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.