Lindsey Birdsall Brown

Good Hair

Six weeks ago, Junior cut our son’s hair so short I could see his brown skin rip­ple beneath the fuzz.  “Mira!” Max-Yamil yelled as he pulled one of his father’s knit­ted caps off of his head.  Junior wore a brown-and-beige-striped cap in the frosty deliv­ery room the night Max-Yamil was born; I remem­ber it hov­er­ing above me as I labored.   On Sundays, he always sends his son back to my house wear­ing one from his collection.

Max-Yamil is hand­some enough to pull off a crew cut, prov­ing my the­o­ry that the diver­si­fied genet­ics of mixed-race chil­dren ren­der them bet­ter look­ing.    My cur­rent boyfriend informs me that in a post racial world, par­ents will wait to find out the race of their chil­dren the same way they used to await the dis­cov­ery of their sex.   I resist the urge to tell him that it is already like that—how, the night he was born, Max-Yamil’s aunt marched into the deliv­ery room, unwrapped him from his receiv­ing blan­ket, and exam­ined the col­or of his tes­ti­cles to deter­mine the future cast of his skin.  “The only thing we can’t know,” she whis­pered to me in Spanish, “is whether he is going to have good hair or bad hair.”

It’s grow­ing back curly!” Max-Yamil squeals, dev­as­tat­ed.  He is stand­ing on a foot­stool in front of the med­i­cine cab­i­net mir­ror.  He’s naked, and only five years old, but his shoul­ders already insin­u­ate the build of his father.  Sometimes I smooth my palms over his chest with longing.

Don’t tempt the negro in me,” Junior would say in Spanish just before he hit me.  He backed me against bath­room door­ways, into book­shelves, across stair­way land­ings.  He clocked me hard with his knuck­les just above the hair­line where the bruis­es wouldn’t show.

Today Max-Yamil reports that Diamonique, his class­mate, told him that he was African.  “Because of my hair,” Max-Yamil says.  “Well,” I say, stalling.  He pulls the globe off the dress­er in his room.  He finds the island of Puerto Rico and taps at it with his index fin­ger.  “Abuela lives here,” he says.  “This is where I’m from.”

The night I told him that he had to leave, Junior stood in the nurs­ery grip­ping the rail of Max-Yamil’s crib and star­ing blankly at the globe sit­ting tilt­ed on the dress­er.  “I want­ed to build a cas­tle with you,” he said in Spanish.  He looked me in the eyes then, let go of the crib rail and brought his fist down hard against the globe.

I gath­er Max-Yamil in my arms and sit the globe on his lap.  I explain that many many years ago the Spanish set­tlers need­ed work­ers for the sug­ar cane fields and that they brought these “work­ers” over on boats from Africa.  “They must have paid them a lot of mon­ey to come all the way from there,” he says.  His fin­gers trace the route of the Middle Passage slip­ping into the cav­ernous dent left in the Atlantic Ocean by his father’s angry fist.


Lindsey Birdsall Brown stud­ied Creative Writing at Hollins University and SUNY Brockport and teach­es Spanish in Rochester, NY.  She has a poem forth­com­ing in the anthol­o­gy Love Rise Up edit­ed by Steve Fellner and blogs at