A childhood shearing is often a rite of passage. In Omotara James’ “Haircut”, it’s what the child passes into, while being shorn, that curls in a secret, sharp thicket at the centre of this poem.
Short, close-knit sentences build the poem in prose form. The only italics are a single line of bladed dialogue, issued by the mother holding a pair of scissors to her child: “I said don’t move.” Scent and sensation bubbles here, from the sizzle of the frying pan, the speaker’s longing for coconuts, the hot splattering of palm oil in the kitchen: this small, baleful domestic front builds itself in sensory strokes.
Trouble is the connective thread here. When the speaker thinks about laying her troubles on the tiled floor, of how she composes her limbs, she remembers being seven and shorn at the pubis by her mother. We receive the impression of vulva as flower, but not joyously petalling: “My girlhood, open as the morning / blinds, the light I wish was brighter. When Mom’s finished cutting, she / dusts the loose hairs like a janitor, underpaid.” In the world of the speaker’s present, her mother wants to know what her daughter does sexually with another woman. This is a gauntlet of incomprehension often faced by so many queer folk: to receive queer news, it must be yoked to sex. The poem blisters the underside of my tongue with this truth, white-hot as it is, honeysuckled with a warning: those who are ‘normal’ will always want to know how you work.
Your mother’s no exception. Hell, sometimes your mother’s at the front of the queue, brandishing a pair of long silver scissors, her hand steady. Sometimes we pay for the fruit of ourselves by these tithes of anatomy. The mother reaches into the daughter, pulling without permission.
Read “Haircut” here.
Omotara James’ chapbook Daughter Tongue appears as part of New-Generation African Poets: A Chapbook Box Set (Tano), published in 2018 by Akashic Books.
This is the twenty-second installment of Here for the Unicorn Blood, a Queer POC Poetry Reader which runs from June 1 – June 30. Historically, June commemorates the 1969 Stonewall Riots, heralded as the birth of the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement in the United States. #PrideMonth’s global significance, its unabashed celebration of queerness, its marshalling of non-heteronormative joy, resistance and tenacity, motivates this close reading series, which specifically engages the work of POC Queer Poets, in international space. People of colour have been vital to queerness before queerness had a name: this is one way to witness that, to embed my reading practice in it, and to raise my brown, queer fist in yes.