You can still feel the bristles
as your mother runs the brush
through your hair.
The mane sweeps down your back,
brushes the waist of your jeans.
Every morning, you and your mother
meet for this ritual. Some days,
she gives you two high ponytails,
the knobs at their elastic-bound bases
like the knobs of a young deer’s antlers
growing in. Other days,
she yanks and pulls
until both sides of your head
display the tight criss-cross of
when you turn to look in the
hand mirror and approve.
And still other days, she decides
on not tugging two braids, but one—
a single, thick rope
which whips if you turn your head
very fast at your desk or at recess
on purpose, which you do.
You love the braids
but stop wearing them
when all the other girls
crowd for their turn
in front of the locker room mirror
after gym class.
They pass around cans
as high as corn silos,
fluff their bangs into puffballs
and spray, spray, spray.
In the darkness of morning,
you face yourself alone
in front of the mirror,
and lift sections of your bangs
into the curling iron.
The steam makes a shushing sound
when you squeeze shut the metal
and cook your bangs into curls.
Later on, when you pay your way
as a waitress
in a place where you can serve up
yourself in jeans, tube tops of any color,
along with the jalepeno bespeckled apron.
Once again, your hair in twin tails,
the ends brush your bare shoulders
as you pivot between tables
with trays of tacos and tamales.
Before each shift, you face yourself
in the bathroom mirror,
the afternoon sun cutting across the floor,
and you yank and pull
until you decide who you will be today,
in the low-riders and spaghetti straps.
You always choose braids or ponytails,
and once in awhile, a high bun
which makes you feel very French,
as if you belong in a café.
But never do you choose
the damp heat of the iron, the crowd,
the sticky bittersweet of the hair spray.