The wooden chairs in the dining room
of the house I grew up in
used to pull my hair. Hard.

Their sleek Scandinavian walnut design
was cleverly constructed to seem flush,
properly joined: but the seams snagged

my every move. I tried never to
mention it: a quiet martyrdom
to sit among them at Thanksgiving,

Christmas, or dinner-guest occasions;
agony to lean forward with feigned interest,
to nod, to stand and beg to be excused.

Had I complained, I knew what to expect:
“So why don’t you cut your hair short,
like your sister, how stylish she looks!”

It was my punishment for vanity,
for brushing that thick gold until it shone
for the boys in the back row,

the ones the principal got to know.
Those straight-backed chairs were on to me.
The secret of beauty, they whispered

mid-pinch, the secret is selfishness.
We know you. We always have.
Two strands yanked out for leaning in

to ask Aunt Ida a merely polite question.
They knew I didn’t give a hoot about her
and her knees, Mr. Bailey and his trip south.

Rip! for sweetly leaning in and Rip! for turning
to smile at the handsome cousin. Ow! I’d think,
and blush again, reaching for the cream.

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 37 Number 6, on page 25
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