Hair is the Hieroglyphic
by Lew Rosenbaum
She lounges listless in her nursing home bed.
Her hair — unkempt, unruly —scatters across
shrunken shoulders and splays across bed sheets.
There is no order to her appearance, no order to
the sounds babbling from her half-open mouth,
no pattern to the gray, black, white, yellow strands
that color her hair independently, still lend it that
dirty, ochrous look. It wasn’t always so.
I remember her sitting on the couch in the living room,
combing her abundant black tresses, two feet long
from the crown of her head almost to her waist,
every morning combing, always combing and combing,
plying the wide-toothed end to remove the
morning snarls that had accumulated in the thrashing
of night, moving toward the fine-toothed end until
long undulant streams dangle and glisten in the
morning sunlight streaming through the window.
Then she divides the hair at the crown, parting the
With deft and nimble fingers she braids one side,
then the other, until the cascades lie across her breasts
each side emerging as an entwined water snake. Now she
arranges them in a circle,
forming a regal corona,
her straight shoulders speak confidence
as she smiles and stands up.
I saw the gray beginning to streak her hair.
I noticed when that yellow contaminated the
purity of color, when the display lost its luxuriance,
when she would finger the combed hair,
shake her head and mourn about how fine the
wisps had become, tell tales about women’s
envy, about admiration as she undid those braids.
The stages of a woman’s life are the grist that makes
a sphinx’s riddle. The hair is the hieroglyphic in which
these stages are recounted. I want to defy the inevitable,
pick up that comb, straighten those strands,
call back an earlier vibrant vision.
(previously published in the chapbook, To Pay The Piper)