HOW TO COMB SOMEONE’S HAIR
by Uma Dwivedi
the first step is to love someone who will let you touch their hair. this is very important and cannot be avoided. next, to find them one day in their kitchen, shoulders so tense you think of cliffsides taut with stone—so you take them by the hand, pull them to their living room and sit them on the floor in front of their couch. the couch is soft with love, easy and giving as water. you go to their bathroom and fetch their comb from the coffee mug by the sink. you take a seat. place the comb under your right thigh. then, you tuck their shoulders between your knees, take out hair pins if they’re wearing any, gently tug out rubber bands or hair ties or anything else pulling their hair tight from their skull. don’t start yet with the comb. first you must run your fingers through their hair, careful, so careful not to catch painfully on any snag or tangle. you whisper your fingers through, flicker them softly when you encounter a knot, do your best to pull it apart without yanking at the root. it is not always possible. if you must cause some pain, as sometimes you must, give them warning. a soft, murmured sorry will suffice. consider coconut oil, warmed between your palms, soaked into the roots of their hair like fresh rainfall, pulled lovingly through each strand. when their hair seems softer, their shoulders slacker, the muscles of their neck less prominent and stiff like a royal guard, it is time to take out the comb. here, too, you must be gentle. work slowly, methodically. right to left or left to right. starting always at the root. move slow and sure when there is a tangle, brace the comb against your hand whenever possible so as to spare their scalp. do this for some time. silence is like fresh snow settling on the lonely earth, the shuffle of snowflakes as you work through another snare, the thick, dappled comb glinting with lamplight. even so, they might speak, and you must listen, responding in a low, warm voice whenever appropriate. this is love, you know. this is how you must learn to love. with the patience to sit for however long it takes, the bones in your seat going blunt and numb, your muscles filling with restless thrum. pull the comb through the same section of their hair until it travels smooth and easy and shines with your still effort. you will do this again. you will do this for every section, every strand, you will sit until the work is done. and then, you will press a kiss to the top of their head, you will squeeze their shoulders, and let them walk away.
Uma Dwivedi is a sophomore at Yale University. They’ve been nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Black Warrior Review. Their other publications include Picaroon Poetry, Right Hand Pointing, Broad Recognition, and Third Wednesday. They are a prose editor for Persephone’s Daughters and a poetry reader for Winter Tangerine. Previously, they’ve been a finalist in Write Bloody‘s 2017 manuscript competition, an editorial intern with Scribner, and a poetry mentee with The Adroit Journal. Dancing Girl Press released their first chapbook, They Named Her Goddess (we called her girl), in January of 2019. Catch them watching Winnie the Pooh or the Paddington movies.