School Photo, Glenis
The Tao of the Black Plastic Comb
by Glenis Redmond

Bless my bad ideas and butt whippings:
the black plastic combs passed out on picture day.
Bless my taking the comb and listening
to the blond haired girl promising: I can make you pretty.
Bless me for wanting to be pretty,
but obviously lost in the whitest of seas
floating on a Kindergarten raft with no sign of help
via a mirror or a black girlfriend to keep me from going astray.
Bless my Ramona the Pest ways, always getting it wrong —
collar and ribbon upturned always at the other end of mama’s, dag nam      your time child.
Bless the five years that I had already spent on this earth
those years already filled with my school girl sense of shame
wearing Pigpen’s dusty aura like a shadow that I could not shake.
Bless mama’s tug of war with each strand.
Bless my tender headedness that matched my heart.
Tender. Nothing, but tender — too tender
for my mama’s heavy hands
that did not know their own strength
pulling each strand on my head through the hot comb,
during this Saturday morning ritual.
Bless her command: don’t let nobody touch your hair.
Bless my ears not hearing.
Bless the brewing of sorrow and regret that are already in my eyes.
Bless the back of the camel broken by the straw.
Bless my backside the day the pictures arrived home,
when my mama saw my hair as what she called,
something the cat drug in.
Bless my eyes and the load they were already carrying.
Bless me a high-strung girl feeling like my families’ punch line,
when they saw my first school photo each laugh felt like a jolt.
Bless how I learned to pocket the hurt in my heart.
Bless this act of survival.
Bless the small tines of the black comb: The teeth. The bite
that every hand is not a helping one.
Bless the little white girl that did not see my beauty.
Bless me for not seeing my beauty —
the years it took for me to unlearn self-loathing
and not one hair on my head that needed touching.
Bless this little girl within me waiting
to come back to this picture with a smile
seeing myself as cute and lovable
with sandalwood smooth skin and the deepest amber eyes
scrying already like a poet.
Bless my little girlself waiting for my return
to make the connection between then
and now: my hair now loc’d and woven
wrapping myself with both forgiveness and release.

PHOTOGRAPH: Glenis Redmond, Washington State Elementary School, age 5.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: For the last few years in my writing, I have been doing a lot work around forgiveness in order to let go of the shadows and ghosts of the past. One of my favorite poems is the “Little Blue Eye Glasses” by Louise Erdrich. This poem gave me the idea for my title, “The Tao of the Black Plastic Comb.” Silver Birch Press’s call for a poem addressing a school photo gave me the permission that I needed to talk to my five-year-old self. Instead of looking back with shame, I embraced Lucille Clifton’s gaze in her poem “Blessing the Boats.” This lens allows me to bless the hardships in my life instead lamenting them. The black comb stands as a concrete object, but also as metaphorical entry point that leads to my own understanding and self-forgiveness. The poem offers no easy resolve, but offers opportunity for me to bear witness to my little girlself that begins a process of acknowledgement, affirmation, and release.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Glenis Redmond is the Poet-in-Residence at The Peace Center for the Performing Arts in Greenville, South Carolina, and at the State Theatre in New Brunswick, New Jersey. In 2014 she served as the Mentor Poet for the National Student Poets Program. She prepared the five National Student Poets to read at the Library of Congress, the Department of Education and for the First Lady, Michelle Obama, at The White House. Glenis is a Cave Canem Fellow and a North Carolina Literary Fellowship Recipient and a Kennedy Center Teaching Artist. She helped create the first Writer-in-Residence at the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site in Flat Rock, North Carolina. Glenis is also a full-time road poet, performing and teaching poetry across the country.