The summer I was ten a teenager
named Kim butterflied my hair. Cornrows
curling into braids 
behind each ear.

Everybody’s wearing this style now, Kim said.

Who could try to tell me
I wasn’t beautiful. The magic
in something as once ordinary
as hair that for too long 
had not been good enough
now winged and amazing 
now connected 

to a long line of crowns.

Now connected
to a long line of girls
moving through Brooklyn with our heads
held so high, our necks ached. You must 
know this too – that feeling 

of being so much more than
you once believed yourself to be

so much more than your
too-skinny arms
and too-big feet and
too-long fingers and
too-thick and stubborn hair

All of us now
suddenly seen
the trick mirror that had us believe
we weren’t truly beautiful
suddenly shifts

and there we are

and there we are

and there we are again

and Oh! How could we not have seen
ourselves before? So much more

We are so much more.

Related Poems

The Healing Improvisation of Hair

If you undo your do you wóuld
be strange. Hair has been on my mind.
I used to lean in the doorway
and watch my stony woman wind
the copper through the black, and play
with my understanding, show me she cóuld
take a cup of river water,
and watch it shimmy, watch it change,
turn around and become ash bone.
Wind in the cottonwoods wakes me
to a day so thin its breastbone
shows, so paid out it shakes me free
of its blue dust. I will arrange
that river water, bottom juice.
I conjure my head in the stream
and ride with the silk feel of it
as my woman bathes me, and shaves
away the scorn, sponges the grit
of solitude from my skin, laves
the salt water of self-esteem
over my feathering body.
How like joy to come upon me
in remembering a head of hair
and the way water would caress
it, and stress beauty in the flair
and cut of the only witness
to my dance under sorrow's tree.
This swift darkness is spring's first hour.

I carried my life, like a stone,
in a ragged pocket, but I
had a true weaving song, a sly
way with rhythm, a healing tone.

Shafro

Now that my afro's as big as Shaft's
I feel a little better about myself.
How it warms my bullet-head in Winter,

black halo, frizzy hat of hair.
Shaft knew what a crown his was,
an orb compared to the bush

on the woman sleeping next to him.
(There was always a woman
sleeping next to him. I keep thinking,

If I'd only talk to strangers. . .
grow a more perfect head of hair.)
His afro was a crown.

Bullet after barreling bullet,
fist-fights & car chases,
three movies & a brief TV series,

never one muffled strand,
never dampened by sweat--
I sweat in even the least heroic of situations.

I'm sure you won't believe this,
but if a policeman walks behind me, I tremble:
What would Shaft do? What would Shaft do?

Bits of my courage flake away like dandruff.
I'm sweating even as I tell you this,
I'm not cool,

I keep the real me tucked beneath a wig,
I'm a small American frog.
I grow beautiful as the theatre dims.

Thirty Lines About the ’Fro

The fro is homage, shrubbery, and revolt—all at once.
The fro and pick have a co-dependent relationship, so
many strands, snags, such snap and sizzle between
the two. The fro wants to sleep on a silk pillowcase,
abhorring the historical atrocity of cotton.
The fro guffaws at relaxers—how could any other style
claim relaxation when the fro has a gangsta lean,
diamond-in-the-back, sun-roof top kinda attitude,
growing slowly from scalp into sky, launching pad
for brilliance and bravery, for ideas uncontained by
barbershops and their maniacal clippers, monotony
of the fade and buzzcut. The fro has much respect
for dreads, but won’t go through life that twisted,
that coiled. Still, much love lives between
the two: secret handshakes, funk-bottomed struts.
The fro doesn’t hate you because you’re beautiful.
Or ugly. Or out-of-work or working for the Man.
Because who knows who the Man is anymore?
Is the president the Man? He used to have a fro
the size of Toledo, but now it’s trimmed down
to respectability, more gray sneaking in each day,
and you’ve got to wonder if he misses his pick,
for he must have had one of those black power ones
with a fist on the end. After all, the fro is a fist,
all curled power, rebellious shake, impervious
and improper. Water does not scare the fro,
because water cannot change that which is
immutable—that soul-sonic force, that sly
stone-tastic, natural mystic, roots-and-rhythm
crown for the ages, blessed by God and gratitude.