Nickole Brown


That year was the cyanide hiding
in the stone of a peach. Look, how yellow
the photographs, a nicotine sheen
on our happy days, a disease roiling
out of the Congo to lay flat my first
fathers before I learned to spell
their names. Eric, for example,
Erique, with that surprise ending
to match his frosted tips, or Chris, now
Chryss, his name changed from a Bible school
salute to something that rang like a wet finger
rimming a genuine crystal glass. They came
from the casserole-fed dredge of Kentucky
to click and sashay through the salon
where mama doused perm solution on old gray
and I sorted the yellow rods from the pink,
where mama cut the wet ridge held between
pointer and middle and I swept it up,
where mama waxed her own eyebrows
clear out of existence and I pushed
pins into a wig on a Styrofoam head, always
terrified she might change
her hair so much she’d be
unrecognizable, impossible to find in the dizzy
spin of racks at the mall. That was when
the shop was filled with nothing more than disco tunes
and (if there ever was such a thing) simple childhood
fear. It was another year before
she got herself a diamond and dropped
her scissors in the neon blue for good, leaving
right before the wake of purple sores,
all those men I adored abandoning
themselves through the holes of walls,
the vending machines of fruit-flavored lube
emptied in filthy gas station stalls, the hub cap
chained to the key reflecting
a future tasting of either latex or
death. But I swear to you—when Chryss
sat mama down to dye her
hair and I began to cry, he quit,
put the bottle down. And Erique, he
scooped me up on his fat lap, said girl,
wild horses wouldn’t drive that crazy mama
from you. Besides, I promise we’ll
keep that bombshell
. I pressed into his body—
he was soft as bruised fruit,
and I was blessed to ever know
a man’s flesh could feel sun
warm, smell peach sweet.

Nickole Brown
“1979” is from Sister (Red Hen Press, 2007).