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2017 poetry winner

Rapunzel Takes A Stand 

. . . Human hair is obtained from hair merchants in Europe. “The market has opened up in Russia,” Lawrence says. “Hair collectors go into villages and set up shop and women come in and let them cut their hair off. In Pakistan and India, the temples collect hair from women who have cut it off in mourning. The priests sell the hair for money for the temples.”  Stephen Holt, New York Times, Jan. 30, 1995




My grandmother washed her hair with summer

storm rain water caught in barrels. Towel-turbaned

she drove the Chevy to our farm where she let it tumble

down wet into the prevailing prairie wind, away

from the eyes of neighbors who would think

her crazy—hair unleashed from braided respectability

tipped in black as if each strand sipped

from some bucket of distilled time. Trembling,

I asked if I could brush her hair. She ran her fingers

through its entire length ten times before nodding.




During The War, this generation’s most successful

murderers pressed down dark heads and cut

away handfuls of tresses. With his orders puffing

in their chests, his soldiers crossed borders

filled black streets with glass crashing

and children crying, shipped bales of their

hair to factories to stuff into mattresses.

And slippers. So many, comforted into somnolence.




My mother washed my hair until I came of age

and couldn’t abide her fingers against my scalp.

Then I took down my braids, climbed into the tower

of adolescence. Hair falling in red grace.

Shameless, it coiled down my back like many

serpents all hissing youth and such sweetness.




Within a hair’s breadth

enough pigment for the boundary

everyone is afraid to cross.


Within the breadth of a hair:





pair of slippers

thread of a seam

curl of life

helix holder of all secrets

nest of dreams and nightmares.


We move and turn

within a hair’s breadth

the wretched scale

the weight of decision



Pull it out.

Pull it all out

and we become





Today someone told me

to embrace my weaknesses

gladly play Delilah to my

own Samson

enter the temple

open the tabernacle

reveal the mysteries

for what they are







Years ago, to the lover with jet black hair

I wondered, Why would someone sell

her hair? He gathered my red curls

laughed and said, Hunger.

That would do it.

Are you hungry enough?

He crawled in with such abandon. Face

shining. And I wondered, in the midst

of all those cravings, did he really

think I wanted him always climbing

into my life? We pressed each other

into the mattress. Listened to the blackbirds

gathering in the trees just outside

the open window of the tower.




So many portraits of the gods

heads heavy with hair.

Their one true beauty.

Strands of it caught

woven into the wings of angels.




Sometimes I dream I braid

my grandmother’s hair. We are

in the desert and grandmother

turns into Georgia O’Keeffe

and she does not ask

for Alfred, but for bones.




During the age of corsets

stiff with desire, women

pulled hair from the bristles

of their brushes. Around

their smallest fingers

they twisted

strands into snapdragon

petals and fuzzy stamens

dozens of roses twined

onto stems, trellised

upon outrageous hopes.

All familial shades set

beneath a bell jar

dry and dust free.




It just kept getting in the way.

All that washing, brushing

braiding, pinning.

After cutting it all off

I stare at the floor a long time.

The walls of the tower crumble.




I walk to the village.

Find the hair merchant

take his scissors

cut away his hair

and toss it

to the first

woman I meet.


Susan ThurstonSusan Thurston relishes spending time with her children Madeleine and Samuel and draws inspiration from ancient myths and legends as well as the ceaseless beauty of the Mississippi River that flows through the heart of her city. She is working hard to achieve a life that offers more time to cherish friendships and create, travel, and read deeply. All of that is enhanced by good food, libations, and sun. She is a writer, educator, and professional communicator who lives in St. Paul, Minnesota. Her work has been published in numerous publications including the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Los Angeles Review, Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac, Minnesota Monthly, Fox Cry Review, Rag Mag; several anthologies including Open to Interpretation: At Water’s Edge (Taylor & O’Neill, 2012), Low Down and Coming On (Red Dragonfly Press, 2010), Tremors Vibrations Enough to Rearrange the World (Heywood Press, 1995); and the chapbook Wild Bone Season (Heywood Press, 1996). Her novel Sister of Grendel was published by The Black Hat Press in 2016. She coauthored Cooking-Up the Good Life (University of Minnesota Press, 2012) with local-food movement leader Chef Jenny Breen. As part of earning her master’s degree from Hamline University, she spent time exploring the influence of gender on the creative process with the game-changing writers Carol Bly, Patricia Hampl, and Meridel Le Sueur.

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