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Poetic License: My First Haircut

By Staff | Apr 15, 2015

After her second child was stillborn,

my mother made a “promesa,”

a promise to the Virgin that in return

for a healthy male child,

she would not cut his hair.

Alas, I was that healthy male child

and for the first four years of my life

my hair grew below my shoulders

just like a girl’s and to make matters worse

it was silky and curly

and the women in my family took turns

combing it and creating elaborate hairdos

or making ringlets

with pieces of paper bags

and sighing “que ricitos tan lindos,”

(what gorgeous little curls)

then sent me out to play

with the roughest group of four year olds

ever assembled on the East Side of Manhattan.

It had been tough enough with these guys

when I was three and hadn’t learned English yet

because no one but my brother

spoke English at home,

but English mastery could not deliver me

from the misery caused by groups of boys

yanking at my curls

while chanting “Ding dong bell”

and calling me Josephine.

The curls and long hair had to go

and for the first time in my life,

I delivered an ultimatum:

“Cut my hair or I won’t go out to play,”

I demanded tearfully in Spanish.

They actually hired

a studio photographer

to come to the house

and take the picture of me

sitting on a high chair

just before the great shearing.

As I remember, I cried a little,

each woman took a snip

and saved a lock,

the men sat in the parlor

drinking beer, my brother told me

it would be safe to play outside again

and my mother

would not come out of her bedroom

until it was over

and couldn’t look at me straight

for the longest time.