A Fairy Tale of Blackboyhood
When I say Black, what I mean is the curl of my hair is tight enough to snag the teeth of a wide-tooth comb. So, I don't comb my hair when I'm in the comfort of my home. This comfort is the standard by which I determine who, what, where is home. I rarely feel home in my father's home.
When I was 21, my father kissed my forehead and this was the first time he ever kissed me. My father’s lips recall a different story. But this is my tale of a boy whose hard head grew tender from his father’s kiss. The words I love you, boy seeped into my newly-softened skull. For just a moment, my father returned my boyhood so he could feel the gratification of kissing his son goodnight. It had to be that way.
The only way to rake my hair into a neat brush of manageable coils is to first wet it thoroughly. Before I leave my home, I sometimes—most times—tame my hair with water to allow it to floss the teeth of the comb, to bear the brunt of its bite. I sometimes long for watered-down brown tresses that know to bow to the comb's might. I sometimes wish my hair would grow into an impenetrable forest, endless and black as starless nights.
When I say Black, I mean my father's hardened bosom has left me disheartened—desensitized to all but the snatch of a fine-tooth comb. I've been taught a man must be made a boy before he can receive a kiss from another man, and such ancient magic must be sparingly used. Sometimes—most times—I sleep with one eye open and hope to reunite with the strange magician who makes boys of men with forehead kisses. On these nights, I lie in bed and wait for him to cast his spell. As I sleep, my father combs his fingers through my hair and plants his lips on my eager forehead. On these nights, I wake floating above my bed in boyish bliss. On these nights, I feel home.
Copyright © 2021 by Dāshaun Washington. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 11, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.
About this Poem
“This poem was inspired by an extremely uncomfortable conversation about gender and sexuality I had with my father one night. That night was the last time I cried, and the first time I can recall my father kissing me. Among the many causes for discomfort in my father's presence, my hair is one of the greatest. I often hate to be seen by my father because of his constant scrutiny of my hair and however I choose to wear it. All of these unsettling emotions tied to my father, and my hair, and my queerness, have been woven together to form this poem.”
Date Published: 2021-08-11
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/fairy-tale-blackboyhood