The pursuit of beauty comes to this. Selecting
a wig color that will best match your eyebrows.
Code gender as a form of hypertext. Insert
any parenthetical equation. Insert a goldfinch.
Improvise the feminine. Improvise woman.
Improvise the swinging pony tail
of a long-legged lass on a spring morn.
The last child on earth to ever taste honey
will be born in Haigler, Nebraska. Irate apiaries
sell bees wax on the internet. (Actually,
it is paraffin. Actually, it is melted crayon.)
When they cut open the belly of Martha
the passenger pigeon, they found the stingers
of ten thousand honeybees. Some women
replace the hair along their brow with hummingbird
wings. Others choreograph new follicles
from elevator music. A woman does the best she can.
That part about losing fifty percent of your body heat
through your scalp is not true. Dog hair sprinkled
around your cabbage will scare away whitetails.
In the deer beds, she found tufts of deer pelt and bones.
Naturalists now know that deer eat fledgling birds.
No one knows how many hummingbirds can be
found in the bellies of whitetail deer.
Dioscorides, the Greek physician, prescribed
onion to halt balding. Mash one onion
with honey and apply to the scalp before bed.
You will dream of tears and weeping. You will
wake with a wet pillow. Your tears will not
wash away the baldness, but practice
will make sorrow or loss easier to bear.
One kilogram of hair in South India goes for $250.
Merchants ship washed strands to America
in steel containers. In Omaha, a woman
wears the hair of a woman from Mysore.
The hair whispers Hindi love songs.
The American thinks she hears the wind or,
maybe, a hummingbird’s wings.
Janice N. Harrington:
“Female Pattern Balding” weaves together gender, beauty, the marketing of beauty, loss, and the environmental moment. In some way, the poem began with two triggers. The first was seeing Chris Rock’s documentary Good Hair. Rock travelled to India to look at tonsure ceremonies where Indian women cut their hair as an act of faith and religious sacrifice. Hair is then gathered, cleaned, packaged, and sold in American beauty and wig shops. The historical fad for feathers in the late 1800s also provides a thread in the poem’s imagining. Birds, often rare birds, were killed to provide ornament for women’s hats, and so the hummingbird in the poem. Through its juxtapositions and improvisations, the poem asks readers to ponder feminine beauty and how beauty becomes a commodity and a product. But ultimately “Female Pattern Balding” is about loss. The marketplace, and popular images in the media, teach a woman who loses her hair from balding to believe that she’s no longer beautiful, and if not beautiful then not desirable, not worthy, and not a woman. The poem considers not only the loss of physical beauty but also human-triggered losses in the natural world. It underscores the connection among the human, the natural, and the imagination. What will such losses mean for human identity?
Image: ” Pretended Indifference ” by Mihaly Borbely, licensed under CC BY 2.0