by Nisha Atalie


My father believes it came to me via 

his grandmother Sima—Russian-Jewish,

died alone in Geneva after her husband left, 

after her family was murdered by the Nazis. 

A terrifying apparition of a person, he says. 


In the few photos we have, the thick bun 

parted in the middle is hers, but the frizzy 

thickets at the edges are ours:


Our headgrass, smoke cloud, shapeshifter. 


Before dance performances, I sink into my chair 

as the moms struggle to tame it into a proper bun. 

It splits bobby pins, squirrels its way out of their holds. 


Some nights I spend hours burning each blade, 

ironing until the house smells of fumes. 

As soon as I walk outside I feel the singed tips 

rolling upward, curls rising. 


Then, there is the horror of the 

overgrowth, field trips to the forest 

where all anyone can see is the flora 

of my forehead, the creeping, sprouting thing 

connecting my eyebrows. I suck in tears. 

Mimi shows me what I have to do. 

But the more I beat it back, the thicker 

it returns: vines, offshoots, long braids dangling. 


When let loose in the wind,

it can grow up to three times its size. 


When bouncing off my shoulders, 

it’s a beachball of feather reeds.


Strange flowering.

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