Saturday, April 5, 2014

My Mother's Hair

She wore it short when I was born. 
Wash ‘n go, walk the dog, push the stroller, 
arrange the house (endless redecorating), 
finish college (walk the baby), bake the cupcakes
(baby’s birthday). Give birth (baby sister),
play with babies, get them to school.
Find a career (more graduate school). 
Her whole body stretched open - my father,
my sister - all of us held together by her arms.
Her smile, her competence, 
her grilled cheese sandwiches. 

As a younger woman, her hair was long. 
Dark with waves in her Senior Portrait,
pulled straight back on her way to work.
Effortless in navy and black, in smart boots.
Finding her way out, and her way inwards. 
Her family: a nest (her family a cage).
She met my father, my weirdly handsome father,
my weird and fascinating father.
He was older (much older) but funny.
Smart. A professor. His hair had some gray,
his apartment, few possessions.
Newly divorced, a man of the '70‘s.
When they first met, she was tired.
Her hair was unwashed.

My mother was a power house. 
Clothes make the woman: commanding,
bold colors. Makeup: no nonsense. 
Serious hair that brought out her eyes. 
She made everything better, smarter, more beautiful.
Staring down men convinced of their own
importance, my mother was unblinking.
My mother talked politics, talked justice,
talked art. She laughed full-throated
at ignorance and hypocrisy,
she laughed with abundance, she laughed with joy.

My mother was exhausted, she was stressed,
and undaunted. She raised two
teenaged girls with our unruly woes.
We were demanding, we were selfish,
loud and loving. She applauded our insights,
our moments of grace. She counseled us
and fed us and bought us our clothes.
Together, we laughed.
She taught us who we are.

When my father died, my mother wept. 
For three long years, her sky was gray.
Mourning gave way and she grew her hair longer.
She remembered her body, took it back for herself.
Like they say in a book: she took a lover.
She drove with him (everywhere): to California, Alaska,
New Mexico, New Orleans. She wore miniskirts,
she wore pearls, she wore diamonds and cute shoes.
She argued with him violently. She let him win.
My mother wore a smile. All the time.

Disease took my mother, but she would not be taken.
Her body felt everything. She couldn’t make it move.
First limping (new shoes), then the cane (new shoes),
then the walker, then the wheelchair, 
then the power chair (new shoes).
She wrestled that disease, that stupid disease.
She insisted, she resisted, she fought. She didn’t win.
I stood in her bathroom as she clutched her toothbrush.
Hands losing their grasp, she brushed with her fists.
I held her hairbrush but I never brushed her hair.
Her hair was hers. So long. So dark. So heavy. So beautiful.

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