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Poetry Winner: Shorn

Katie Bickham — Shreveport, LA

The 43rd New Millennium Award for Poetry: "Shorn," by Katie Bickham of Shreveport, LA.

Bickham will receive $1,000, a certificate to mark the success, and publication online and in print.


By Katie Bickham

The Pentecostal woman next door confides:

the Lord forbids a blade touch her hair. It rats

and scrapes her knees, unbeautiful, decades old.

She weeps in the mornings, rakes and breaks

comb bristles through it. Her neck is off. She whispers,

“The nice gay man downtown says he will take me

out back, douse it with perm solution, and clap it off

between two boards.” The lord, she knows,

is merciful.

Not even God can bear our nakedness

and in his kindness, curtained us with hair.

Mine is beautiful. I have seen men’s fingers,

possessed, clicking and itching to reach for it,

to catch it in a breeze. It is long, golden,

and as God wills it, when I am unclothed,

it covers almost everything that makes me


With it, imagine all the saviors’ feet

I could anoint with precious oil, on my knees

repentant, weeping. Or put in my place,

towered, chaste, think of all the princes

who could grip it like rope in their sweating fists,

scale my prison, unlock me, liberate me

from witches.

Before crowds, inquisitors shaved witches

bare to seek out the devil’s mark. If unmarked,

they tried to coax it out, poured boiling lard

into the women’s eyes, navels, vaginas. The devil

marks us all.

Unshorn, we are death itself: serpentine

and secret. Our hair conceals our power

to bear souls into the world, to feed them

from our own flesh: sower, tender, reaper,

shepherd, wolf, wool and fur. For our crimes

in Eden, temples, beds and caves and back

seats, we have been covered by the gods

in hair, snaked by goddesses, marked by devils,

beheaded by heroes and weaponized,

and still your fingers. Your fingers twitch.

You must know what it feels like in your hands.

Perhaps if we let it loose, pin it up, braid it

in one braid, two braids, corn row it,

perhaps if we perm it, straighten it, relax

it, iron it, perhaps if we pick it into an afro,

Perhaps if we shave it, wig it, veil it,

perhaps if we cover it in a habit, so that from the sky,

we are indiscernible from each other,

we will be safe.

Perhaps if we pluck it, wax it into triangles

and thin lines, send electrical signals into the follicles,

Perhaps if we trade it for food, for money,

for train fare, Christmas presents, perhaps if we

let you snip a lock to worship, perhaps if we

let you wrap it around our necks like nooses

we will be safe.

The Russian army found fourteen thousand pounds

of human hair when they took Auschwitz. Bailed

and loose, still curled, ribboned. The hair yet unused

for socks, for mattresses upon which men would dream

of women, for thread, for rope.

■ ■ ■

About the Author

Katie Bickham’s book, The Belle Mar(2015), won the Lena-Miles Wever Todd Poetry Prize. Katie's poems have appeared in Rattle, Southern Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, Pleiades, The Missouri Review, and elsewhere. She received The Missouri Review Editor's Prize and an SLS fellowship. Katie teaches creative writing at Bossier Parish Community College.

Shorn © 2017 Katie Bickham

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