by Vanessa Blakeslee

Published in Issue No. 155 ~ April, 2010

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

French braids

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.

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A graduate of the MFA in Writing at Vermont College of Fine Arts, Vanessa Blakeslee's poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in the New York Quarterly, Illuminations, Hiram Poetry Review, The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, Southern Poetry Review and other places. She serves as the Director of Maitland Poets & Writers, a community organization which focuses on expanding the literary arts throughout Central Florida. Find Vanessa online at