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Jennifer Wheelock

Tennessee Easter, 1998

Hair in my hometown doesn’t move.
It is a tool of survival,
a way to stave off outsiders.
People wear their hair as houses wear doors:
dark, lacquered wood doors,
transparent glass doors that slide all in one heavy piece,
French doors that part in the middle.
It’s rare the hair that blows open, though, to let in a stranger.

My mother’s hair is thin but the doors to her house are thick,
her ways set like cement.
She dodges change as a shifting fault line.
For years an artificial potted plant
has sat on the hearth where it blocks
my father’s view of the television from his recliner.
She will not move the plant.
She will not allow him to move the recliner.
When I visit, I watch him watch golf through stiff,
dusty leaves of synthetic snapdragons.
Each time he lifts his head from the chair back
to peer around the plant, he uses his palm
to pat down the cowlick crowning his head.
This is where we’ll spend Easter.
My lover and I on a 40-year-old sofa,
a pillow wedged between us like a speculum.
I count bouquets that Mother collects,
seven in the living room alone.
When I ask her "why fake ones?"
she replies, "Oh, they’re not fake. They’re real silk."

Pulling the petals of one, I find a half-drunk
beer behind the vase, and know this is my father’s newest trick.
It’s safe, because the plants never move.
I imagine bees swarming inside the house
over silk bouquets that hide sticky Busch Lite cans,
my mother marveling at the authenticity of silk,
the wonder of God’s indoor world.

Fake plants do not attract bees.
My cousin Rhonda’s hair does.
We see her at church Easter morning.
For 25 years she has been a hairdresser
at the same JCPenney in the same mall, has used the same
hair spray—White Rain. Its scent surrounds her head
like a storm. I ask her where she’s living
now. "Same apartment," she says. "I’ll never move."

I look around and notice no hats.
But the hair in the sanctuary is risen like Christ.
Turning to gawk at us,
heads roll like heavy rocks atop tombs.
Even on Easter, no hats here. Just hair
high as the heavens, Daddy’s suit stiff with starch
and pocketing a beer, and my lover and I,
feeling particularly queer.


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