“I have curly HAIR now” is a statement repeated on several occasions both as a simple description and eventually as a triumph in the titular section of Amy Narneeloop’s Hair. In this chapbook that serves as the index to Narneeloop’s ever-evolving parts, the award-winning, genre-bending writer documents her relationship to her body with matter-of-fact language and special attention to how her gender and racial identity come into play.
With complete candor, Narneeloop makes on-the-mark declarations throughout this body catalogue devoted to “Breasts,” “Shame,” “Hair,” and “Dust.” In a passage that meditates on hair in relation to race, she writes:
All Black people can spot a mixed child with a white mother. The pathetic HAIR gives us away. It didn’t help that my mother was raised by a woman with a broken HEART. To keep my mother safe, her own mother never told her she was beautiful. She didn’t want my mother to get the wrong impression and feel her viscera fall out when she learned from the world what real beauty was. I come from a long line of emptiness.
The considerate bodily accounts that make up this chapbook work to fill the void that the narrator’s mother’s mother passed down to her. The phrase “hair journey” comes to mind. This phrase, quite popular in the natural hair community, describes the process of coming to terms with and learning how to manage and love and tame–without stifling–the hair that grows out of one’s head. Narneeloop takes us through her own hair journey as she reflects on bad haircuts, staticky half-fros, hair loss due to medication, and everything that comes along with the territory of being a mixed girl with curly hair raised by a mother with pin-straight hair. “Now, no one knows they used to laugh at me when I walked into Mr. Eby’s class,” Narneeloop writes, “That girl is taken care of now.” This statement elicits hope in any girl who may be at the tumultuous outset of her very own hair journey.
The writing in Hair takes an unabashed, direct approach that is paired with striking, poetic imagery. This leads to refreshing results. In the same breath, Narneeloop will describe her breasts with a casual air calling them “tits” or referring to the women on her father’s side as being “stacked” and then she’ll go on to describe her DD’s as “the rising of [her] dough over the pan” and as “Red, angry shockwaves.” There’s a beautiful, unexpected quality to the juxtaposing language laced through Narneeloop’s delineation of her body parts. An especially arresting moment of imagery lies in her description of the girls she went to school with in the eighth grade:
I still want it for myself then, with their satin Raiders Starter Jackets and Nike Cortezes. I still say everything could have been different. I still see the little Mexican girls, so petite in their frames, with five-inch bangs sprayed up and around their heads like veils, little Virgins of Guadalupe, tiny saints in leggings and Triple Fat Goose coats.
Here, Narneeloop captures the essence of middle school style, desire, and self-image. Her spot-on memory of fashion trends and the longing to fit in offers atypical subjects of nostalgia.
Hair reminds women that their bodies are an ongoing undertaking. But it also proves that the care and keeping of women’s bodies should be celebrated and met with visibility rather than societal regulation.
(Ugly Duckling Presse, Chapbook, Paperback, Dec. 2015)
You can keep up with Amy Narneeloop and all of her future, current, and past projects on her website. Check out her blog too! Hair along with other Ugly Duckling Presse publications can be purchased here or at one of the many independent bookstores UDP has partnered with.
NEYAT YOHANNES is an Eritrean-American writer who’s from LA, but just moved to the Bay. By day, she doles out ice packs to kids who don’t need it as an elementary school office lady turned unofficial nurse. She spends the rest of her waking hours writing, attempting to be more formidable like Whitley Gilbert, and trying to keep Drake lyrics from constantly spilling out of her mouth. You can read some of her published work here. She tweets as @rhymeswithcat and occasionally blogs here.