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: http://www.gregnicholl.com.