Hair tells family secrets, like lips and skin:
my chestnut curls and waves that intractable
thicket—one month’s tropical growth—
Mamá called maleza de manigua,
jungle scrub. What will the neighbors think?
Locked in the bathroom, I brushed hard
against the grain—pig bristles, nylon quills,
chrome needles, nothing tamed
my guava bush, not even the wire brush
Papá used for mange of rust.
I rubbed sores with Mamá’s alcohol
and iodine (mixed in squirt
bottles to disinfect the house of ghosts).
Prune this wild boy, Mamá told the barber
as she pulled my hair, grimacing, red fingernails
drawing blood. Cajoling the cranky
pedal with grease, Luis el barbero pumped
up the chair he’d bought at a Hialeah
junkyard, strop stained by rain; la barbería squeezed
between a butchershop and cigar factory—
"America, Love It or Leave It" macramé nailed
above hooks where viejos hung canes, Panama hats.
I slumped angrily, shoe kicking foot rest,
hands clenched under white shroud, plastic Virgin Marys
scowling at me for hating Mamá. Luis thinned
the bush with toothed shears, straight razor hacked
outer growth as Mamá reminded him
my abuelos were Spaniards—her Catalan father’s
eyes between gray and blue, Roman nose,
his brother’s hair just like mine, curlier even.
Tío Octavio looked Semitic, Mamá said,
you’d think he was Henry Kissinger.
Fat and bald, back hairs brushed up like cockatoo’s
crest, Luis shook his head, eyebrows raised,
smiling like someone who’s heard this before.
Any hair’s better than none, señora, any hair.