Hair Sestina

Alexis Sears

I’m 24 and yes, by now I know I have a problem. “Oh, but don’t we all?” everyone jokes as if it’s really brilliant. But not like this. A slippery chunk of life has slid on by, and still I am without an inkling of real knowledge about black

hairstyles. Some bus driver says, “You’re ‘black' in name, but you will never really know their struggles.” Their. It sticks. I’m left without a comeback (since I know it’s true). She’s all proud now and continues on, “Your life seems easier than most.” Gee, that is brilliant.

I’m not sure if I’m hurt or not. A brilliant professor told me once (her hair dyed black as licorice bites), “Sometimes, you know, in life, you’ll want to cry but can’t. Just so you know, the answer is to bite your thumb. That’s all.” My cluelessness, though? Soon, I’ll be without

a thumb, a life, a man to dine with. (Out of time.) I only care about hair now. Brilliant black scholar’s what I aim for. I spend all my leisure time these days researching black hair looks. I nod, I practice, hope I’ll know a twist-out when I see it. I watch Life

(the one with Eddie Murphy), plan a life where someday I’ll have cornrows, braids, without the insecurity. Should I–oh no, no flashcards. What’s the point of being brilliant if you wear white girl hair to Sam’s Club, lack inheritance and understanding? All

I know is this: it wouldn’t be right to call what happened to me abandonment. See, life can be too hard for us, including my black father, once-Marine, 6'2", without someone to speak to, even me. Not brilliant, but he could have helped me come to know

my hair, my blackness, self. Oh, well. Without some emptiness, what’s life? 24. “Brilliant. Accomplished.” All I know is what I don’t.

Alexis Sears is the author of Out of Order (Autumn House Press 2022), winner of the 2021 Donald Justice Poetry Prize. Her work has appeared in Best American Poetry 2022, Rattle, the Cortland Review, Literary Matters, Birmingham Poetry Review, Poet Lore, Cimarron Review, and elsewhere. She earned her MFA in poetry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her Bachelor’s in Writing Seminars from Johns Hopkins University. A native Californian, she teaches middle and high school English and History in Los Angeles.