by Beth Ann Fennelly
And my hair starts falling out.
Long, red hair on the sheets, clogging
every drain, woven through the forest
of my brush, baked into brownies,
every shirt a hair shirt, hair inexplicably
in the spider’s web, my husband’s books,
cinching my daughter’s wrist—
this shedding stops in a month, I read—just another
Thing They Never Told You About Childbirth,
like how I’ve gotten my first cavity,
like how sneezing squeezes out a drop of pee—
at least they told me to expect this body,
how it’s soft and soupy now, my flesh
hanging loose from my bones,
this, while the child’s skull is hardening,
her fontanelle fusing its portal
beneath her cap of magnificent hair.
Yes, she is growing up and I am dying down.
If I can hope for, say, another thirty years of dying
that old consolation can console.
Another thirty years seems far away,
and I’m feeling elegiac, comfortably elegiac,
watering these impatiens hanging from the porch,
baby on my hip. It’s foolish, perhaps false,
to view my life with this grandiloquence
but even the suddenly slowly dying need indulgences:
Child, I’ve loved many things, I’ve loved food heartily,
I’ve doubled the garlic in every recipe,
I’ve had the perfect peach and understood,
I’ve taken a night train and woken
in a new country, owning little,
I’ve hitchhiked and the man who stopped
sang me opera all the way home,
I’ve loved jokes, the ocean, anything with sequins,
the Mississippi juke joint and the man there
with a hook for a hand
who spun me gently on the dance floor.
That I’ve loved my work occurs to me now,
I’ve been fond of almost every student,
and the one time, moved by a poem,
I wept in class the way I’d always feared I would
the students did not laugh at me, at all.
I have loved most your father, my partner
in dying, though perhaps he doesn’t know he’s dying yet—
My hair knows
my hair, surfing westward on the breeze,
is saying goodbye to this world
to its bows and braids, its sequins and stroking fingers,
my hair, anticipating everything—
Who else knows?
The house finch,
building, in the basket of impatiens, her nest.
The eggs in her body are hardening, ripening,
ready for her to start dying—
the house finch, busily weaving
with strands of long, red hair.
Beth Ann Fennelly directs the MFA Program at the University of Mississippi, where she was named Outstanding Teacher of the Year. She’s won grants from the N.E.A., the MS Arts Commission, and United States Artists. Her work has won a Pushcart Prize and three times been included in The Best American Poetry Series. Fennelly has published three full-length poetry books. Her first, Open House, won The 2001 Kenyon Review Prize, the Great Lakes College Association New Writers Award, and was a Book Sense Top Ten Poetry Pick. Her second book, Tender Hooks, and her third, Unmentionables, were published by W. W. Norton in 2004 and 2008. She has also published a book of nonfiction, Great with Child: Letters to a Young Mother, in 2006, with Norton. Fennelly writes essays on travel, culture, and design for Country Living, Southern Living, AFAR, Garden & Gun, The Oxford American, and others. Her most recent book is The Tilted World, a novel she co-authored with her husband, Tom Franklin, published by HarperCollins. It was an Indie Next, Okra, and LibraryReads selection. They live in Oxford with their three children. “Three Months After Giving Birth, the Body Loses Certain Hormones” was first published in Tender Hooks in 2004.