You were in a bakery when you first saw it:
hair bright as
a back-lit gray kissed
a color that flashed
like the white underside of leaves when
strong winds flipped the color
before a storm.
It might not have been a natural tone, but by now, you knew:
a woman blending in meant
a woman forgettable, and your edges
were fading, near forty,
a mother of six and another
on the way,
your smile lost to
empty root chambers and a set of false teeth,
your husband lost to
a game of tennis with a little white skirt.
You bought a dozen of this, a dozen of that—
so many mouths to feed—and before the door chime
announced that lady’s departure, you asked,
Excuse me, what color you got on your hair?
She said, Clairol, Sweet Silver, and
if anyone can name a color theirs,
that’s been your color since.
This was the trick Lucille Ball could teach:
as beauty queen, you are
measured, compared to the rest,
as sex symbol
you age, and unless you manage a spectacular
suicide, you disappear.
But make yourself into a funny lady,
pull your skirt up and stomp
barefoot in grapes, let yourself get knocked
across the stage by a loaf of bread a mile long,
and you’re on to something,
pile your clown red high, everybody loves you,
take a bow.
It was an art form, really—a sculpture
fit for Marie Antoinette,
not a hive or a bouffant but a
placement of silver curls
teased to Jesus and set
Necessary tools included
rollers, clips, perm rods,
dense bristle brushes, rat-tail combs,
setting lotion, and
a hood dryer
to bake it into place.
For the crowing touch,
a matching Sweet Silver wiglet,
securely pinned then blended
on the top.
A whore’s bath is what she called it—
once she got sick, all she could do
was stand at the sink and splash
Her hair became
a dandelion puff in the front,
a shut-in’s matt in the back,
and grew roots two inches long
of a color none of us had ever seen.
her flesh returning to
her hair gone to
My uncle, he said,
Your grandmama’s just given up, that’s all.
And how do you like those lowlights in her hair?
It was a joke—
I know, I know, I know—
but I could have
wrapped the cord of the spray nozzle
around his neck.
Instead, I smiled quiet,
stood behind her
as she gripped her walker
Her face was bent
in the kitchen sink,
she was white-knuckled, she was shaking,
and for the first time, my fingers touched her
I’m hurrying, Fanny, I know, I said.
Don’t I know it, Fanny, don’t I know. Just
one more minute more now.
I have to work these knots out.
What I wouldn’t do for a lock of that hair now,
a bright flash of
fuck all y’all
to braid into the ancestral
Can you see it?
The intricate twists in shades of
mouse, dishwater, ash, straw-broom—
all the church-going,
mannered tones of
the hair of the dead resigned to
the bleak of
autumn leaves long after
it’s time to rake and
snow is on the ground.
Can you see it? There—
at the strong base of the tree,
that bough with seven branches forking from it, that
carbonated platinum, that stainless Adriatic,
the Sweet Silver of her
last remaining threads.
Trace your finger—you might be
surprised to find the hair
thinner than it looked on her,
find it has more oil,
not enough curl,
further proof of how
hard she worked
who she was.