Poem by Meredith Davies Hadaway
My mother’s boar-bristle brush tears
my scalp, scrapes my shoulders. So many struggles
with my long, straight hair—its knots
and complications—so unlike hers. The stench
of permanents, chemicals that burn but do not
turn out wave; instead, a clownish fringe
of frizz that stays a week, at most,
till DNA and gravity bring it down.
I suffer socks and orange-juice cans, brush rollers
that devour hair that’s baby-fine.
She looks at mine and sighs, Just like your father’s,
and all this time it grows and grows, severely
straight, right down my back, as if longing
to escape. I am not a boy and not a pretty girl.
I am a thin, pale vehicle for tangles.
One night my mother calls me in at bedtime
for our nightly tussle with her hairbrush.
She has a little jar of pungent goo she works
into the bristles. Like magic, all the snarls
subside and my hair begins to glow. The smell
is slick as it wraps each fragile shaft, like armor.
Brilliantine, she calls it. With every stroke, my hair
gets smoother, stronger, wraps itself around
my head—a helmet, drops across my chest—a shield.
I meet my mother’s eye in the mirror.
Brilliantine. A brightness that starts small, shines
like a crown—until the weight of
all that splendor pulls it down.
MEREDITH DAVIES HADAWAY is the author of three poetry collections. Her most recent, At The Narrows, won the 2015 Delmarva Book Prize. She is a former Rose O’Neill Writer-in-Residence at Washington College, where she taught English and creative writing in addition to serving as vice president for communications and marketing.