Washing my daughter’s hair

October 20, 2021

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. —Rainer Maria Rilke

In copious curls, her brown hair
         reaches the small of her back,
                  a tangle she can barely brush

for she feels as though a thousand needles
         perforate her scalp and a vise
                  tightens on her temples,

as the iron weight of this unknown
         affliction crushes her,
                  month after unrelenting month.

It’s the not-knowing, she says,
         that prowls through her days like a shadow

unhinged from her 27-year-old body,
         haunting every corner of the house,
                  darkening her mind’s acute angles.

Rendered helpless as a supplicant,
         she kneels before the bathtub,
                  leaves her aching arms at her side, bends

beneath the faucet.
         I soak her hair, lather
                  citrus-scented shampoo throughout—

I must be gentle—
         caressing her tresses,

then rinse and massage in conditioner.
         I want to free beauty from terror,
                  so with wide-toothed comb, I work

my way up from the ends, unknotting
         each strand from the other,
                  then rinse again, wishing all the while

to mix in a Pentecostal fire,
         spirit more immediate than prayer,
                  to muster a miracle from water and fear.