Ugly | Pakama Mlokoti | Poetry

i.
My first vice is that I was dark.
My second is that my hair refused to grow
despite the years my mother wasted
tending to it with oil and butter.
So for herself she made my sister;
refined and round and yellow.
Retribution for my ugliness.

ii.
It was no accident
that I stuck a piece of gum to my sister’s long and shiny hair.
I wanted her to be ugly.
So I softened the gum with my spit and masticated it for effect.
Then I spread it nicely across her ivory scalp,
fingering some between her hair to make certain of damage.

iii.
The women at the salon flocked to my sister
hungry to touch her hair.
Around her they looked like giant petals growing out of her head.
There, between them, she glowed
like a strange flower.
My anxious mother behind them,
reminding the hairdresser to use Soft n Free, please.
Not Restore. Not Dark n Lovely.
But Soft n Free.

iv.
At the salon
my mother rebuked my stubborn hair.
She was quick to explain that I favored my father more with my face.
Was quick to tell the story of how I always played in the sun
to justify my skin.
And when the barber made bare my head,
I wondered if I would ever be beautiful.
Like the girls who played with their ponytails in posters.
The girls my age who glowed and glowed and glowed.

v.
New things are not for girls with sparse strands of hair and musky skin.
I think that is what my mother meant to say that morning
when I tried on my brand new dress, a gift from a cousin.
My sister would not stop crying and my mother said,
give her the dress, she will soon forget and you will have it again tomorrow.

vi.
Now that we are older.
My sister who did not ask to be overfed love,
who never cared to be beautiful,
who packs her own bags when I threaten to leave home,
who told our mother it was an accident when she found gum stuck between her hair.
You should hear when she says I am beautiful.
It is so pure. So honest it sounds like amends.
When we meet she asks after the boys I have fucked.
Asks how many have told me I am sublime.
Cautions me against those who are blind to my wonder.
She braids my hair,
the love language of sisters.
In the corner,
my mother, ever-fond of beautiful things,
hands me organic soap for the dark marks under my eyes.
Then, proceeds to marvel at the precision of my sister’s hands.

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