by Ariana Brown
we’ve picked a color to make her happy / honey blonde or burgundy / a hollering red / blissful obsidian / a dreamy lavender / after the wash & waking / of each strand / with something to keep moisture / I touch the scalp with ease / bring only good gifts / & listen to the singing in my lower back / neck / arms & wrist / when I conjure the souls of these digits / to practice / my pinky gives me the most pain / when I am braiding / shouts at its bend / ties yarn or kanekalon / at the square root of someone’s head / someone who I love / & my shoulders hunch in defiance / & my forehead oils itself anew / & my knees bring their grievances / to the top of the bloodstream / & here / is my body / wilting in reverence. / if I could / I would destroy every memory / of standing in a mirror / with brush & head half done / the feeling of needing help / & no one to ask for it / I don’t know what the world expects / of little Black girls but / it isn’t / freedom / to know oneself intimately / to take pleasure in our many transformations / grow 18 inches of weave in the span of a few hours / & be recognizable only to those who love us whole / & consistently / I make braids or conversation / & the head I am working leans & aches / we cue a movie / coo a humble song / & ours is a texture architectural / mimicking the forest & its triumphant green / I take the shape of trees / I am as old as the unshed leaf / every spruce cedar & pine is showing off for me / & all my sisters deserve the sun’s reach / the wind’s kiss & howl / atop the scalp / proof we are the earth’s earliest kin / shapeshifting for protection / & when we are done / I slip each end through a candle’s light / or cloth and burning water / a small flame prayer / sent up in smoke / or sealed & soaking / in the center of my hands / this I learned / this I taught myself / a secret I pass to all I love who mirror me / I don’t know what the world expects / of little Black girls but / we never did this to be beautiful / though we did become so / in the process
Ariana Brown is a queer Black Mexican American poet based in Houston, Texas. She is the author of the poetry collections We Are Owed. (Grieveland, 2021) and Sana Sana (Game Over Books, 2020). She holds a BA in African Diaspora Studies and Mexican American Studies, MFA in Poetry, and an MS in Library and Information Science. Ariana is a national collegiate poetry slam champion, instructional designer in ELA and Ethnic Studies, and a creative writing high school teacher.