the national poetry month issue || a history of african-american hair

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  • University of Northern Iowa

    A History of African-American HairAuthor(s): Allison JosephSource: The North American Review, Vol. 287, No. 2, The National Poetry Month Issue (Mar. -Apr., 2002), p. 6Published by: University of Northern IowaStable URL: .Accessed: 14/06/2014 09:46

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  • NAR


    A History of African-American Hair

    Ghosts of hairstyles past visit me in the mirror:

    pageboy bangs like Tootie's on The Facts of Life,

    black power braids aping Stevie Wonder, not

    Bo Derek, Afro puffs that sprouted from each

    side of my head, neat tracks of corn rows tight across my scalp, curling-iron flips, top knots,

    pigtails, blow-dried hair, hot-combed hair,

    permed hair, straightened-with-Vigorol hair?

    a shampoo so noxious that exposing

    any other body part to it was to court

    chemical burns. I remember the knots, snags,

    tangles?my normally patient mother cursing

    as she tried to pull a comb through

    just-washed hair, a mass dense as a forest,

    just as resistant. I remember goopy gels,

    greasy lotions, pressing oils and pomades,

    cans of hairspray and mousse, the barrettes,

    bobby pins, end papers, metal clips,

    head scarves, do-rags, hair-dryer bonnets,

    pink sponge curlers, hard wire curlers,

    big plastic curlers with rows of holes

    shot through them, straightening combs,

    crimping irons, blow dryers with their

    toothy attachments. All that junk

    would crowd around the bathroom sink, under it, under my bed, sofa, arm chair.

    I remember and I am glad as any woman can be

    that I cut my hair, that the woman in the mirror

    now has hair she can touch,

    cropped close to scalp, to skin.


    Aquinas at the Last

    ... and all that I have written seems to me

    like so much straw compared to what I've seen

    and what has been revealed. The waving sea

    retreats. The fields grow still and turn from green

    to gold in what can only be described as everlasting sunset, light that halts

    the senses and the mind I tried to bribe

    with words and words. But it was not my fault

    that I should try: I thought it was my gift to gather symbols for the things I longed to taste. I thought with language I could lift

    my head into the heavens. I was wrong. You would agree if you'd seen what I saw:

    the Summa, though it seems like grain, is straw.

    6 NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW March-April 2002

    This content downloaded from on Sat, 14 Jun 2014 09:46:24 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

    Article Contentsp. 6

    Issue Table of ContentsThe North American Review, Vol. 287, No. 2, The National Poetry Month Issue (Mar. - Apr., 2002), pp. 1-52Front MatterFrom the Editor [p. 2-2]Eating Meat [p. 3-3]Oyster-Shucking Contest [p. 4-4]Aesthetics and Politics [p. 5-5]A History of African-American Hair [p. 6-6]Aquinas at the Last [p. 6-6]Landscape with Leaves [p. 7-7]The Robin's Nest [p. 7-7]Angioplasty [p. 8-8]Chopin's Prelude in E-Minor [p. 8-8]Geisha [p. 9-9]The Poet to Her Poems [p. 9-9]My Mother at Evening [p. 10-10]Eating My Words [p. 10-10]In a Book on Neolithic Wounds [p. 11-11]Generic [p. 11-11]Wonderful, Horrid, Divine [pp. 12-17]Grinding Grain [p. 17-17]Not Knowing Enough about Physics to Write This Poem [pp. 18-21]Morning in Paradiso [p. 21-21]Clothespins / Los Palitos de Tendederas [p. 22-22]Airplane Hill [p. 22-22]Rewind [p. 23-23]Lost Day [p. 23-23]Junk [p. 23-23]Janitor's Hours [p. 24-24]Instructions [p. 24-24]Difficulties [p. 24-24]Hidden Track [p. 25-25]In a Diner on Sunday [p. 25-25]Ted & Sylvia [p. 26-26]The Emperor's Wife [p. 26-26]On the Road [pp. 27-29]Visiting My Daughter [p. 29-29]The Last Judgment [p. 29-29]Judges 4 [p. 30-30]War News [p. 31-31]Avenue of Flags, Eagle Grove, IA, 1998 [p. 31-31]Fugue Noir [pp. 32-33]Singularity [p. 33-33]Hungarian [p. 33-33]Waiting For [p. 34-34]The Glassblower [p. 35-35]Writing to Jazz [p. 35-35]Thailand Journal: Snapshots on the Highway to Chiang Rai [p. 36-36]Colour Beginning [p. 36-36]ReviewsReview: Synecdoche: Brief Poetry Notices [p. 37-37]

    The Moose, The Lake, The Cold [pp. 38-42]Circumnavigator [pp. 43-44]New Plays and a Modern Master [pp. 45-49]Outside [p. 49-49]Back Matter


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