We two sit on our bed, you
between my legs, your back to me, your head
slightly bowed, that I may brush and braid
your hair. My father
did this for my mother,
just as I do for you. One hand
holds the hem of you hair, the other
works the brush. Both hands climb
as the strokes grow
longer, until I use not only my wrists,
but my arms, then my shoulders, my whole body
rocking in a rower’s rhythm, a lover’s
even time, as the tangles are undone,
and brush and bare hand run the thick,
fluent length of your hair, whose wintry scent
comes, a faint, human musk.
Last night the room was so cold
I dreamed we were in Pittsburgh again, where winter
persisted and we fell asleep in the last seat
of the 71 Negley, dark mornings going to work.
How I wish we didn’t hate those years
while we lived them.
Those were days of books,
days of silences stacked high
as the ceiling of that great, dim hall
where we studied. I remember
the thick, oak tabletops, how cool
they felt against my face
when I lay my head down and slept.
How long your hair has grown.
There will come a day
one of us will have to imagine this: you,
after your bath, crosslegged on the bed, sleepy, patient,
while I braid your hair.
Here, what’s made, these braids, unmakes
itself in time, and must be made
again, within and against
time. So I braid
your hair each day.
My fingers gather, measure hair,
hook, pull and twist hair and hair.
Deft, quick, they plait,
weave, articulate lock and lock, to make
and make these braids, which point
the direction of my going, of all our continuous going.
And though what’s made does not abide,
my making is steadfast, and, besides, there is a making
of which this making-in-time is just a part,
a making which abides
beyond the hands which rise in the combing,
the hands which fall in the braiding,
trailing hair in each stage of its unbraiding.
Love, how the hours accumulate. Uncountable.
The trees grow tall, some people walk away
and diminish forever.
The damp pewter days slip around without warning
and we cross over one year and one year.
from Rose: Poems, 1986
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