This Is Us

How to Love Your Hair

Photo: Ezekixl Akinnewu/Pexels

When my dad delivered me,
The first thing he saw
Was a thicket of black hair,
Sticking out straight and wet,
Like fur on a freshly licked kitten.
It took a few months to curl into itself,
Grow quick as mint after rain,
Until it had to be gathered
Into soft, twisted bunches,
Always a few determined fronds
Trying to escape.

Our ritual after swimming,
Was straight two hours
Of washing and blow-drying
My drenched ringlets
Into a triangular mane;
Sharp comb teeth
Gnashing at my scalp,
Pools of pain
Welling in my eyes.
He always said sorry;
And I tried not to complain.

My hair was never stroked
By white people;
At sleepovers with friends,
In bed with lovers.
They all seemed scared
It would scratch them
If they treated it gently.
Only Black people, later,
Knew how to whisper to it,
See how soft it really was
Beneath its wildness.

I put my curls to sleep,
On our 11th birthday.
Made them relax with chemicals
That broke them down,
Shocked them straight,
Burnt my scalp to blisters.
Told myself it was worth it
To have hair which moved
In the breeze,
Rather than toward the sun;
The passport to acceptance.

They reawakened 10 years later,
From their drugged stupor;
Regained strength slowly
In the nurturing embrace of plaits,
Interwoven to protect,
Guard, replenish.
Emerged shy and uncertain,
Bit by bit,
Until they were sure it was safe,
And they could gently push
The straight all the way out.

It took me 10 years to fall in love,
Marvel at their shape,
Finger every curve tenderly,
Breathe their smell in deep,
Rejoice with each bounce and spring.
This hair was now acceptable
Enough to put on posters
To sell clothes to white people
Who thought they were woke;
To sell music to Black people
Who should know better.

It only took seven hours
To weave magic into my curls
With a crochet hook;
Wrap them around each other,
Locked in love with themselves,
Accepting their own beauty at last—
None left to fall by the wayside.
Thick glossy roots
Growing with age and wisdom;
Their dreaded power
Will build, each and every day.

Traveler, poet, educator, yogi, activist, artist, writer, British-Jamaican Londoner living in Ghana

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