Greg Nicholl

Self-Portrait as Anything But Red

 I bleached it until it fell out, dyed it black 
		to match my fingernails while listening 
	to Bauhaus in the downstairs bathroom. 

Just as I once tried to erase a desire for men 
		by listening to the 2nd Chapter of Acts. 
	The entire year I lived in Germany I wore 

a gray felt cap, hid under its backward brim, 
		partly because I was afraid to speak German 
	at the hair salon (I’d heard tales 

of the student who said short only to find 
		everything shaved when she turned around) 
	and partly because I was too poor 

for hairspray. We all fear saying the wrong thing 
		at the right time. Whenever someone 
	praises my German accent, I blush. 

The woman at the ticket counter in Frankfurt 
		looked confused when I handed her 
	my passport, said, even your haircut looks German. 

Ginger. Fire Crotch. Carrot Top. Freckle Face. 
		Little Orphan Annie. I am them all. Prone 
	to skin cancer and burning (both in the sun 

and at the stake), feisty and temperamental. 
		In someone’s myth, I lack a soul—
	a Nosferatu waiting out my days. 

In another, Hitler banned us from marrying 
		to maintain the purest line. Sometimes 
	even gingivitis sounds like bias. 

Give me blonde, jet black, all shades of brown. 
		In high school, I wanted to lighten my red 
	but turned it persimmon. It was the day 

I was to meet the English boy’s parents and I arrived 
		smelling of ammonia and citrus because I read 
	that lemon juice could break down color. 

He met me in the driveway, his own hair 
		no longer black, but rather the color of eggplant. 
	Now, as it fades, I mourn the red I had as a child, 

yet relish that I will never gray, simply transition 
		to the absence of color, and, if the myths 
	are at all correct, never truly die.

Greg Nicholl is a freelance editor whose poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Ecotone, New Ohio Review, North American Review, River Styx, Smartish Pace, Sugar House Review, West Branch, and elsewhere. He is the winner of the 2021 River Styx International Poetry Contest selected by Adrian Matejka. More about his work can be found at: