Doing Hair & Loving Women by Asia Calcagno

by Leslie Anne Mcilroy


& she’d watch my repetition
in the mirror. The hard sweep
of saw-tooth bristles. The over
& under double-dutch diving
of each braid. The blow-drying
until steam rises. The straight-
cut from the kitchen scissors.
The scratch of oil behind ears.
The straightener’s sizzle until
hair becomes fragile & flat
as a paper bag. She’d stand clear
of those harsh parts of me.
Ruined perms. The need to repair.
The heavy hand oiling my scalp.
Each run of the brush & rubber
band pop. The twenty bobby-pins
left on the sink. Those tiny swords
waiting to pierce. The short-lived
bodies coming from my head.
The preparing & waiting
& washing clean.


No one believes me
when I say it was easy—
how the barber was a simple man
snipping my scalp to a quiet field.
The split ends fell to the floor
like blackbirds taking bullets.

Most people cried. I did not.
She winced like the clipper blade
at what I’ve lost. Heavy hands
by her side. It took her a year
to find where I was in each mirror.
It took me sweeping a palm back
& forth over what is gone—
repeating each move. Re-learning
who I was with less weight
to bargain.

Photo of Asia Calcagno

Photo of Asia Calcagno

Asia Calcagno is a poet, performer, and educator from Chicago. Her work has been featured in Learn Then Burn, Glass Mountain and Women in REDZine. Her poems have been awarded the Benjamin T. Marshall Poetry Prize and the Charles B. Palmer Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets.