“You have a big head. Can I touch it?” she asked bluntly. The little brown hands approached my head like a priestess who was about to perform a ceremony, and give her first blessing. Her hands felt cool on my scalp that has known brutality of many other hands, combs, hot combs, perms and finally an electric raiser, (cutting my hair while sitting hunched over pages of old newspapers, on my living room floor). Once, I had to use a black eye pencil to fill in the gap from the missing chunk of hair from the electric raiser in my trembling hands.
To tremble with fear for going against tradition happens to me often. This was my first encounter with a person who felt brave enough to touch my bare head in the church. My mother has never really touched my head since my buzz cut, over twenty years. Her fear of no man marrying me because of my short hair hasn’t come true yet, but she still holds onto the hope that one day I will realize, “I need to have hair.” I will need it to preserve my beauty, I will need it to identify me clearly as a woman, I will need it to have her native land’s full acceptance. But I didn’t need it for a child’s blessing, soothing the heat of many years.
Jerrice J. Baptiste
Jerrice J. Baptiste has authored eight books. She has performed her poetry at numerous venues including the Woodstock Library’s Writers in the Mountains series in association with other noted female authors and poets in the Hudson Valley, NY. She has been published in the Crucible; So Spoke The Earth: Anthology of Women Writers of Haitian Descent, Inc; African Voices; Chronogram; Shambhala Times; Hudson Valley Riverine Anthology; Her poetry in Haitian Creole & collaborative songwriting is featured on the Grammy Award winning album: Many Hands: Family Music for Haiti, released by Spare the Rock Records LLC; upcoming Typishly Literary Journal; and the Autism Parenting Magazine (upcoming issue February 2018)
while you are still breathing
where your skin is submerged
and there is nothing to be
holding highest joy
and utter despair
notice the flow of your life
pushing and pulling
perhaps in spite of it
to taste your exquisite life
Matthew Mumber MD is a practicing, board certified radiation oncologist with the Harbin Clinic in Rome, Georgia. He received his undergraduate and medical degrees from the University of Virginia and completed his radiation oncology residency at the Bowman Gray School of Medicine. He graduated from the 2002 Associate Fellowship Program in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona and is a graduate of the inaugural class of the Living School for Action and Contemplation through the Rohr Institute. Matt founded Cancer Navigators Inc. in 2002, a 501c3 corporation which provides nurse, education and service navigation for those touched by cancer. He continues to facilitate residential retreats and groups for cancer patients and physicians. Matt took poetry writing classes under Debra Nystrom while at UVA and has continued to write, and just recently has begun to seek publication of his poems. He has published two health and wellness books.
The last night I slept soundly was the night before my wheezing father announced the succession. He named me – his daughter – as his heir. He hoped aloud that my brother would advise me faithfully. The pulsing vein in Damian’s forehead suggested otherwise. With one word my father had severed our fraternal connection more effectually than any witch’s curse.
I sit up in bed watching the candle-gleam on the door handle, making certain it doesn’t move. Four guards stand watch outside. The points and hilts of their too-long swords scrape the stone of the narrow corridor. My clock chimes three. Four. Five. I doze…and rise…and drift.
Father dies. My soul screams; my desiccated eyes are tearless.
I order a spinning wheel brought to my room; and the motion of my hands allows me to stay awake. I watch the gleam. A week goes by thus, or a year.
“You don’t deserve to be Queen,” says Damian.
Phantasmagoric creatures haunt my darkness – no beneficent elves, these. Sinister witches leap from the fireplace’s shadows; a dragon bars my escape.
At my coronation banquet, my taster grows purple – and still. Damian is strangely unruffled.
The replacement is the dead boy’s sister. Her lip trembles; she hugs me. The ladies-in-waiting hiss; I hush them, and stroke her mouse-colored hair. Her breath is warm against my chest.
Something boils within me.
I address my captain of the guard: “Teach me to fight.”
He laughs – then remembers his place. “Your highness –”
“That was not a request,” I intone. “Captain.”
My sword arm droops; I feint altogether faintly; I forget his corrections after mere moments. He peers into my face. “Forgive me, your highness…you look exhausted.”
“Again. Let’s try it again.”
My captain doubles the guard and arms them with knives: “You’ll be safe.” The blue has fled my eyes and they blaze like fire. The clock strikes twelve, still I thrust and parry…
One night, outside my door – shouts, shrieking steel, unholy screams of men – “Don’t open the d–” roars the captain, before his words are cut sickeningly short.
The gleam pauses, dances, vanishes: In its place stands Damian. He has a knife in his hand and a sword at his waist. He hurls his knife – I drop – I draw my own sword from beneath my mattress. His blade clangs against it before I can draw breath. There is murder in Damian’s heart, and there are no good fairies coming to my aid…
I stumble into the spinning wheel, steadying myself against it even as it collapses…I prick my finger on something but manage to hold on…
…his sword kisses my neck. “Any last words?”
The man who used to be my brother has bulging blue eyes –
“Go to hell!” I cry, plunging the broken spindle into his belly. He staggers, falls, curses me, even as his blood pools.
I keep silent watch while he dies.
I send my taster back home to her mama.
I feel I could sleep for a hundred years.
Linda McMullen is a wife, mother, and Foreign Service Officer who has previously served at U.S. embassies in Africa and Asia. She calls Wisconsin home, and currently lives outside Washington, D.C.