Hair by Ashna Ali

by Leslie Anne Mcilroy

My mother and her five sisters grew up with long black braids
down their backs/ there are dozens of pictures of them standing
in lines in Khulna/ in Dhaka/ in order of descending height/ ascending age
I grew one/ took me years/ I enjoyed the feeling of it
pressing between my shoulder blades/ under my backpack/ its swing
at school dances/ I would sometimes pull it around my waist
when I was scared or lonely/ my own hug/ eventually I had more reasons

smart girls in Italian novels who were beautiful
because of their hair/ characters on American television whose hair
flicked in rhyme and fingers/ I started letting/ it out
braiding flowers/ into it like in those black and white photos
of white women in the 1970’s/ everyone sat around singing songs
around fires with daisies dotting/ their braids and wreathing their foreheads/
(that’s not what it was like for us, that’s not where we were, says my father)
but my mother and her sisters/ really love the music/ from when they were young

one day I was watching Sister Sister/ a television show
two smart, black twins are separated at birth/ find each other
their parents move in like a family/ unite them
ensuing in all manner of hilarity/ (I have no sisters)
I too had my long black braid/ just like them/ like my mother/ a long time ago
I would fling it/ over the back of the couch/ while I watched the show
fed my fantasies/ of growing up to be a woman/ just like my mother –

but my mother/ she complained/ how much work my hair was/ eeesh!!
too much, too much
/ she threw up her hands/ walked silently
behind the couch/ with scissors/
sliced it/ all the way off/ my long black braid
just like that/ just like that
my head popped/ shot from a sling
cut the cord/ between her past
/my future

she put it in a gallon Ziploc bag
the television blared/ my hair my hair my hair
she stood and laughed
/she won.

Thirteen years later/ a week from my wedding day
a gallon Ziploc bag
the gift/ of my braid back.

Photo of Ashna Ali

Photo of Ashna Ali

Ashna Ali is a poet, essayist, and a co-managing editor at Litmus Press. She teaches literature and theory through the lens of global social justice at Queens College and is getting her doctorate at The Graduate Center, CUNY, where she was also a fellow at The Writers' Institute. She is originally from Bangladesh, was raised in Italy and has lived in New York — where she occasionally performs her poetry — for ten years.