When I first cut off my long black mane, back in 2012 I wanted the world to see the man I never had growing up, rough boy, angular features, no one taught to throw a punch, warrior, soldier, someone who would have made my uncles proud, cowboy that would have brought my father back from the dead, unsnapped his neck, taken the vodka from his veins, poured it back into the bottle and screwed the cap on tight, that’s what I wanted when I chopped my long black mane six years ago, clean cut, straight lines, fresh portrait.
When my hair got to my eyes, I still felt like a boy, not quite a man, but that shaggy fella who was afraid if you looked him directly in the eye, you’d see all he hated about himself, regrets and failures, broken bottles and arguments with other gay boys he told himself he loved, told himself it was love, who could resist the charm of an early twenties mop top with bruised ego, one way trip to sanitarium, cranium cracked, held by protein, skull stitched together,
and when my hair met my chin, I think I forgot about being a boy, a man, David Bowie on repeat, intrigue of in-between, not quite male, not straight female, eyes drawn to enigma, thrill of the cis-man not able to make heads or tails, back or front of the unfathomable subject walking too close to their body, their temple, their church of the heteronormative Jesus, they have fantasies to grip, to pull the black river cascading from my head maybe solve their own mystery, quell their own insecurities,
which lead me to a man who told me never to cut my hair, that it made me everything I was, not my words, not my poems, not the love I gave unconditionally, tossed at a wall, handed to ghosts this frame of my face, two-dollar landscape discarded at a Goodwill, caked in dust, lovable from a distance if you squint your eyes enough so I let my hair grow past my shoulders, thought I could wrap each strand around his body, keep him at my side, but I woke, in the middle of the night gasping for air, frayed, split,
and when my hair got to my chest, I sat next to my mother in a sanitized doctor’s office, twirling those strands around my fingers, hearing things like lymph nodes, survival rates, chemotherapy, life drained from the room, through the vents, light switch, crack beneath the door, and I thought of my mother months later, would her own hair burn before the cancer burned, Ojibwe woman, no reflection, head wrapped in scarves, decay, and I imagined grabbing the scissors on the desk, chopping off my long black mane, sacrifice to any god buzzing in the fluorescents overhead.
I remember my grandmother’s hands, brown sculptures, curved index finger pointing, my direction, telling me have patience, good things come to those who aren't messy eaters,
my uncles, weather worn skin, gravel in their voices cousins playing in the yard, my mother, my sisters, my apartment on Minnehaha Avenue, shag green carpet, mailbox with tape and my father's last name; my father fallen warrior, journey home stopped by glass caught in the throat, choking song, whiskey on scared tongue, body frozen on cement, bones shattered
I remember a bus shelter broken bench, across the street, grass overgrown on 33rd, windows closing at night, an elevator humming, soft little work song anytime someone needed lifting, I remember my grandfather, glasses and ponytail, his nickname for me "Charlie Brown," I remember when he told my mother you did a good job raising him, she remembers this too, back in the day when phones hung on walls looking up my last name in a phone book, wondering if my father would answer any of those numbers, I remember this
I remember toy boxes, drawing pads, Crayola watercolors permission slips, report cards and backpacks barely holding on to my shoulders, math worksheets that still make me sweat in the middle of night, horror of long division haunting me into adulthood, I remember not having to remember, everything just was, in the moment now I remember remembering, looking back, things that made me, once part of life, now part of history, when "it" becomes "was," was is a noun, a thing I cling to, cannot hold, cannot help but remember.