after Aziza Barnes
==== ==== ====
My girl does it while she hums. Always something classic: Beyoncé or the Insecure soundtrack. But she don’t bob her head. Instead tilts it as if sayin’ huh? like how Francenna do when I ask her a question she don’t understand or her landlord ask her for the rent and she don’t get paid til’ next Friday. If you use anything but the toothbrush from the 99-cent store up the block you bougie. Start on the left side. Grip the toothbrush firm and steady, lower its teeth into the jar of Pro Styl gel. Let it come up black and drippin’. She settles me in the red cushion of her couch or sandwiches me between the split of her legs. We stare into the full-length mirror duct taped onto her wall. Her rosary, hammered above, sways across our reflected hairlines. Mine pushed back further than hers. You stock up on gel, lay them when your hair fresh, braids woven, twists spun, kink burned straight, hangtime fallin’ like a limp curtain, a crow’s body just above your shoulders. You lay them for the interview, for the first day of high school, use the Extra Hold gel if you make it to graduation. You tie them down with a black scarf for the funeral, when everybody come down the block to pay respect to they auntie, they neighbor’s son, they mama, they crush from sixth period math. Watch cold shards be lowered into the ground while they hold cheap candles with Jesus and Mary imprisoned on the glass. You skip the Extra Hold and use Beeswax for the baptism. The toothbrush comes down and up like a soft dip, a bird rethinking landing. I know my girl loves me because she lays my edges even though I ain’t got none. They fell like feathers, like snow, like rust from my sky, my scalp, a bad omen. I told her I was balding. She lay hands on me. I told her they fell out in clumps. I ain’t got no velvet. My beauty done soured, God looks at me and purses her lips. My girl hummed soft and low. Prayed over the toothbrush, dipped its bristles in water, prepared the gel. Her breath a choir. Her moving mouth my only psalm.