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
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
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
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 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. www.susanthurstonwrites.com