A woman from Haiti braided my hair the other day. Her strong cocoa brown fingers locked my hairs together in a tight embrace, while she hummed and sang. I closed my eyes and wondered about far off spaces, places beautiful and lit by the sun. Then she crocheted in caramel-colored twists, luxurious ropes trailing down my face.
I was fly.
I was pre- and post-pregnancy.
I was 17.
I was in all stages of my beauty.
I went to a Christmas party that night. So fly. Until she came bumbling through the crowd, swimming in wine and misplaced pride. Confusion blots her face when my blackness shifts its shape. “Wow! Is it a costume?”
It’s been a long time since ignorance spit on my lips like this. I look away in silence because I am happy and momentarily free, and I do not want to shatter that with this reality. I turn away because I am the only one here and if I look at you I will scream all the things I feel. I bite my tongue to keep from becoming a whisper, the reason the party ended early and why we can’t have nice things.
I leave you still standing in your ignorance to assess the mark I carry with me now. Your words rattle around the new dent in my crown. So I lock myself in the bathroom to stare at my reflection in the dirty mirror. Chocolate skin, bright red lips, sharp eyes. Who am I, really?
I am corn rows dripping beads that spill across the blacktop with each rhythmic skip of the rope. I am the press ‘n curl fresh from the sizzling hot comb popping grease on grandma’s kitchen stove. I am crochet braids whipping through the air as I fall to the soft brown earth. I am long synthetic waves of neon brushing against the regality of my birth. I am Japanese keratin bobs, inky black, sharp against my cheekbones. I am twists underneath my wide satin bonnet, loud with two-tones. I am kinky coils pulled gently to my scalp by the morning rain. I am the Afro caught in the office plant, reaching to drink in the power flowing from my mane. I am all of these now and at 8, 11, and 16 – forever a Nubian queen.
And it hits me like a wave washing me clean,
Like the sun giving life to the seed within.
I still am
I will always be