Before the Harvest

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

When I was small, my friends and I would sit
beneath the mango tree and learn to comb
hair until it stood up loose and fluffy, then plow

a straight line down to the scalp and separate
the field into even sections, slowly plait each
into a close, straight braid. My own thin blonde

hair was a frustration — how I secretly envied
my friends their gleaming ebony that could,
at our young age, be plaited into elegance!

My own hair could be brushed and braided,
and it was, but it would not stay neat through
washing, the plaits would loosen, tangle, grow

into a mess fit to nest a chicken. But envy is
even uglier than unruly, steals from the eyes
and smile whatever beauty might otherwise

reside there. I resolved in tight silence, to let
it go, to instead celebrate each time we sat
to braid and found Jumma’a’s hair grown

longer during its most recent time in narrow
rows, found it each time closer to a length
that would permit a woman’s style, a wrap

and sculpting with black thread into a form
and beauty that would be uniquely hers.
We were young girls, then. We took comfort

in the patient, loving touch of one another’s
hands, this ritual that would carry us through
as bodies changed and destinies diverged.


After Robbi Nester’s poem “The Long and Short of It.”