A family sits around their dining room table,
each holding a strand of hair, their own.
The younger daughter, of two, has a collection
of washers stacked beside her. She gives instructions,
reading from the paper her teacher provided.
They shape their individual strands into a long U,
a well, a valley between mountain ranges. A swing
between two aspen. Carefully, and quietly, they slip
one washer onto a dark, brown thread of hair.
Then another. And they count to themselves,
for themselves alone to hear. Three, five. Six.
How much weight could one’s hair hold?
I don’t know what this means,
that our family has strong or weak hair.
That my father’s strand broke first. Then my mother’s.
My sister and I looked at each other. Unsure
of what comes next. What to do with results,
once they are recorded. She could not have guessed
what would arrive, twenty years after
this simple test, what would pull, gray.
With each breaking, weights tumbled
onto our oak table. The clattering of thin metal
louder than we anticipated.
Tara Ballard is the author of House of the Night Watch (New Rivers Press), winner of the 2016 Many Voices Project. Her poems have been published in The Adirondack Review, Diode, Ibbetson Street, Michigan Quarterly Review, The Normal School, Tupelo Quarterly, and elsewhere, and her work won a 2019 Nazim Hikmet Poetry Prize. She is currently pursuing her PhD in English at the University of Nebraska.