Hair Crisis

Fluff up the frizz,
pull down the coils—
I’m torn.
The song tells me
I am not my hair,
but my reflection glares
back, demanding an
explanation—
Why do I think this
…Lion’s Mane…
is appropriate for
the corporate office;
for walking on sidewalks
behind white women
clutching expensive purses;
for PTA meetings about
strict dress codes—bans
against colors red, blue,
bandannas in back pockets,
tank tops whose namesake
promotes domestic violence,
“distracting” hairstyles.
My afro enters the room
before I do; everyone
turns, stares, mouths agape,
the atmosphere freezes;
I float in limbo while
they decide what to call
my hair—
It’s like a hat,
like a firework,
an overgrown bush,
chop it down with shears
with weed whackers,
it’s unkempt, nappy.
It is defiant toward gravity,
stiff under patting hands
molding it into a shape
more tolerable. It is
the fear of militant Negros
fist fighting the Klansmen
buried in their backyards.
It is the severed limbs
of my enslaved ancestors
rising from my scalp,
reaching up, out, catching
freedom in the wind, in
low hanging branches, in
lost Bobby pins that
cannot tame my
ROAR!

—Nortina


wp-1460120669780.jpgIt’s been a while since I’ve written a poem other than a haiku. Since April is NaPoWriMo, I thought I’d work off the rust, draw some inspiration from BlaPoWriMo  (and the almost hair identity crisis I had standing in front of the mirror this morning before work), and write this poem.

Natural Business

“Oh, your hair is different,”
The hiring manager says as she studies
My driver’s license,
Searching for a resemblance
Between the tiny, blurred, scratched,
Photograph taken five years ago
In her hand and the woman
Who sits before her.

And as much as I want to,
I don’t leap across the table,
Wrap my hands around the throat of this
Blond, straight haired woman,
Who can effortlessly run
Her fingers through her silky tresses
Without snagging a single-strand knot,
And scream, “No, bitch,
My hair doesn’t look like that
In the morning!”

I restrain myself,
Sit erect, legs crossed, smile and nod.
After years of working odd jobs in
Transportation and fast food,
Matting down a twist-out
I spent hours perfecting the night before
Underneath a sweaty, cotton cap,
I finally get called for a job that can
Kickstart my career
In creative advertisement,
And the first question
My potential boss asks
Is about my hair.

And although my hair
In the driver’s license photo
Barely came to my chin,
Was riddled with split ends,
Thinned at the crown from
The strong alkali-based cream
I applied every six weeks
To tame rough, nappy new-growth,
Had a scalp that grew more
Scabs than hair follicles
From the many times I waited by the sink
For my beautician to finish gossiping
With her other clients
About who got who pregnant
To come put out the burning
Flame atop my head,
It was still better because
It was straight.

I wonder if my “different” hair
Would cost me this job.
If “be yourself”
Was just something you told
Bullied children and
Members of the LGBT community.
Workroom discrimination
Only meant something if
You looked like the white
Women you worked alongside
Because since the day scientists
Trespassed onto African savannahs and
Measured the bigger
Breasts, buttocks, and labia,
Of the dark, “jezebel” woman,
They determined that fair
Skin and hair were the
Definitions of beauty and purity,
Never to be defiled.
So my hair must be
Pulled, ripped, burned to fit
A nonexistent, unattainable,
European standard of beauty
Until I become a pinned up, painted on
Android. Not white, not black, just there
But acceptable because of my hair.
Straight, combed back,
Uniform in Stepford fashion.

From an early age,
Young girls and young boys
Are indoctrinated to choose
Conformity over health.
Man up!
Lose weight!
Comb your hair!

It doesn’t matter that my hair
Is softer than cotton,
Isn’t ruined when wet,
Has grown past my bra strap,
Doesn’t require, heat
Or flammable aerosols
To hold a spiral curl,
Can reach towards the sky or
Hang over my shoulders,
Be pinned up into a bun or
Braided down my back,
Twisted to resemble locs or
Curled to frame my face,
Picked out into an afro or
Flat ironed bone-straight.
If it doesn’t comply with the unwritten
Clause in the dress code that says:
No Ethnic Hair!
I won’t be hired.
I’ll just look for a job where
Ethnicity is required.

That face you make when a co-worker asks you something stupid about your hair...
“No, Freddy, for the twentieth time, this is NOT a wig!”

—Nortina

For those of you who do not understand the meaning of this poem, natural, African textured hair has a  stigma against it of being unprofessional due to its coarse, kinky nature. I attack that notion with “Natural Business.” Any feedback is of course welcome.

No Holds Barred Poetry Writing Challenge: Day 20

Natural Hair Haiku

Winter’s ice lowers
branch—disappears amongst the
kinks atop my head.

Nortina