s what it is.
So-called gentle treatment.
chemical burns to the scalp.
She hides her head in shame.
I do the opposite.
I swing my hair with delight!
and make sure those who see it know
to my head,
burned only by my haughty attitude:
the hair she wanted me to have.
the hair I want to have
and I did the same thing in having my son,
chose a donor to add something missing to the genetics.
I understand Mama; I did the same.
for my only child.
Trying to recall her first wig.
Not sure how that came about; odd
sort of hat.
That need to cover up what she had naturally.
of being that darkest girl out of a dozen children, all
6 girls born first, my mother the darkest.
Oh the stigma of being the ugly child,
the one furthest from European
standards –as if no black women are European–
silky and blowing in the wind, just the gentlest words
from a mouth able to start that movement:
that is their strength: movement
reaction to any other movement; they pick it up
and run with it, bend with it, groove with it….
what would a music video be if the hair were stiff
nothing but Plymouth rocks on heads, but these rocks
are still, Goldie-still-locks
Choice and disease. Easier to manage.
I get it, but for me, would be un-natural to be natural
Not for my mother: for her: pure shame.
never those human hair wigs unlike her sister,
and her Trichotillomania
pulled out all hair on her head, had
to wear wigs….
a country of bald featureless Styrofoam heads
in her house to wear her wigs.
Seems there were hundreds, and each had a name.
Jewel Honey Gold
(each faceless Styrofoam wig head
as white as she would have preferred for herself)
and then Jason de Caires Taylor
surreal underwater reef, cement women and men
on whom anemone and seaweed will grow
as wildly as hair can
sisters, sisters, sisters,
one pulling out all her hair, exorcising the naps
she became a church star, deaconess,
something my mother never could be as her husband
was a heathen, similar to
Last of the Mohicans
different tribe but a similar energy.
Mahigan, Mohegan –literary blend
Uncas –really the last pureblood
Heathen father wild child –me
One sister pulling out hair, huge patches of it
passing it to my mother, her little darkie sister; that’s what
they called her: darkie at a time when everything
was segregated; you got more the lighter you were,
if your hair had enviable texture…
How she suffered as the little dark one…
How she vowed to lift herself, her child as herself
from this degradation –so demeaning, so debasing,
so decaying of self-esteem
My mother eager to attach to her darkie head patches of hair
the high yellow complexioned big sister was rejecting
–imagine the cartoon! one sister pulling, little sister gluing,
the machine they form, sped up to warp 7, pinwheel out
of control out
of this world
My hair splays around my head, circular fan
on the bed… And I’m some sort of flower; some sort
of jungle untangled on my bed
where tonight I sleep alone.
A show in which I let down my hair…
Pretty soon, I will be able to sit on it.
My own hair using itself
as cushion, itself as pillow:
each filament can walk, can move as if alive,
can move toward him, a proxy shadow of him that
my own hair forms, a proxy waterfall of him, my hair
cascades into his image
braids him right into it
and as if alive, each strand begins to walk, each one a segment
of a worm that grows,
each stand a jellyfish’s tentacle: Head of little wiggling medusans:
so much movement they seem to be thriving
and they inch their way across my pillow of themselves,
they are trying to reach him; they respect no boundaries
but somehow manage to stay within friendship: the speed and stealth
of getting there, to be of assistance, to be willing to treasure deep,
that positivity that charges still, my head of electric eels, my head
able to illuminate the darkest 9 nights.
nerve net —
–interconnected neurons instead of more complex form of brain
–guess mama had a nerve net,
the “nerve” of her putting on any of those wigs
and “pretending” it was her hair, like anything else bought,
with good ole american dollars belongs to you
to be continued; wigs are to be continued, weaved and woven
like any other garment; completes an outfit
perfect to wear for seeing God
who will reward her for looking more like one of his own,
Mary had a little lamb, a little Jesus lamb, and his fleece
was white as snow
and everywhere that Mary went, the lamb
was sure to go, outfitted in wool
more like what she insists on covering up with a wig
just to take out the trash.
Thylias Moss was born in 1954, in Cleveland, Ohio, to a multiracial (African American, Native American, Indian, Caucasian) father and an African American mother. She is the author of many poetry collections, including Wannabe Hoochie Mama Gallery of Realities Red Dress Code: New & Selected Poems (Persea, 2016), as well as a memoir, Tale of a Sky-Blue Dress, and a children’s book, I Want to Be. She is a two-time finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in poetry, and the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the MacArthur Foundation, among other honors. She is Professor Emerita in the Department of English and the College of Art & Design at the University of Michigan.