Back to Issue Thirty-Three

Alopecia Sestina


The women in my family
                                      lose their hair as they age.
           I never noticed. As a girl, I believed they were always
that way: painted face, 
                                      hand full of rings, a haze
 of stiffened hair with a hint of hard bone
 showing through. 
                                      This was some other phase
of womanhood, tighter and leaner, a change

that never would happen
                                      to me. But change
           has a funny way of showing up. Now, at my age, 
photos reveal a slow creep of
                                      scalp at each phase
of my life, a ghost-self haunting younger days, always
just beyond my grasp.
                                      I worried more about my bones,
that death would come from the inside, the white haze

of calcium leaching until I broke.
                                      But no, my mind is hazed
           mostly with fleeing hair, dark in the drain. I’m scared to change.
All my life I believed in beauty, 
                                      envied those girls whose bones
showed through their sweaters. Power is having a face for the ages,
a pair of lips that could cripple 
                                      a man, a line of them always
waiting outside for you at school. I wish it were only a phase

and not a sunken song that plays
                                      forever underneath. But phases
           don’t last until your thirties. And which death is worse? The hazing
of being a teenaged girl, the little mirror 
                                      in your locker, so you always
obsess over lip gloss, skip lunch, brush your long hair? Or this changing
body that becomes my mother’s more
                                      each day, the slow show of age
like a play actors repeat until they fall over, the script set in your bones?

In high school we read a play: 
                                      Delilah, whom I imagined in boned
           corset and heels, beguiling Samson with her wiles at each phase.
Oh, how I wanted to be her, but
                                      I know now it’s wanting that ages
us, the sin swimming inside until all our eyes can see is haze,
a kindly blindness. Will the God
                                      I worship ever change?
I think of my grandmothers and their wigs, their fingers always

scratching, desperate to conceal
                                      what was shorn away. We were always
           both—the crippled hero, the deceiving beauty, conjoined in bone.
This is real tragedy: to know yourself
                                      only by what is fated to change,
to be cut from you strand by strand. And what is left at that phase?
A handful of hair streaking your scalp, 
                                      an old photo of your face under the haze
of glass, the one that looks just like your grandmother at age 

sixteen. A girl I never knew in girlhood,
                                      a woman whose glamor always fazed
           me. Her body’s gone now, buried bones, 
though somewhere underground a haze
                                      of hair is sprayed sticky to her skull,
           preserved in a coffin, where she can’t change or age.


Kara van de Graaf is the author of Spitting Image (2018), winner of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award. Individual poems have appeared widely in literary journals, including AGNI, Crazyhorse, The Gettysburg Review, New England Review, The Southern Review, and elsewhere. She is an Assistant Professor of English at Utah Valley University, where she teaches in the creative writing program. She lives in Salt Lake City, Utah.


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