It was easier to manage

I started kindergarten that fall you went off to Guyana.
Granny cut off my dreadlocks. She knew how to press

and curl, ponytail, and cornrow but palm roll
locks till the roots stiffened with beeswax,

glistens like licorice, she didn’t know.
For that matter, no one in the Projects knew

what to do with hair left natural, left
unparted and wild—they were afraid to touch

that unmothered part of themselves. Each snip
made each one alive and each one dead.

And if you said goodbye, it was an honest whisper,
short and fine in your throat.

She cut my hair like a boy’s
who hadn’t been to the barber for a month,

and I sat at the cafeteria table alone for weeks.
They couldn’t make sense of me, my classmates

with their gender-proper hairstyles. I didn’t
want anything to do with franks & beans,

those pucks of grilled meat. I waited at lunchtime
for peanut butter and jelly and was hesitant to eat

bread that wasn’t our color. It was hard
not hearing your voice each morning,

throughout the day. And unwilling to correct them
when they said my name wrong, I gave into

the Sizzlean; the fried chicken crunched
between my teeth, I could’ve bitten both of your hands

for leaving me here, each finger for the gunshots that rang
the night, the footsteps running on the roof, the gravel mashed

deeper and deeper into my sleep. Flocks of butterflies
broke my skin and I was shatter where I stood,

a whole constellation of wondering if I could throw
myself to the sky, coat it with urgent wishes

you’d see that I missed you, that the barter was unfair,
that you mistook me for sheep.

from Hurrah's Nest (Visual Artists Collective, 2012) by Arisa White. Copyright © 2012 by Arisa White. Used with permission of the author.