Home > Poetry > My Hair Remembers Everything
Published: Tue Sep 5 2023
Salman Toor, Fag Puddle with Candle, Shoe, and Flag (detail), 2022. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, N.Y. Photo: Farzad Owrang.
Online 2023 Youth Family Animals
My Hair Remembers Everything

Everything felt fragile then, the fragments my mother collected,
          an envelope unmarked except by its contents, shadow 
of sable curls from my first haircut, marmalade jar rotten with baby teeth,
          how I learned to see myself as a specimen, an artifact under hall light, 
learned that teeth splinter like piano keys clapped with a curling iron, 
          keys carved from real ivory, a word that trembled from 
my mother like a steel string, a word I’d later learn meant poached elephants,
          Africans enslaved to shoulder the tusks, ships that sailed to New River
where lathes spun bone into combs, cutlery, buttonhooks bleaching 
          in the sun, mountains of bone that made white buyers rich,
how I brought my young hands to the world without reverence while elephants 
          touched their dead in a silence that moved like grief, in my mother’s 
house that remembered me as careless, my mother who, bending like branches
          over the keys, pulled out the sound only a body can make.

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Ruth Awad, a Lebanese-American poet, is the author of Set to Music a Wildfire (Southern Indiana Review Press, 2017), winner of the Michael Waters Poetry Prize and the Ohioana Book Award for Poetry. Her work has appeared in Poetry, Poem-a-DayAGNIThe BelieverThe New Republic, Kenyon Review, and elsewhere. The coeditor, with Rachel Mennies, of The Familiar Wild: On Dogs & Poetry (Sundress Publications, 2020), she has twice received the Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award and is a 2021 National Endowment for the Arts fellow in poetry. (updated 10/2023)

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